A lot has been written about the early stages of establishing a technology startup, from fundraising and searching for product/market fit to early team building and M&A exits. But what happens next? Very little tactical advice exists about scaling a company from 10 or 20 employees to thousands.
Startup survival numbers explain this discrepancy. While thousands of startups are founded each year, most die or are bought well before they reach the high-growth stage (sometimes called “hypergrowth,” “scaling,” or “breaking out”). As a result, while many people have experience starting a company, very few have experience scaling one.
Just as there are common patterns that early-stage companies follow, later-stage high-growth companies also face similar issues over and over. Every high-growth company eventually needs to tackle the same set of challenges around organizational structure, late-stage fundraising, culture, hiring executives for roles the founders don’t understand, buying other companies, and more. Since most founders are dealing with these issues for the first time—and navigating many of them simultaneously— hypergrowth tends to feels like a hyperstressful roller coaster.
Since 2004, I’ve participated in nearly every stage of the startup life cycle, as either an operator or an investor. I joined Google somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 employees and left when it was at 15,000, close to four years later. I then started a company, Mixer Labs, that Twitter acquired when Twitter was around 90 people. As a vice president at Twitter, my job was to scale the company from 100 to over 1,000 people. I left two-and-a-half years later, when Twitter hit roughly 1,500 employees, and then stuck around as an advisor to the CEO and COO for another year, by which point the company had reached roughly 2,500 people. At Twitter, I was involved at various times with product, platform, internationalization, user growth, M&A, recruiting, organizational process, culture, and other aspects of scaling.
I am also an investor in a number of breakout or high-growth companies: Airbnb, Coinbase, Gusto, Instacart, OpenDoor, Pinterest, Stripe, Square, Wish, and others. In some cases I have helped companies in meaningful ways, in others I have been a mere observer along for the ride. 1
I have found that the same patterns unfold across various high-growth companies. Founders, CEOs, and executives consistently come to me with similar questions and issues as they scale their companies.
I’m writing this book to answer those questions and capture the key lessons of my experiences. In parallel, I have been publishing a blog for a long time—and many of the chapters here started as blog posts, and I will keep adding to it over time.
Visit growth.eladgil.com for updates, additional material, and links to many online resources and articles mentioned in the following pages.
The advice presented here is meant to be painfully tactical and to avoid the platitudes you will get from investors who have never run or scaled a company. My hope is that the book will be helpful to founders, CEOs, and employees who are facing hypergrowth and scaling for the first time.
All startup advice is only useful in context, and I am a firm believer that the only good generic startup advice is that there is no good generic startup advice. So take what is written here with a grain of salt—it is very much one person’s experiences, not a rulebook for what is correct for every company in every context.
If the high-growth stage at your company feels like a chaotic, scary, stressful shitshow, don’t worry. It feels that way for everyone the first time around. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!