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Lessons I’ve learned about scaling a startup at a rapid rate (Part 2)

by Pete Schlaefer on Dec 22, 2015

In my last post, I shared a few thoughts about hiring for your startup when it’s growing dramatically, tapping the three years of experience we’ve had here at AppLovin. In this post, I’d like to explore some of the more general “best practices” that I think are crucial to success when you’re in a rapid-growth phase that can feel nearly out-of-control at times. These tips can make the takeoff more manageable.

Lead by example.

In the early days of a startup, you lead by doing. Delegating doesn’t really exist because every situation is, for the most part, new, at least in the context of the company. The best way to show your team members how things are done is through doing it first yourself and being transparent about the logic underlying your decisions. If you’ve hired the right people, then you will be surrounded by ambitious people who volunteer to take on tasks that you do, which allows them to claim ownership and pushes you on to more strategic tasks. As your product continually iterates, you can expect to re-teach to a certain degree, but also since you’ve encouraged your team members to be assertive, they’ll teach themselves.

One way to do this? CC or BCC them on emails strategically (being careful not to overwhelm). Encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand your reasoning. Often I even delegate the first draft of a response to an email to a team member so we can engage on the logic behind it.

Make everything as numbers-based as possible.

While in some circumstances there’s a lot to be said for going with your gut, in an environment that is facing dramatic growth, it’s important to focus on making decisions based on data.

Some wonderful things happen when every decision is rooted in data. The right decision is always clear to everyone and usually takes little time to arrive at, which means that senior leadership doesn’t have to be involved in all business decisions. This empowers employees to take on incredible responsibility quickly — the analytical, competitive people you’ve hired have the data and information they need to make good decisions  — and you need less management overall.

At AppLovin, we are fortunate to have a very robust, home-grown business intelligence tool that allows us to analyze data which in turn informs our business decisions. But If you don’t have the resources to build your own BI tool, there are many SaaS products that can be customized to your needs.

Automate almost everything as soon as you can.

Once you’re at the stage where you can make decisions based on the numbers your product is kicking off and you’re feeling like your path is becoming more clear, automate everything that you can with scripts, which reduce your need for more staff and scales the ones you do have. At AppLovin, we have loads of automated emails that pump out analysis on our business and lead to definitive action items. For example, we have automated scripts that point out inefficiencies, and everyone gets a daily email digest of what’s important or changed within their part of the org. (Added bonus: this proactive approach reduces stress.)  

Be prepared to be surprised and flexible when it comes to who can do what.

One of the advantages to working so closely together, so hard, is that you get to know your co-workers really well. But you’ll also pick up on aptitudes that your curious, competitive colleagues have, including those that aren’t necessarily deployed in their work assignments. Always keep an eye out for how you can deploy those aptitudes in unexpected ways. A shining example of that here at AppLovin was with one of our early ad-ops hires, who had a Masters in Statistics but loved design. So, one day, when the time was right to experiment, we let him create an ad, and it was terrific. He’s now our Director of Design and heads up an entire team that cranks out some of the mobile industry’s best ads — a team that at the beginning we had never envisioned.

Nothing is more exciting than seeing your creativity, drive, and long hours of hard work pay off in the form of rapid growth. But exciting as that time is, you need to be very disciplined about how you manage that growth. You can do this by leading by example, relying on what the numbers tell you to make strategic decisions, being flexible about who does what, and automating everything possible. Never forget that your product and the needs of your customers should be your driving force, and that luck always plays a huge role in success. Strategies like these will help you to successfully manage growth in what can feel like overwhelming (albeit thrilling) circumstances.

Pete Schlaefer is AppLovin’s Vice President of Growth Partnerships.

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