My tips for scaling without failing
- Communication is key: Keep your communication channels open. Start with Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony as a standard voice service, and consider adding switchboard, voicemail, conference call capacity, and others as your business demands. VoIP integrates with mobile devices and software, and adding these extras won’t require a disruptive upgrade so can be done quickly.
- Consolidate information via the cloud: You can take cloud adoption to the heights your business demands – it’s up to you. For a start, look into the cloud for document sharing to make collaboration easier and more efficient.
- Integration is integral: While planning to scale – and growth is essential to all businesses, at the right time – explore how you might integrate systems together. Start by selecting individual systems on the basis of their compatibility with others, so that integration is easier down the track.
- Choose the right technology: Align your technology with your business goals. Customers need to be kept at the heart of your business, so any technology decisions need to match with both your customer experience and desired business outcomes.
“Imagine this: you run a food business and you go from 300 meals per week to 30,000 per night, overnight. This was my reality.”Kate Save, CEO and Co-Founder Be Fit Food
When scaling up goes off the charts
It all happened the evening I appeared on Network Ten’s entrepreneur-reality show, Shark Tank.
It might seem over the top, but for the three months prior, I studied every episode of Shark Tank ever made. I knew every question they could possibly ask, and I was prepared with my answers.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the reality of the show’s on-set production. It was intense. For two hours and 15 minutes – with no break, no drink, no nothing – I was absolutely grilled with questions about every single aspect of the business.
My preparation paid off. After appearing on the show, orders for our product took off. Only moments after the show went to air – literally that same night – we had over 25,000 people trying to buy our products.
“It was unprecedented. Shark Tank investor Janine Allis said she had seen nothing like it before. We thought we were prepared, but nothing could ready us for what was about to happen.”
The best-laid plans
I had prepared for the show with my answers, and Be Fit Food had contingencies as a business – we’d expected a spike, so we readied ourselves with stock for 800 additional orders – but we never dreamed it would be so huge. While we were ready for hundreds, we weren’t ready for tens of thousands.
We sold out of six weeks’ worth of food on the first day. We went from a team of five staff to 63 in that first month. Our retail store had a little bit of food, but we had a kilometre line from the door with cars, trucks, people, vehicles, all trying to come and pick up food and take it back interstate.
Friends and family jumped in to help. They would pack boxes, clean the freezers, drive around orders, pick up supplies. Even in the middle of the night, people were running around trying to find asparagus because we'd run out at 11 o'clock. Freezers were breaking down – I had an electrician who's a family friend on call 24/7.
“It was extraordinary. There’s nothing that we could have done differently. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales on one night.”
Too fast, too furious?
Across the world, the failure rate of start-ups that scale too quickly is a figure that can’t be ignored.
A 2018 report by reputable US-based insights laboratory Startup Genome tells the tale that premature scaling accounts for 70% of all tech start-up failures.
While Silicon Valley companies with deep pockets of capital can live (and die) by disruptive slogans like “move fast and break things” or “fail fast”, when you’re a small to medium business running on passion more than cash – not to mention your business is an idea that you’re personally invested in – those kinds of expressions simply don’t apply.
“Every single day for months, we couldn’t meet demand, but we just had to find a way.”
The tech you don’t know you need until you do
On the night of Shark Tank’s broadcast and the months that followed, the weaknesses in our business’s systems became all too apparent. While I can’t recommend testing business systems until they break, I can say that these challenges spotlighted where to focus our efforts.
Our system broke within four minutes of the show, and it kept breaking for four minutes every hour thereafter. It then broke almost every hour, every day for the next couple of weeks and months until we made some big changes a few months later.
The first failure point was our phone. As a business, we needed to be able to make sure that we had multiple lines available. We had seven phone lines initially, and then we went on to employ a back-up call centre that had seven phone lines in Victoria and 35 across Australia.
We had all 42 lines ringing all the time.
Secondly, while the internet we had wasn't high speed, it was fast enough for us. Rather, it was our service that let us down. This was more a question of load, and handling loads was certainly a pain point. At the time, we didn’t have tech people in the business. We couldn’t afford paying expensive salaries in case something went wrong. But with the benefit of hindsight, we should have had a consultant or someone available on call.
Finally, where we really struggled was not only in selecting individual systems, but also how we went about integrating them together.
As we went through this period of enormous growth, we spent a lot of time scratching our heads, wondering, ‘What CRM system? What eCommerce platform? What ERP system?’ We didn’t know how to integrate the software, or how to do a point-of-sale system. Not to mention inventory management, the pick-and-pack system, the routing system, and call system reach across Australia.
“It is such a huge learning curve, to discover how much you need to know about your business to make it work.”
Before becoming inundated, we didn't fully appreciate to what extent people talked to us on so many channels. Chat, Facebook or Instagram, plus they were emailing us, calling us, and they'd been in-store, and then they were placing an order online. We had six or seven different contact points for one customer, which is incredibly inefficient. We had to integrate our approach to bring all that data together.
If you’re scaling, having an integrated system that has been rigorously tested is essential.
Scaling without failing: A steep learning curve
The Be Fit Food experience was, by all accounts, unprecedented. By virtue of the sheer number of orders coming in, we simply had to face these challenges head on – we had no choice. While technology gave us functional solutions, none of this could have succeeded without the people in my team.
Through this experience, and my journey with the Telstra Awards, I’ve learned that growing your business demands a particular combination of the right tech and the right people: the better the people around you, the stronger the business.
As I’ve take on an MBA to formalise some of the things I’ve learned as a business person second, dietitian first, I’m diving in headfirst, knowing that life in business is a journey. Sometimes that journey is an adventure, but there’s always something new to learn. Be Fit Food is about changing the health of Australians one bite at a time. We’re educating our customers, and they have been teaching us about better business practices along the way.
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