Working at scale

Playing with the big kids, by Rachel Bridge

Done paddling in the shallows? If you’ve already grown and are serious about taking your business to the next level, there are, says Rachel Bridge, a few complicating factors to consider.

If you’d eventually like to have a business that employs hundreds of people, creates wealth, and makes a real difference (anyone not nodding along, should click away now), you’ll need to be able to scale. Scaling up is the difference between selling 10 units a week and 10,000. And legion are the businesses that have crashed on those rocks. So it’s important to transition carefully.

The first thing to consider is whether your business is, today at least, actually scalable; many are not. If you’re the one making the product or providing the service and – crucially – you’re not in a position to teach to others, your capacity to grow will be limited by the number of hours in the day. So, for instance: perhaps you’re an unrivalled nail artist, famous solely for your own artistry.

Not that this is an insurmountable problem. Develop along the right lines and in a couple of months you could be a nail artist with some trademark looks, tips and tricks that you could easily pass on to any nail technician who was willing to learn. Now your  business is scaleable.

It’s the transition Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White made before scaling their businesses. You just have to work out how to make a cookie-cutter – without your product losing its value in translation. If that makes you feel queasy, think about whether, in fact, keeping your artistry pure is more important. And how far you can scale with that in tact.

But most of us don’t need a fundamental business model rethink to scale. Just some tweaks. And, of course, lots of planning.

Green Square Partners offers corporate financial advice to the media industry and Tony Walford, their marketing strategist, specialises in growth businesses. He says: “You need to make sure that all the systems and processes are in place before you start to scale up. Understand how your product is delivered into the market and what resources you’ll need to make your product more available. The key thing is to have a clear business plan detailing how big your market is, how much product you can make, how you’ll sell into this new market, what the financials look like, and what cash flow constraints you’re going to have.”

So still think you’re ready to scale? Have a long think about the supply-side equation.

1) Factor in a factory

If your plan is to produce a lot more of your product, you may find you need a much bigger space. Will you need to move your business to a proper warehouse or factory? In which case, will you still make a profit?

2) You need to scale everything

By which we mean: IT and computer systems, supply chains, websites, logistics and distribution. Go through all of these elements one by one and check they have the capacity to handle the bigger numbers you’ve got planned, or you’ll end up with a bottleneck, and everything will grind to a halt.

3) Delegation is easy - if your team is good

You’re going to need a team of skilled people capable of seamlessly managing all of the above. Make sure every member of your team has your back (and that you know how to delegate!).

A quick case study

Anthony Eskinazi won #VOOM 2015 for Just Park, an app and website that helps drivers find, book and pay for parking spaces.

Anthony started the business on his own without any funding at the age of 23, and ran it part-time for a few years. Then, BMW’s Venture Fund invested £250,000 in the business, and he suddenly needed (and had the money) to scale up very quickly. He started by hiring great people, and investing in technology and design.


But Anthony had planned ahead, so he knew he had a business that was inherently scalable. He’d built Just Park to be self-service, so it could handle any number of customers without him needing to get involved. He says: “If someone wanted to rent out their driveway I didn’t want them to have to email me or pick up the phone. I made sure that it was intuitive and that the business was still running while I was asleep. That meant it could grow from one customer to a million customers without me needing to do anything.”

Just Park now has a team of 30 people and over a million customers in the UK. And plenty of #VOOM.

Join our mailing list...

Get Insights & Customer Stories from Virgin Media Business