Scale up or die trying
Aircall, Intercom, Meero, Stripe. You may not have heard these names but you’ve probably used their services. All of them have undergone hyper-growth and have had to work hard to keep up with recruitment, corporate culture, and onboarding in order to handle a growing number of challenges.
Jonathan Anguelov, Co-founder & COO of Aircall; Stanislas Massueras, VP Sales Europe of Intercom; Gaétan Rougevin-Baville, COO of Meero and Guillaume Princen, Head of France and Southern Europe of Stripe explain how they’ve managed to build their business at breakneck speeds.
1- Use technology to maximize growth
Online spending by consumers will continue to increase in the coming years. Many have already understood this, and have made the tech their business model. For Guillaume, "the growth of online commerce underlies Stripe's growth."
For Intercom, it is all about interconnections with technologies that are currently emerging. According to Stanislas, "It is very important to be able to plug in and surf this wave in order to allow, among other things the successful onboarding of customers and consequently the development of revenues.” Stanislas also underlines the importance of helping brands anticipate changes in Internet users' behavior in order to meet their growth objectives. “It’s crucial to take advantage of certain technologies that will enable Intercom to become the platform of choice in the next 5 to 6 years."
Meero is also no stranger to the importance of technology: "For one, our on-demand platform allows us to deliver media anywhere in the world. For another thing, our in-house proprietary AI-based editing technology saves a considerable amount of time.
As for Aircall, the startup was able to make the most of the opportunities it was offered. As Jonathan points out, "The digitalization of tools is an incredible opportunity, and it is therefore essential to create devices that integrate perfectly with each other. Since telephone communication is an important part of the company, we naturally created Aircall because we thought that telephone communication should be integrated into all the business tools of a company."
2- Scale, but not at the expense of company culture
To go from 3 employees to 300 employees, or even 3,000 employees, is often a complicated transition for scale-ups that expand really quickly. Maintaining the corporate culture established at the beginning can prove to be a real challenge.
Jonathan is working to make Aircall a real family. "What I have to offer is a human adventure. When you reach 500 employees, this culture evolves with the company: employees, both new and old, need to carry this culture and to push it forward towards excellence, which is what we expect from everyone, but at their own pace."
When you scale quickly, each employee, both old and new, must adapt in a very short period of time to all the changes encountered, while remaining on the lookout.
"Some people scale with the company, others don't. There are often those who are nostalgic and miss having only 5 people where decisions were made more quickly. It’s very important to be careful in these cases, as it can slow progress down and even create a toxic environment. In some cases, the solution involves putting these employees in new missions where the challenge is to move very quickly. In others, it is necessary to have a direct and frank conversation about the person's future within the organization," explains Guillaume de Stripe.
This is why it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the company's culture from the recruitment phase onwards. Gaétan, Meero's COO, echoes this idea. "I think that this stems from the leader’s personal involvement, they have to work to preserve the culture, which is, in my opinion, the most important element. The human aspect is essential to an organization, that’s what we hold on to today, and it’s what we held on to in the beginning when we first starting undergoing rapid growth.”
The shift from old to new is a crucial moment. "At Intercom, we have a zero tolerance approach to "Rock Star Assholes," as we like to call them," explains Stanislas. "These people are very good at their jobs but are also very toxic around their new colleagues. We, therefore, prefer to sacrifice a quarter of sales by letting go of one of our top performers in order to preserve our corporate culture based on curiosity and collaboration."
3 - In order to scale, your recruitment process has to scale
When creating a startup, the first profiles sought out are very general, the aim being to surround yourself with versatile people. But as the structure evolves, managers will turn to more specialized profiles. “For Aircall, the most obvious example is in sales. We have gone from "full cycle" people who hunt, close, and take care of the customer, to four people including one who looks for deals, one who hunts, one who closes and one who takes care of the downstream customer," explains Jonathan. "If there is one piece of advice I can give, it is to specialize as soon as possible."
It’s a perspective shared by Gaétan: "Personally, I find that the process of developing specialized skills is helped by two main things. First, the bigger you get, the more tools you have at your disposal, which help in the learning process but also in your daily work. The second is having seniors coming in and sharing their knowledge and best practices with you."
For Gaétan, when you scale so quickly, you have to adopt the philosophy of ‘nothing too small, nothing too big’ : "People have to be able to do everything at once, i.e. assemble chairs if necessary, launch a new product, take care of sales and everything else. "Nothing too big" is important, because these same people have to be able to manage everything while becoming experts in their own right."
This specialization will be all the more important when working on a product related to money. For Guillaume "Money is only cultural:” "From one country to another, payment methods differ, which has a real impact on products. Every time we launch or expand into markets, we have to find a product-market fit, which means that it has to be adapted in a very local way."
4 - Create processes, but within moderation
"As for Intercom, the MIA team headcount grew by almost 50% last year, and our business almost doubled," explained Stanislas. "When scaling, you have to start setting up a whole system of documentation and processes to avoid making the same mistakes. And the same is true of recruitment: "For example, if you want to recruit a senior account executive, you have to determine which 5 skills are the most important and which 5 others are the most “Nice to Have.”
Stripe's approach is more progressive: "We’ve adopted a light-weight process, which means we adapt processes in the event of problems while trying to remain as light as possible." It is a philosophy approved by Jonathan: "Processes are important. But you shouldn’t be adopting them place all over the place. In start-ups where there is a lot of work, you need to simplify things as much as possible and prioritize them in the function of their utility.”
Aircall is a fully cloud-based telecom system, which provides sales and support teams with a telephone system specifically designed for modern businesses. With zero hardware to manage, dozens of integration options to explore and the ability to add local numbers in more than 40 countries, smarter customer conversations are now accessible with just a few clicks.
Intercom is the first company to offer messaging products for sales, marketing, and customer service in a single platform. It prevents companies from using obsolete spam campaigns and allows them to interact with their customers in a personalized way, creating real relationships with them. Designed to look like the messaging applications you use every day, Intercom allows you to chat with consumers within your application, but also from your website, social networks or by email. Today, Intercom supports more than 500 million monthly conversations generated by its 25,000 customers. Intercom has more than 500 employees worldwide and develops its products in London, Dublin and San Francisco.
Created in 2016, Meero is revolutionizing the world of photography by giving photographers the opportunity to pursue their passion. From generating revenue, prospecting, invoicing and collection to post-production and delivery, Meero takes care of all the tedious and time-consuming tasks that interfere with their activity. Above all, the company offers to support them on a daily basis with accounting, CRM, marketing tools... But also with a series of educational masterclasses, inspiring documentaries, photographers meetups around 35 countries, a magazine in four languages and the creation of a foundation to support photography.
Stripe was created in 2011 in San Francisco and was launched in France in 2016. Valued at $22.5 billion, Stripe is the payment and cash management infrastructure on which millions of companies around the world are growing. The company now has 2,000 employees. The company's ambition is to increase the Internet's GDP by lowering the technological barriers that hinder online commerce. The company's customers include global technology leaders such as Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Uber, Spotify, ManoMano, Deliveroo, or Booking.com.