Startups, scaleups & corporations: plan for war.

Posted by kdow on Aug 23, 2016 2:38:01 PM

Every startup runs into issues. Some are huge and require time, money & effort to regroup from. Most are not that big. Very few can be planned for.

However, it’s worth documenting what could happen to, at least, have a vague plan of attack for various scenarios. Scenarios like:

  • What if we get to the point that we have sales hires?
  • What if churn gets to be a problem?
  • What if our MVP takes too long to ship?

etc., etc., etc.

It’s worth noting a bunch of potential roadblocks that could rear their heads in the future. But it’s also worth noting what good things could happen too.

I work for a company that’s long since shed it’s startup monicker, and now runs under the pseudonym scaleup. We have predictable, big revenue and predictable, big revenue drivers from the marketing channel(s). We’ve got sales teams in NA, EMEA & APAC now. But we’re coming up with plans on how to get to a big milestone in the next few years (the “2020 plan”).

My direct manager is based in NA. Prior to working for various SaaS companies he worked in the military. This is where I got the phrase ‘war plans’. He enlightened me to the idea that the US military actually has a plan to deal with war against a variety of opposition. North Korea, China, Russia and even Ireland. Should the time come, there’s a pre-written manual on what to do. Much in the same way that should anything go wrong in an aircraft, the pilot has a manual that covers every single base available to the machinery s/he controls.

My team, which nestles itself between the technical side of how our software works as well as the sales side of communicating to prospects & customers, has an agile group of smart folks who do great work. There’s about 10 people worldwide right now. But I’m writing pseudo-technical documentation to cover for the eventual growth we’ll have as we get to the 2020 plan.

I have a vague idea of what’s going to happen in the wider international business. Growth opportunities driven by bigger language-based teams, new offices and new products driving additional revenue. All of these are possibilities. Hell, all of these ideas might run in tandem. But I have to plan for each eventuality. My war plans are asking questions like:

  • What headcount will I need in each year leading to 2020?
  • What resources do I need to get to the required headcount?
  • Why would I need headcount to serve specific business functions or languages?
  • What if I hire someone and they don’t work out in a remote office?
  • What if I don’t get budget; what impact will that have?
  • What if the business contracts, rather than expands?
  • What do I do if attrition in my team becomes problematic?
  • What if I need extra headcount beyond my current scope?
  • How do we manage with all these extra heads?
  • What structure do I put in place to maintain the culture within the team while ensuring productivity is high?

These are big, lofty plans. And they’re modestly structured. Note one thing here, though; I work in a relatively big (or “medium sized”) company. But these questions apply just as neatly when you talk about a startup, global corporation or scaleup!

If there was a tl;dr for this post it’d be this: plan for as many eventualities as you can conjure up. Success and failure is hard to predict, but it’s worth trying.