Startup Growth: Slow and Steady — Or Fast and Furious?
Calling all hares and tortoises! The race is on!
The Globe Building is home to lightning-fast gigabit fiber running to the offices on every floor — so speed was top-of-mind.
We grabbed more than a dozen startup founders, employees, funders and enthusiasts, and asked all of them the same question: “Startup Growth: Slow and steady or fast and furious? Why?”
At the start of the month, 36 founders and funders told us their Startup Resolutions for 2018. Inspired by the responses, we thought we’d ask the same group a more challenging question.
We’ve written their answers below — read on for insights into how some founders and funders think about growing their startups. The responses may not be what you’d expect. Watch out for tales of daring and peril too!
Ellen Prinzi, OlioCity, Founder & CEO
There are many paths to success, both have pros and cons. I used to think the only way to succeed in tech was fast and furious.
The longer I have been running my company I see the beauty in perfecting process, building a foundation, and being methodical about focus. Entering year three of Olio City, we are finally hitting our stride and I’m glad I have the knowledge to ride this wave I wouldn’t have had in the beginning.
Until I started SensrTrx I would always go as fast as I could which caused problems in the past. Like trying to implement a product that was not ready, overselling our capabilities which led to unhappy customers. I’m hoping we got it right this time.
Jason Sindel, Vidzu, Sr. Media Solutions Specialist
Vidzu is an agile company, so we prize velocity, but we can never lose momentum (velocity multiplied by mass), so the bigger the project the more important it is to take your time and do it right.
Jaye Connolly-LaBelle, RippleNami, President & CEO
This is my 3rd start-up. RippleNami is a B2B technology company working in developing nations to deliver blockchain data visualization solutions that solve critical problems. A RIPPLE means movement and NAMI means “with me” in Swahili – so, create a movement with me.
But, as the saying goes, “if it was easy – everyone would do it.”
Start-ups are a marathon not a sprint. There will be great days, good days and absolutely horrible days. Staying calm in the middle of a storm to steady the ship is a true leader’s role.
Ben Mizes, Clever Real Estate, CEO & Co-Founder
I’m a firm believer that you should grow you startup as fast as you can control.
My first startup grew to over 50,000 users in our first two months, but our team was so focused on growth that we couldn’t step back and look at the bigger picture. Our churn rate of active users was slowly killing us. We should have spent more time fixing our product instead of continuing to drive growth. I won’t make that mistake again.
Jonathan Herrick, Hatchbuck, CMO
It’s easy to fall into the temptation of going to market guns blazing and throwing away money even if the product/customer fit isn’t there.
But the real key to long-term success is nailing that customer fit and providing an excellent customer experience.
Joe Pater, RebateBus, CEOJoe Pater, CEO, RebateBus
We believe in a slow and steady approach because our member’s success is critical to our success.
We want to make sure we get it right 100% of the time.
Darryl Palmer, Janus Choice, CTO
Janus Choice wants slow and steady growth over fast and furious. Being in healthcare, we realize not only the ability to improve and save lives but also the ultimate cost that mistakes can have.
At Janus Choice, we do not ignore our responsibility of working in healthcare and want to grow at a rate that patients and hospitals still have the service and reliability that they deserve.
Ross Donaldson, SunstationUSA.com, Founder & CEO
I move fast. But I’m also super dedicated to sustainability. This means I put a focus on ethically resourced product development — all-natural and eco-friendly sunscreen — and a commitment to equitable community practices. I want to build a sustainable future that works for everyone.
Michael Lamb, nativeMsg, President & Co-Founder
Any new venture requires patience and persistence but at the same time you need to position yourself as the leader in your space to be wildly successful.
Start slow and steady and then as you refine your strategy grow fast and furious.
Patty Hagen, T-Rex, President & Executive Director
Both slow and steady, and fast and furious!
Because nothing worth pursuing stands still, and some things move faster than others.
We don’t want to lose good opportunities by not acting quickly enough, but I’ve also learned how important it is to carefully build—relationships, trust, knowledge—and how that enjoyable work pays off in the long run.
Cliff Holekamp, Cultivation Capital, Co-Founder & General Partner
Is “fast and steady” an acceptable answer? In venture capital, the economics of providing returns to our investors require “fast” growth from our portfolio companies. However, we are also looking for reduced risk. “Steady” indicates a predictable and scalable business model. So, I’m looking for great companies with fast and steady growth!
