One of the problems in business is that everyone's experience is different. Some people are good at things that others are not so if you ask a good salesperson whether sales was a problem, they might say, no. If you ask someone who is terrible, that might tell you it was the hardest thing.

With this problem multiplied across all of the areas related to starting a company, how can we answer the question, "What it is like to start a scalable business and how can I go about it"?

I was really interested in a blog post I read the other day not because it was particularly special in any one area but because it touches on so many ways in which business presents a challenge:

There is one top-level statement that is very easy to say and very hard to practice, it sums up everything that matters in business: A good business founder is someone who can see what is happening, can understand root causes and can fix or avoid those problems to make the business better.

Sales are bad? Firstly you need to see that and it is surprising how many business fail because they lack the attention or care needed to know that something as fundamental as sales is failing! So what is the cause? You need to be able to look past lies, exageration and smoke and see the real cause: Problem with the product? With company branding? With reputation? With sales personnel? and then how do you fix it? Make improvements to the product? Improve marketing? Sack somebody and replace them?

The good founder must be able to do whatever it takes (legally!) to make the business succeed. If you lack the experience to see how well the business is performing; if you are not analytical enough to really see the problems; if you are easily taken in by people lying to cover their lack of skill or if you don't have the stones to fire somebody who is not pulling their weight, you should not be a founder.

Everything else is a subset of this top-level requirement.

In the blog post, there are issues with the other founders losing interest. Ideally, you choose a good team so it won't happen but it is hard to do unless you know somebody really well. If it doesn't work out, how can you tell? What can you do about it?

You are struggling in a sales market? Ideally you should have some wisdom and/or experience to know which markets are worthwhile. The customers with the deepest pockets are often the slowest to give you their money. But what if you make a judgment and got it wrong? You need to see the problem, work out whether it is an execution problem that you can improve or a reality that you cannot. You then fix it. 

Technical anxiety? Not sure if you have built something that is commercial quality? With wisdom and experience, you will be pragmatic and balance high quality with the need to deliver a product. Things go wrong, bad decisions are made, then what? Spot the problem and deal with it.

The problem with many of these is that it assumes there is a concrete way of measuring them so you know when something is wrong. In sales, this is easier to measure in terms of sales made but development is a bit more wishy washy. You can count features delivered but some are larger and more complex than others. Tech debt might have no measurable delivery but might be important. Marketing is extremely hard to gauge: there are still some numbers in terms of search ranking etc. but a lot of it is fluffy. However if you cannot measure, you risk burning a lot of time and money which you can never get back.

If someone isn't selling enough, you should replace them, not because they are bad or stupid, maybe they just can't sell your type of product. If your Developer cannot justify their productivity or the marketing manager cannot specify genuine value then either replace them or just get rid of the post.

One of the main problems that rears itself many times, especially when someone is not comfortable with confrontation, is holding on and hoping things will get better! If you have a backlog and it isn't changing and you are getting through 10% per week, it would be reasonable to expect to get somewhere in a few months. If you don't have that and have no goal, how can you know whether what you are doing is worth anything?

Goals in most cases should be sales driven, which forces you to sell what is most valuable. Your customers won't always care that you have replaced SQL Server with PostGres or have starting using a CDN to reduce burden on your web servers, but they might care for a simple feature that helps them do their job.

So make sure you can measure, make sure you pay attention to all functions of your organisation and make sure you are prepared to confront and deal with them as they happen. Only two things can happen then, you succeed, or you realise that you are trying to sell a dead duck and might as well pivot into something more useful.