Scaleup Scrapes & Scars… Why kick off a startup blog now?

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

I've called this blog “Scaleup Scrapes & Scars” because scaling a company is hard work. You can’t build a company without enduring the daily scrapes and long-term scars that are part of the journey.

Scrapes… because every day brings its challenges – daily pressures, small missteps, operational slip-ups, bruised egos, people issues, management ‘paper-cuts’, and near misses. These are all frequent problems we deal with when leading a company as it scales-up.

Scars… because sometimes you make big mistakes – you make the wrong decision, someone stuffs-up, circumstances conspire against you, or, you’re just unlucky. Big mistakes are seared like scars on our body. Often, these scars stay with us the rest of our life and they define who we are. Like a kid falling off a bike, we learn from these scars.

More about this blog here.

Why now? There never is a perfect time.

A typical week for me, now, involves lots of coffees and phone calls with entrepreneurs. I enjoy talking to people about their company, considering their strategy, reviewing their operations and relaying some experience from the Aconex journey.

Now that we are in lockdown, the coffees are off, however, as of a few weeks ago when the realisation of an economic downturn sunk in, I had one of my busiest weeks speaking to entrepreneurs. They all wanted to talk about how to navigate the current COVID-19 crisis. For these companies it is not just a health crisis, or a macro-economic crisis, it is an existential crisis for their company - of company survival, staff job security and personal resilience.

Start-up founders, scale-up managers, leaders of different companies at different stages of growth are all asking me similar questions in this tough time: Do I prepare for the worst? How do I take advantage of opportunities now and after this crisis? Do I reduce headcount? How can I raise capital quickly to keep us going? How do I lead with this uncertainty? How can I be honest with my staff given all I am considering? … and dozens more questions.

So, given all the conversations I’m having, I thought it was a good time to share my thoughts and experiences more widely. These are challenging times and more than ever entrepreneurs need support.

If this blog helps just one business stay afloat and keep their people employed, it has achieved something.

You can’t learn from Google

While Google is an amazing company, for the vast majority of companies and business problems, it has no relevance as a problem-solving template. Like several top tech firms, Google has unique circumstances that cannot be replicated. Google has a monopoly-like economic engine (search) that throws out cash, so they can pay top dollar to attract the best talent. Ninety-nine percent of companies will never have the Google cash firehose with which to build a company.

One of my favourite business books is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horrowitz. It talks honestly about the hard times, the challenges and everything that can go wrong when building a company.

In contrast to Google, you can learn a lot more from the companies that do it hard, that have to fight to win. You can learn more from entrepreneurs that have made mistakes, so that you don’t make the same mistakes. You can learn more from companies serving imperfect industries with imperfect business models, and still succeeding.

Navigating a crisis

At Aconex, we traversed three economic downturns - September 11, the Asian currency crisis and the Global Financial Crisis. I’ll draw on this experience in the first few posts about navigating the current environment. Down the track, I’ll cover a range of other start-up and scale-up issues, overviewed here.

Thanks to the Aconex team

I learnt all these things working with an amazing team at Aconex. So, a huge thanks goes out to everyone that worked at Aconex – of course to my co-founder Rob Phillpot, the rest of the Aconex executive team, the board, and all staff over the years. I loved working with you and learnt so much. Thanks!

In tough but interesting times… stay well!