Adam Hoffman, CheckTheQ, CEO
Why choose? I want my company to grow at a steady, freaking furious pace that is prodigious and unwavering. Our team is aligned around pouring our hearts and souls into CheckTheQ, so as long as we’re delivering real value to our customers while we as a team push ourselves way outside of our collective comfort zone, I’m not too worried about the speedometer.
Leon Doyle, WIFIPLUG, CEO
We’re going head on full speed ahead.
We’ve tooled a US / UK and EU smart plug ready for aggressive growth.
Matt Fineberg, Pico.Buzz, Head of US Market
Fast and Furious is a way of life for our team (we’d make Paul Walker proud). The landscape of marketing and engagement technology is constantly evolving. Moving quickly is a necessity if you want to stay ahead of the pack. Our success, and that of our partner’s, like the St. Louis Blues, is due in large part to the fact that speed, and decisiveness are in our team’s DNA.
Barnabas Helmy, SmashToast, CEO & Founder
Fast and furious!
This year, PUCK got into Walmart, Amazon Prime and many other retailers. With our hardware and software updates, I only expect life to get busier!
Dana A. Marshall, BacterioScan, President & CEO
Fast and furious for us! We are building a product pipeline of affordable diagnostic technologies designed to change the way infectious diseases are treated to help ensure the successful use of antibiotic therapy. Our award-winning platform has far-ranging applications for rapid bacterial detection and testing to determine which antibiotics are effective against infection.
For every start-up company, “Speed Is Life.” Of course, speed is useful only if you are running in the right direction. With our FDA approvals in hand, and clear clinical market need for our rapid diagnostics, we are confident that BacterioScan is heading in the right direction, and we expect significant growth in 2018.
Dan Lauer, UMSL Accelerate, Founding Executive Director
Fast and furious!
2017 proved to be a breakout year for UMSL Accelerate. It’s now time to scale!
Agnes Scoville, Aggie MD, MD
Slow and steady is the only way in consumer packaged goods. After 2 years, we’ve now produced several generations of Pacidose. We learned that certain retailers like certain kinds of packaging, and of course, we pay attention to every tiny detail that surfaces in reviews.
So, it’s way better to start with small production runs and gradually make bigger orders as you grow and modify. Also, I have been gleefully watching as one of our competitors slaps their label on products that were found on Alibaba. Because that company has no medical understanding of infant health care pain points, and because they are intent on explosive brand growth, they’ve put out a series of duds.
It’s a bit of schadenfreude. I love that term for startups: it’s the reaction of relief we feel when something bad happens to someone else instead of to us. And not that I wish ill upon anyone, but to me the other company is a cautionary tale. Go slow or risk dud products.
By contrast, our next two products address 2 vexing issues for parents: colic and diaper rash. They are both invented by me, and I’m really excited to introduce them to all the parents out there who are looking for new solutions to these old problems.
All in all, 2018 is shaping up nicely! We’ve gotten this far without giving up equity, but are certainly open to partnering with the right people. At the end of 2018 we will have 7 products in the brand, all created uniquely by AGGIE MD. And, this time next year, I’ll reflect on the satisfaction of making medicine kinder and gentler for lots of suffering children. That’s my startup resolution today.
Killian Tobin, OmegaGrid, CEO
We believe in slow and steady growth because we built Omega Grid to be the last company in our sector. We were pleasantly surprised to be the first company to announce a distribution level blockchain transactive energy project.
By being present and “thinking slow to move fast” we will balance the quick growth we expect for 2018 by. As Bob Kulhan, CEO of Business Improv says “Deliberately slowing the brain down will allow [companies] to see important details that others can’t see because they are simply moving too fast to process important, complex information in real time.”
James Crains, GrabMe, Founder
Slow and steady, because it makes for a stronger, and more reliable product.
We have too many pieces of tech that “kind of work”, “most” of the time. I’d rather GrabMe be known for delivering all the time, even at the expense of fewer features.
Christina Hawatmeh, Scop.io, CEO
Slow and Steady, with a shot of fast and furious twice a week – haha!
