From Start-Up to Scale-Up: What I Learned from Being at a High-Growth Company

From Start-Up to Scale-Up: What I Learned from Being at a High-Growth Company
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

My name is Lisa Wilms and here’s my story of joining a start-up company and the amazing opportunity it afforded me. 

At the time, InfoTrust had just released a new feature to their product offerings, Tag Inspector; they had opened their office in Dubai; and they needed someone to come on board to focus on recruitment, office management, and apply their go-to attitude to fill in the blanks with other needed projects. That’s where I entered the InfoTrust timeline. As employee #17, I was happy to jump in wherever needed and found a ton of variety in my day. 

Fast forward six years and we are in this crazy, whirlwind, fast-moving scale-up stage. We have revenue growth that has landed us on the Inc. Fastest Growing Companies list for the past eight years, and just last year we almost doubled our team size. 

As I reflect back on the last six years, I wanted to share not only the good but also the personal challenges and business changes that have allowed me to grow as a professional. 

From start-up to scale-up, your roles become more specialized

As I mentioned, when I first came on board I had my hands in everything. We needed to open a new office, I would research it. If we needed swag, I ordered it. Office tours, ordering lunch, contacting staffing partners, working with our third-party HR partner, and more—that was me. My role encompassed that of someone from operations, office management, human resources, and talent acquisition. As well, because I was passionate about it, I was able to get involved in our philanthropy work as well. However, as we grew, wearing all of those hats didn’t make sense—and to be honest, was just too much for one person. 

After a long and thoughtful conversation with our CEO, we discussed my career track at InfoTrust. I decided to “pick my major” and focus on talent acquisition and employee experience. Also, it was time to hire one of the biggest positions—my boss! 

My mind was racing after this decision: How would it even work for me to have a new manager? What if they didn’t understand me? What if this slowed my own career progression? Would it look bad to no longer report to the CEO and now have another manager between my role and him? I loved InfoTrust, so I was in it for the long haul to figure out the answers. And guess what? My new boss was fantastic. When Polina (now the VP of People) joined, I quickly realized that this was the best decision for my career advancement. This did not hinder me but instead allowed me to gain mentorship. Until then, I had thrived off of pure grit, but Polina had a methodology, process, strategy, and knowledge about human resources that she shared with me. She leaned on my expertise in talent acquisition and I was happy to continue to grow that expertise to meet the business needs. Because we were more focused, we were able to put systems in place to help us grow to the next level. 

Of course, fundamentally, InfoTrust believes in “ownership” and thanks to this core value I have been able to participate in what I am passionate about: employee engagement, DEI, and planning fun events.

From start-up to scale-up, you need to be okay with ambiguity

Companies that have tremendous growth require innovation and strategy to work through the inflection points. Because of this, there is always going to be some ambiguity. This could be true for my previous example, as I worked through all the “what ifs” to bring in a new direct manager. But this is not the only time I had to work through ambiguity. In my opinion, when it comes to start-ups, the only constant is change. The same goes for scale-ups. Well, actually for life in general, (but I digress). One lesson I learned is that as long as you are open to change, ready to accept others’ ideas, offer up ideas, and try new things, the ambiguity can turn into an opportunity for some really great things (like promotions and title changes such as I’ve experienced)! 

Can ambiguity turn into innovation and in-turn “work itself out” at all companies that are scaling? I’m not sure. I am not writing this as a thesis to plug into any organization and guarantee a win. But, I can tell you, because InfoTrust stayed so true to our core values we were able to keep our north star (more on that next). 

From start-up to scale-up you need to have a north star

InfoTrust’s purpose is to build the best place to work while making our success someone else’s miracle. This is held up and seen in action through our core values—it’s our north star! Without these core ideologies and my direct alignment with them, meandering through all of the transitions I have seen in the last six years would have been nearly impossible. I truly believe in what we are doing; how we treat one another; and openness, transparency, and a culture of learning that these core ideologies inherently hone in on. Anyone who does not align with this purpose and our core values would probably not enjoy the ride. My lesson to share is that if you are considering joining a start-up, ensure that the core values are aligned with your own and they intend to do what they say when it comes to living them out. 

From start-up to scale-up there will be wins 

So far, I have focused on how some of the challenges I have faced have in turn been some of the best experiences to help me grow professionally and personally. There have not only been challenges—I have had lots of wins too! For example, I have been directly or indirectly responsible for hiring 85%+ of the organization. I have implemented learning sessions where it is an open forum to learn from one another. Just today (as I write this), this forum allowed for two women in our organization to share about the Lunar New Year and the experiences and traditions they celebrated. I have had the opportunity to share my lessons through different articles (like this one), speak at university and industry events, and grow a team from scratch. I know that this would not have been possible if it were not for the growth that we have seen. 

In Summary

Being at a company that is in the midst of growth, you have to be willing to pivot as the organization scales. Over time, you will need to become more specialized and often you have to hire outside experts to upskill the entire organization. Sometimes, you may need to be okay with living in some gray areas. No matter how it plays out, as long as you have a good culture with a strong foundation and you know that you align with those ideologies, you will be able to grow and thrive as your company moves from start-up to scale-up. 

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about start-up to scale-up, here are a couple books I recommend to make your journey even better:

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Last Updated: February 9, 2023

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