I often get asked to tell a story to Series B investors. It’s a story that all scale-ups want to tell. It’s the story of continued growth and repeatable processes. However, you can’t reliably tell this story without the characters that give the narrative substance: data.
Although every company, product and industry has its own trends, the importance of identifying, reporting, evaluating, challenging and acting on data is essential. That’s why all scale-ups need to: identify the data that answers investors’ questions; report this data consistently and effectively; evaluate this data to pull out underlying risks and potential areas for growth; challenge this data so you actually know what it means for your business (and it isn’t just a pretty spreadsheet); and, perhaps the most crucially, act on this data – and not some gut hunch – to drive your company forward and enable you can accurately tell that sought-after growth story.
At Series A, investors are looking for a business with a clear space in the market, a proven product idea, a growing customer base and Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of around £1million. At Series B, it’s about going further and bigger: a wider market reach, a multi-year product pipeline, strong customer retention and £10million ARR. To show this, scale-ups must work out their big five metrics.
From showing a new net base of customers and month-by-month increases in the number of qualifying leads to proving continued customer spend over the next 4-5 years with multi-year deals and annualised contracts, metrics are key to showing a repetitive (and therefore investable) business. But as all companies are different, you must understand what works for you. By collectively agreeing the most important five metrics across your organisation, as well as the variables to tweak them and the KPIs for each department, you’ll not only streamline your company in the pursuit of the same goals, but also enable you to be more proactive than reactive in your growth drive.
Think of Hollywood: for studios to invest in a sequel, they want to see evidence of a wide fan base, proven ticket receipts across the globe and, most importantly, a strong script. The same is true for companies that don’t want their scaling journey to end at Series B.
Investors don’t just want evidence of current success, but proof of a clear plan to get to the next stage. That means clarity on the leader’s long-term vision. Clarity on each departments’ role and responsibilities. Clarity on accountability, priorities and processes. By successfully implementing the first two tips (data and metrics), scale-ups can build a clear battle plan that reassures investors of their future direction and destination. Hollywood execs might like a cliffhanger in the film, but like Series B investors, what they really want is a path to success with no surprises.
Dynamism is a core trait of start-ups. That fluid fast-paced environment where it’s less about defined roles than required tasks, where people do everything and hierarchies are seen as archaic. For Series B, though, there needs to be a move away from this jack of all trades style dynamic to a more structured environment where people have core responsibilities, specialised skill sets and experience of repeated success in their specific domain.
For many companies, getting the right people in the right positions is a choice between internal restructuring or hiring fresh faces and both are fraught with risks. For example, telling the roaming sales / revenue / marketing / customer success leader at Series A to focus on one aspect might result in a lack of specialism. Companies can also easily hire the wrong people or hire the right people for the wrong moment (i.e. you need a Series B market-scaler not a Series D market-squeezer). The key is to look at your business strategy and work out what roles and functions are needed to achieve that. Then, it’s time to be cutthroat with your decisions.
Just as roles need to adapt, so does leadership. At Series A, you have a founder with a clear vision of what they want who often has complete control over the direction of the company. It works at Series A – having that lone decision-maker enables swift reactions to handle the rapid growth and changes. At Series B, leadership is still vitally important – the decisions from the top will filter down into the rest of the company – but the style needs to be less ad-hoc.
Now here’s the crux. It can be uncomfortable telling a leader to change, but failing to challenge the leader will be even more uncomfortable when their growth strategy stalls. That’s why it’s crucial to have these uncomfortable conversations, to challenge the leader’s vision, to test their principles, to push back on their strategy until it’s watertight. If not, investors will smell a rat.
There’s nothing worse than siloed departments. Imagine having a rowing boat with everyone doing their own thing or car whose parts are all working independently for different reasons. It just doesn’t work. If departments are not communicating well, not understanding their product offering, not thinking about how they impact other areas of the business and how they contribute to the overarching success of the company, then you might reach an end goal, but it won’t be the one you wanted.
So – how do you know if your departments are siloed and what can you do if they are? Firstly, test yourself: do you know what Customer Success is doing and why? Do you understand why marketing has just partnered with another company? No? Well, by bringing all the departments together to collectively agree on end goals, individual roles, lines of communication and the ‘Big 5 metrics’, you’ll not only understand what’s going on across the company, but streamline your business outputs and help you achieve your targets.
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