‘Give Away Your Legos’ and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups

Spread the love

Molly Graham has seen a lot. Her team at Google leapt from 25 to 125 in just 9 months. During her 4+ years at Facebook, the company exploded from 500 employees serving 80 million users to 5,500 employees and over 1.1 billion users. (Her job was to sort out the culture, compensation, and performance systems to help make that possible — no big deal.) And now, as COO of productivity tool startup Quip, she’s both laying the groundwork for her team to grow, and catering to a customer base of startups (Instacart and New Relic among them) who have the pedal to the metal.

If there’s one thing Graham knows for sure, it’s that scaling comes with an utterly unique set of problems. Some of them are funny — like needing to replace everyone’s big desk with smaller ones so all the new folks can fit, or moving into an office that’s already too small for your growing team. But some of them are far more serious.

“If you’ve ever watched an extremely high performer go from killing it one year to struggling the next, you know what I’m talking about,” she says. “There’s a unique feeling of ambiguity, chaos and stress that comes with doubling or tripling your team every six months. If you don’t manage scaling proactively, you can end up in trouble.”

“The best metaphor I have for scaling is building one of those huge, complex towers out of Legos,” she says. “At first, everyone’s excited. Scaling a team is a privilege. Being inside a company that’s a rocket ship is really cool. There are so many Legos! You could build anything. At the beginning, as you start to scale, everyone has so many Legos to choose from — they’re doing 10 jobs — and they’re all part of building something important.”

“As you add people, you go through this roller coaster of, ‘Wait, is that new person taking my job? What if they don’t do it the right way / they’re better than me at it? What do I do now?’” says Graham. “These are some strong emotions, and even if they’re predictable, they can be unnerving.” In order to get to a really high-functioning, larger team, you have to help everyone get through this roller coaster. If you don’t, you can end up with a real mess.

If you personally want to grow as fast as your company, you have to give away your job every couple months.

This is especially true in the SaaS industry where, more than on any other market, closing deals relies not only on the need of the product but also on trust. As SaaS marketers and PR pros evolve within one of the most competitive and hostile markets there is, they need to master the use of social media not only to survive but also to thrive and outsmart their competitors.

That’s why her talk is about Legos. The emotions you feel when new people are coming in and taking over pieces of your job — it’s not that different from how a kid feels when they have to share their Legos. There’s a lot of natural anxiety and insecurity that the new person won’t build your Lego tower in the right way, or that they’ll get to take all the fun or important Legos, or that if they take over the part of the Lego tower you were building, then there won’t be any Legos left for you. But at a scaling company, giving away responsibility — giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building — is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things.

“Almost everything about scaling is counterintuitive,” says Graham. “And one of the foremost examples is that reacting to the emotions you’re having as your team adds more people is usually a bad idea. Everyone’s first instinct is to grab back the Legos that the new kid took — to fight them for that part of the tower or to micromanage the way they’re building the tower. But the best way to manage scaling (and one of the secrets to succeeding in a rapidly growing company) is to ignore those instincts, and go find a bigger and better Lego tower to build. Chances are if you pick your head up and look around, there’s a brand new exciting pile of Legos sitting right next to you.”

For the full interview please head here.

Source – First Round Review

Share this