I often say that building a successful business is one of the hardest things in the world to do. If you can get it right and do it successfully, it’s also one of the most rewarding things in the world to do. There are 5 foundations that I’ve found are absolute musts if you want to build a company capable of growing at scale. While these are listed in order in the post below, I see these more as items that organically take place together rather than happening in a sequential process.
Just for context, I founded 3Pillar Global in 2006. I was the sole resource for the company for a few years before we started to grow rapidly. We’ve gone through a series of inflection points since, including making a number of acquisitions over the years, that have enabled us to grow by leaps and bounds. Today, we have more than 2300 team members around the world responsible for conceiving and developing digital products for some of the most well-known brands on the planet.
Without further ado, here are my 6 foundations for building a rapidly scaling company.
1. Create a Common Ideology
Developing a common ideology is one of the most powerful currencies and responsibilities we have as leaders. From a scaling perspective, a common ideology accomplishes 3 things:
- It gives your team something to believe in and drive toward, fueling employee retention.
- It differentiates your company from your competitors, fueling economic growth.
- It attracts new team members who believe in the same things, allowing you to meet demand for your services.
Having a virtuous cycle like this in place is one of the best ways to drive scale. The key is to come up with an ideology that resonates so strongly with people that it does each of those things.
3Pillar’s Ideology encompasses vital areas like purpose, values, beliefs, and vision. Our purpose is to harness the extraordinary power of team. In everything we do, we seek to harness the extraordinary power of team to transform lives and the world around us. Our values are intrinsic dignity, outsized impact, open collaboration, and continuous improvement, each of which you can learn more about on our site. Our vision is to become the world’s preeminent partner for building digital businesses.
2. Craft a Strategy
It’s great to aspire to become the world’s preeminent partner for building digital businesses. Aspiring to do something and crafting a strategy for how you will make it happen are two different things, however. This is an area that I will admit I’ve grown into over the years. I’ll never forget a lunch I had with Bobby Christian in the early days of 3Pillar where, with a lot of brainstorming and whiteboarding on a paper tablecloth, he opened my eyes to the potential scale we could unlock if we got the strategy right.
While our strategy hasn’t changed drastically from when I first started growing the company, it has gone through a few evolutions. Over time, as we’ve grown and our market has matured, we’ve published a v2 (2018) and v3 (2022) of our strategy, with each version building on the previous ones. Strategy will never be set in stone, but you have to document it as you scale in order to keep everyone informed, aligned, and driving in the same direction. It’s far too easy, in the absence of a documented strategy, for people to fill in the white space and move in directions that may be misplaced or misguided.
3. Prove Your Business Model
This is the foundation where the rubber meets the road. As vital and important as everything I’ve mentioned up to now is (extremely!), you’re not going to last to the end of the calendar year if you can’t find enough customers to consume your services.
- What kinds of companies are you going to sell to?
- What people (or departments) within those companies are most in need of what you’re offering?
- What products or services are you going to provide?
- How are you going to price these products or services?
- How will you go to market? Directly? Through partnership channels?
These are just a few of the questions that you should be able to answer in your sleep, and that must then be borne out in the real world by making sure that your original assumptions are correct and there is a real appetite for your products or services in the market.
4. Refine Your Operating Machine
Your operating machine is essentially everything that goes into matching supply with demand. If any one of your sales, recruiting, delivery, or customer service gets out of balance, it can throw a wrench into your most carefully laid plans and leave a bad taste in your customers’ mouths.
We’re intentional about making sure that every part of our business is working in tandem with the rest so that no one department ever feels like they’re in over their head or can’t deliver what’s being asked of them. There’s no worse feeling than selling something that you’re not then equipped to deliver on, whether it’s because of a lack of relevant skill sets or just not having enough human horsepower.
With operations in 9 countries and counting, we place a huge premium on refining our operating machine and making sure that we have the systems in place to actually deliver on what we say we can.
5. Develop a Business Plan
It’s tough to grow a business without a plan. When I was just starting 3Pillar, I didn’t have the traditional 30-page business plan or slide deck full of forward-looking strategies and ambitious financial projections. Those would come later. I did, however, have a general idea of the opportunity in the marketplace that we had and most importantly, an idea of what needed to be done to build the business.
As we have matured, our business plan has become more robust. We currently run a 3 year planning cycle where we lay out our targets, and the 3-5 most important priorities we need to tackle. On an annual basis we distill these plans into more specific initiates. We summarize these plans into a single, one page, annual plan that communicates what we need to do. This type of clarity around what we intend to accomplish and needs to be done is essential. It ensures alignment by the organization around the priorities and what needs to be done in order to mature and grow the business.
6. Implement a Management System
At the center of each of these 5 foundational components, there has to be a management system in place that keeps each of the foundations in balance. Our management system defines our meeting and reporting cadence. It is designed to drive accountability and to give us the opportunity to respond to business realities. Each of these meetings is responsible for holding us accountable in the 5 foundational areas and for regularly bringing fresh ideas to the table on how and where we can improve.
Wrapping It Up: Scaling is Hard, Not Impossible
It’s a tough time to be an executive or an entrepreneur. There’s economic uncertainty and intense competition for customers on so many levels. I’ve found, however, that if you keep things simple and pay very close attention to the foundations that I’ve covered in this post, it’s possible to build a business that does far more than just survive. You can build one that thrives, scales, and makes a major impact on thousands of lives.