5 secrets to transforming your start-up into a scale-up

It is possible to grow up without growing stale.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 12 Feb 2018

As a strappy start-up becomes an established brand, it can lose its sparkle.

Larger organisations require more processes, layers of management and bureaucracy. Or do they?

Amelia Harvey co-founded The Collective, a London-based yogurt brand, in 2011. Its products, which include unusual flavours like passion fruit and raspberry with amaretto, are now stocked in supermarkets across the UK, generating a turnover of £25m. Harvey explains how she took her company from a small to a medium-sized business, while keeping the start-up spirit alive.

1. Have a purpose

No one wants to work for a faceless corporation, so it’s important to remain mission-driven as the business grows. ‘We have a purpose: to change the face of dairy,’ Harvey explains. ‘We want to bring new and tasty products into a commoditised market.’ By keeping staff focused on this mission, and aiming to be different to the other players in the industry, Harvey keeps energy and engagement levels high. ‘When I worked at Kellogg’s, it was all about the salary and company car,’ says Harvey. ‘Now it’s about purpose, sustainability and story.’

2. Be open and clear about goals

As businesses grow, they often stop communicating with their staff. Strategic plans and company goals are expressed to management only. Not at The Collective. ‘We have clear priorities and goals,’ says Harvey. ‘It’s important to be open because as an entrepreneurial business we have lots of ideas.

‘It is important to explain what we’re doing and why. We want our people to concentrate on doing a few things brilliantly.’

3. An appetite for risk

‘We still have a fail fast culture here,’ says Harvey. ‘If we launch a new flavour, we always have a back up. We know within 12 weeks if a flavour works, and if it doesn’t, we have an honest conversation with retailers about it.’ Even seven years in, the company is consistently experimenting with new flavours, distribution channels, and marketing streams. ‘We start with a low budget and if it works, we pump more in. In big businesses, with jobs on the line, the temptation is to keep ploughing more money into bad projects.’

4. Surround yourself with start-ups

The Collective doesn’t have an office of its own. Its HQ is in Huckletree, a shared workspace in White City. ‘There are 300 people here, and most people are building businesses,’ says Harvey. ‘This place inspires our entrepreneurial culture. Our people sit next to someone who is building a tech app or a fashion brand, and are exposed to all the innovation out there.’ It can be lonely as a solo business owner, she adds, and Harvey enjoys being surrounded by fellow founders. ‘You can’t talk to your team about problems really, because you don’t want to share that stuff. Talking to people in the same position helps me massively.’

5. Keep learning

It takes different skills to start a business and grow one. Harvey was encouraged to take a course in Accelerated General Management at London Business School by her late co-founder Mike Hodgson. ‘Before Mike died, he was adamant I should take the time to learn new skills,’ says Harvey, who met Edwards while they were both working at Gu, the pudding brand. ‘I finished just two months before he died. It was like a mini MBA, and helped me cope with taking on the business, and growing it alone.’

Image credit: Free-photos/Pixabay

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