Focus on providing a great experience, but take time in decision making and making customers happy. The fast and furious is to keep feeling the fire when you see opportunities or need to double down.
Amit Kothari, Tallyfy, CEO
Fast and furious. Scaling quickly provides lessons about focus that can only be learned by scaling quickly. In addition, with a self-service cloud based tool like ours – we need to quickly test metrics like churn and retention, at scale, to know how subsequent iterations of our product should go.
If you go slow, you’ve built a product without feedback that’s validated from lots of people (i.e. at scale), and that would be disastrous long-term.
Daniel Fogarty, LaunchCode, EIR
For LaunchCode, it’s all about iteration, iteration, iteration! Deploy a solution, gain feedback and iterate to improve. Even in the fourth year of our apprenticeship program, we are constantly making improvements to ensure more and more individuals are afforded the opportunities they deserve.
As an organization, we like to attack things fast and furiously (that’s how we’ve helped nearly 1,000 people land tech jobs in four years), but we also take the time to ensure our programs are the highest of quality.
Jim Howard, SentiAR, CEO
Slow and steady on hiring, but fast and furious on everything else. Accountability and consistent execution, striving for first-to-market positioning, is paramount to building a defensible competitive moat around SentiAR.
Rebecca Brian Pan, Covo, CEO & Co-Founder
If only the hare had a bit more sense and focus! We believe in fast yet steady growth. We grow as quickly as we can do so safely. Growth is so exciting and motivating for the team! But if not tempered with stability, you can easily flame out.
Chris Erhardt, Tunedly, Co-Founder & CEO
Definitely slow and steady. I think saying something like this in the Bay area, they would chase you out with pitchforks, but here in St. Louis, entrepreneurs and investors are much more down to earth and actually like “healthy” growing businesses building a sustainable company.
We nearly doubled our revenue in 2017 compared to 2016 and more than quadrupled our valuation based on the latest investment, which looks pretty good to most people outside of Silicon Valley, however it’s not necessarily considered “fast and furious” growth. Not every company needs to be a unicorn pooping rainbows. There is nothing wrong with raising less than a million dollars in investment and grow the business to a $20M – $50M exit. It won’t make front page news on Forbes but founders and the few angels who believed in that business will walk away happy.
Let me ask you, would you rather be in One Kings Lane shoes, raising over $200M in investment and ending up selling for $30M, or ThinkNear’s shoes, a former Techstars company which raised just over $1.5M and sold for $22.5M?
Chasing unicorn status comes with a whole set of tradeoffs. In my particular case, I believe in what we’re building and growing at Tunedly. I’m not ready to sacrifice it by chasing some out of the world growth rates.
I, as the CEO have a responsibility towards my employees and investors who are trusting me with their money. I won’t put it all on the line to chase something that might not be there, while knowing that I can grow this business to a healthy valuation with a more conservative approach, generating a meaningful return on our investor’s investment, having built something that didn’t “change the world” but certainly changed the lives of many users, angel investors and employees.
Scott Bernstein, Lewis & Clark Ventures, Principal
Fast and steady all the way…can that be an option?
If your unit economics are healthy and your customer acquisition process is repeatable, put your foot on the gas and grow fast, but be disciplined.
Jennifer Ehlen, Brazen Global, CEO & Co-Founder
Fast and steady. You need to move swiftly to make the most of your limited resources like capital, but you also need to be steady and pay attention to important concepts such as product market fit, core value proposition and your differentiation strategy along the way.
Tyler J. Kelley, SLAM! AGENCY, Co-Founder & Chief Strategist
Our first four years were slow and steady. While our content marketing and digital media games have always been on point, we’ve been learning how to run a business. For us, this has been a constant optimization of what works and pivoting away from those processes which keep us away from our highest potential.
In 2018, we’re hitting the gas. We’re excited for what the future holds, and look forward to sharing our plans for expansion in the weeks to come.
Nick Niehaus, Connect Marketing, Co-Founder
It’s time to go fast and furious. For the past few years, we’ve been searching for the right product and market fit.
Late last year we found it. We’re helping real estate agents develop their own videos for Facebook and we’re already seeing awesome results.
I believe that patience is crucial in the startup world, but so is speed at the right moment. This is that moment for us. Watch out!