The world was a different place when I started Deacom in my basement. It was September 1995 and my vision was to create an ERP software for manufacturers that was powerful, easy to use and adaptable to customers’ changing needs.
I had no idea just how quickly these needs would change over the years, but our core mission has remained constant, even as our product has evolved. Now our company has expanded to more than 160 employees in three corporate offices in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Frankfurt, Germany, plus remote workers spread across five more U.S. states.
Throughout our slow but steady growth, I’ve discovered that we have to do ongoing work to stay relevant to our customers. The biggest mistake a tech company can make is trying to make tomorrow the same as yesterday. If you’re solving yesterday’s problems instead of looking ahead to the future, your customers will move on to a better solution.
Here are three essential lessons I’ve learned while growing a global business.
Understand The Skills And Materials You Need
As you scale your company and refine your products, your requirements will become more rigorous. The skill sets and processes you need to manage a $3 million software project are very different than those for a $30,000 project.
I often compare this to the difference between building a garden shed, a single-family home, a 40-story office building and a 120-story office building. Anyone with a bit of know-how and a pickup truck can go to a hardware store, buy basic materials and construct a garden shed in a day. If you forget a piece of plywood, it’s not a big deal to run back to the store for it. But as the complexity of the project grows, so do the stakes. If you’re constructing a 40- or 120-story office building and forget a girder on the first floor, you will lose a significant amount of time and money fixing it.
As your company grows, the cost of your mistakes gets higher, so you must manage processes more carefully. Build systems that will grow with you and protect against costly mistakes, and constantly reevaluate if they are meeting your needs.
In our company’s early days, we didn’t have project managers or QC teams. I used to program and upload a version of the software with no QC from customers’ conference rooms. If I made a mistake, I would fix it later. But as we started working with bigger companies and more mission-critical applications, that makeshift process wasn’t sustainable. We had to develop a solid QC structure and find the right balance between speed—one of our original core competencies— and quality.
Hire The Right People
One of the biggest challenges for tech companies is finding the right people with the right skills to support sustained growth. With your current team, do you have the capacity to scale? Do you have the engineering ability to take on larger projects? Why are customers buying your product? What resources do you need in place to keep them happy?
Constantly analyze your business and industry to identify how they are changing and how you need to adapt. What are the keys to success for your next phase of growth: engineering, quality control, cost containment? Which gaps will you have to fill to reach your goals? Focus on hiring people who possess expertise that will help your company scale, and set them up with the training and tools to succeed.
Consistently Build Culture
When expanding your team, look for specific knowledge and talents, but don’t neglect cultural fit. Once you establish a strong company culture, it will benefit every facet of your business. But you have to model your values consistently, every single day, to create the culture you want.
Building our company culture has been a long, slow process that is actually quite simple. We treat our employees with honesty and respect, and they treat our customers with the same. This behavior has to start at the top and be reflected in even the smallest interaction.
Because culture is so important to us, it has become crucial to our hiring process. I used to be directly involved with each new hire; now I concentrate on carefully hiring the people who do the hiring. They use a detailed screening process to evaluate aptitude, personality and skills, and every new team member joins the company already believing in our culture.
As you scale your business, you will inevitably encounter challenges and growing pains. Stay relevant by evolving to meet your customers’ needs, and stay centered by building a team and culture to support your mission and values.