The Heartbreak of Startup Scaling

Growing a business successfully is a lot like raising a child. It’s also a little like raising a *ton* of children.

If you’ve ever felt ownership and kinship to your work, you know what I mean. The product you built is “your baby,” or that blog post you wrote, or those operations standards you implemented, or the brand-mark you designed.

Now imagine if you did *all* of those things.

This is what happens in a startup in the early days. My own company’s co-founders would do everything. For them, I can only imagine that everything (or most things) they created felt like their very own intellectual “children.”

Scaling a company for growth has meant bringing in new talent – talent that comes on board and takes over things they used to work on. Our co-founders have had to give up products, processes, and work which took them so many painstaking hours and weeks and years of doubt and consideration and inspiration. I can only imagine it was like giving up their kids to new parents.

If that wasn’t hard enough, imagine if those new parents began to ruthlessly criticize, deconstruct, and bad-mouth your parenting, right in front of you, regularly. Imagine if the new parents transformed your child into something completely new, with little trace of the old. Imagine if your child completely forgot you, and if all ties between you and that child were just erased from memory. And now imagine that you are paying these new parents to do this.

This is, at least, what the necessary process of business delegation and specialization feels like sometimes. But it’s essential for the growth of a company that you take it on the chin and keep moving – and resist the temptation to take your child back. You have to have the trust that your child will be better off with the new parent.

This is a heartbreaking process. It also takes tremendous character and humility. I’m only just learning to get used to it, and I’m coming to admire both of our co-founders more for it.

It is “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” and it is better to grow than to hold on to the pettier things. Startup growth (like many parts of life) involves a continual sacrifice of the good to the better, and startup leadership is the continual sacrifice of your own necessity.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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