How best to approach expansion and scaling-up

At Tech Trailblazers we want to do everything we can to make your startup thrive. Winning an award can be a boost to your business and help those tricky conversations with investors or potential customers, but what happens when you get to the point of wanting to expand.

Moving from a small tight-knit group to become a large firm can be a challenge. So, here’s some valuable advice based on practical experience from Simon Hill, CEO and co-founder of Enterprise Innovation Platform scale-up, Wazoku.

Scaling up is hard to do

As a founder, one of the questions you get asked most about your business is ‘how are you going to scale?’ No matter how successful a business it is, no matter what landmark you have just achieved, no matter what funding you have secured, people are always interested in what comes next. How are you going to expand and make it bigger and better?

That is understandable, I guess. Press and investors want to look to the future, not focus on what has already taken place. Most entrepreneurs will always have an eye on where they can take the business next, and there are many ways to do so.

My company Wazoku is a UK innovation scale-up that has successfully expanded over the past five years. This is what I have learned along the way.

Speak to your peers

It is not lonely being the founder of a business – things are far too busy for that – but there are times when it would be useful to bounce ideas off people in a similar position. This can be done informally through your personal connections of course, or perhaps via a more organised ‘official’ programme.

In 2019, Wazoku was one of a cohort of 30 companies on the Upscale programme, run by Technation UK. Having the chance to discuss scaling-up with some of the biggest and best high growth businesses in the UK was rewarding and valuable, and I would encourage other founders to join similar programmes wherever possible.

But know your own objectives and stick to them

As valuable as the input of others can be, no one knows the company better than the founder. So, when facing those important decisions about how best to approach scaling-up, any founder needs to keep in mind their objectives and plans for the company. Flexibility and agility are important but being single-minded in the pursuit of growth is too. Being clear about your vision can help the rest of the organisation get behind you.

Don’t overstretch yourself

Do not be reckless when it comes to scaling-up and expansion. Our first non-UK office was in Denmark, and when it comes to foreign growth, I try and take as lean and agile an approach as possible. I have seen many UK start-ups try and expand too quickly into the US in particular, throwing lots of money and resource at it. This is too risky in a market that demands an on the ground presence and if you’re not careful money gets wasted, bad hires are made, offices are closed, and it can really set a business back.

Denmark did not bring in mega plaudits in the way the US would, but it worked well for us. It was a good way to test whether the things you put in place – the processes, tools, people and everything else – are ready to scale. You go back to the basics of what it takes to get the initial business off the ground, the same levels of pain, complexity, and challenge that it was when you first started. And crucially meant when we did enter the market in the US we did it in the right way.

Utilise partnerships where possible

We have also made good use of partnerships when expanding. Partnering with a complementary organisation in another country is an effective way of testing the water without the investment of setting up your own office. We have a range of excellent partnerships that give us access to the Scandinavian, Latin American, German and Iberian markets. Their local market expertise and experience is the perfect complement to our global technology platform and gives us a good base from which to scale further.

Don’t rule anything in or out

I had always been focused on organic growth and expansion for Wazoku. But when we partnered with US open innovation firm InnoCentive in early 2020, it soon became apparent that an acquisition could serve us well for several reasons. Firstly, it allowed us to enhance and improve our entire proposition. InnoCentive’s open innovation crowd was highly compatible with our innovation software, and the acquisition allowed us to create our Enterprise Innovation Platform, a unique suite of tools to power innovation at scale across global enterprises.

Acquiring InnoCentive also gave us a significant foothold in the US. With the lessons we learnt from our European expansion we were in a great position to make the most of having a strong physical presence, a blue-chip client list including Enel, Shell, NASA and AstraZeneca, and a US team that bought into our values and plans.

Scaling a business is a key priority for most founders. There is no one set way of approaching scaling-up and expansion, but doing so will bring new customers, increase revenues and take your business to the next level. Good luck.