MT Masterclass - scalability

What is it? OK, you've got a great idea, you know there's a market for it, the only question is: can you grow fast enough to meet demand?

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Welcome to the great scalability challenge. As Peter Sellers' Macmillanesque politician declaimed: ‘We must build, but we must build surely.' Financial markets are looking for growth stories (being labelled ‘ex-growth' is just about the worst insult any analyst can hurl at you). So the ability to demonstrate not only where the growth is but how you will cope with it is vital. Where did it come from? Scalability was one of the hottest buzzwords to emerge in the dot.com boom. The way to pull in lots of lovely venture capital was not just to have a wacky concept for a business; you also had to be able to show how you would have fully staffed outlets all over the world (and on Mars, Saturn and Jupiter) by 2007. ‘But is it scalable?' was the acid test. It remains a pretty good question for any start-up. What are the limits to this idea? If it really takes off, will you slip the surly bonds of earth, or just crash and burn? Where is it going? …Unless, of course, you are not convinced that unlimited growth is necessarily a good thing. As Charles Handy has wondered: do all businesses really have to keep getting bigger? Does the London Symphony Orchestra want to have 20% more violins next year? Will Chateau Petrus plant 15% more vines? (No, it won't.) Perhaps, in the era of sustainable, green growth, ‘better, not bigger' is becoming the new scalability challenge. Can you ‘upscale' your quality while keeping the price under control? The evidence seems to suggest that, if the world is to survive, Planet Earth plc may have to go ‘ex-growth'.

Fad quotient (out of 10) Seven and steady.

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