How Bad Are Your Startup Growing Pains?

Chris Norris
2 min readJun 18, 2017

If you run a software startup or engineering team, maybe you’ve been feeling some twinges of pain — you know they’re there but they’re not that bad, right?

Do any of these describe what you’re experiencing?…..

  • There’s a feeling of ‘going slowly’ — the engineering team is not producing as much as it used to, despite working hard
  • The product lurches between regular “P1″ crises, with people working hard just to keep the product running
  • People (Product Managers, in particular) are having a hard time getting visibility into what engineering is doing, and what will be delivered, when
  • It is really hard to get new engineers productive quickly
  • Knowledge of critical parts of the system is locked in the heads of a few early engineers

These problems are the result of the team doing what made them successful to date

Huh?!

What’s going on?

I’ve always joined startups that are a few years into their existence. They’ve been through the “daily fight for survival” stage, and the employees are determined, and have seemingly endless energy and ideas.

They’ve typically received Series B funding (or thereabouts) and their engineering team has grown to about 15–20 people. This is a stage that most startups don’t reach, and I can only imagine how great it feels to be there! They are usually on the brink of fast company growth.

At a certain number of employees and/or size of customer-base, the approach to how you build and deliver software needs to change. You need to ensure you get on top of visibility and consistency in developing and delivering, you need to pay more attention to stability, scalability and security of your product, you need to make sure that knowledge of your stack and code is shared with the team, you need to deliver on many customer’s needs, you need to get cross-team initiatives delivered, and on and on.

The biggest obstacle to that change is frequently the people. I’ve worked with people at both ends of the spectrum : those that knew they needed to change, and those that fought it every step of the way (”Why change? What we’re doing is working?”).

The company isn’t going to collapse overnight without change, but the prognosis is not good. Have you been in denial about the dull pain of these symptoms?

Contact me if you’re interested in picking my brain on my experiences here.

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Chris Norris

Engineering leader for startups — 4 exits and counting. Fascinated with startups, software, and the people around them. Founder at startupfractionalcto.com