Lessons Learned from Scaling Up
As the Chapter President of EO UK – London, I am often reflecting on the learning that has meant the most to me on my entrepreneurial journey. Starting several companies over the years has set me on a challenging, but deeply rewarding, path, and I’ve learned a handful of hard-won lessons along the way. Advice for entrepreneurs is often reduced to absolute statements and black-and-white “do’s” and “don’ts,” but I’ve found the truth is more nuanced. Some fundamentals—such as values—are critical, yet often overlooked. Here are some of the lessons that have meant the most to me:
Advice can be unhelpful. There are thousands of books and blogs on the many aspects of building a business, and while it can be tempting to shortcut learning on your own by asking other entrepreneurs what to do, their advice might not always fit. Developing core competencies, such as one’s ability to learn, is more valuable in the long run. A number of large companies have programs offering advice from their staff directly to startups. But might working at a large company be a negative qualifier for advising entrepreneurs on starting up? Processes that work well in one company may not work in another, especially one that’s at a different stage. I have found value in seeking out stories of others’ experiences, as well as sharing my own, rather than looking for explicit answers.
Relationships with non-competing peers can be incredibly valuable. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, and it isn’t always easy to find perspective when faced with problems. Entrepreneurs can be beset with challenges around finance, management, strategy and morale. Family, partners or friends are rarely neutral, qualified and non-judgmental, and they’re often eager to advise or tell one exactly what to do. Advice is easy to give without accountability, especially on loaded topics. Through EO, I gained a network of peers with whom I now share my ups and downs, learn from daily and benchmark performance against. For me, this has been a critical release, as well as a valuable source of learning and inspiration.
Values—surfaced well—are a huge help when building an organisation. Fairly early on in the journey of building Reincubate, we took the entire team abroad on a company holiday and spent an afternoon coming up with company values. This feel-good session produced a set of platitudes which were quickly forgotten. It was only upon reading Verne Harnish’s, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” that I came to truly understand the power and utility of core values. I surfaced what mattered most to me in the business, and I worked to understand and communicate more readily why I was building it. This led to a refocused set of values, which have been instrumental in decision-making around strategy, product, recruitment and operations.
Focus is one of the hardest disciplines. As a founder, the role one must carry out in a company changes as the company grows. One of the best phrases I’ve read on the subject was the value of working “on” rather than “in” the business. At the start, it can be important to work on delivery, but to grow to the next stage, an entrepreneur typically has to focus on the business itself. Jim Collins’s book, “Good to Great,” illustrates a number of these on-the-business characteristics.
There have been many other lessons in my entrepreneurial adventure, and I am sure there are more to come. That promise of future learning—and the challenges that will come with it—is one of the most exciting parts of entrepreneurship. I am looking forward to that learning, and to sharing my experiences with others where I can help them in turn.
Aidan Fitzpatrick (pictured) is an EO UK – London member and the founder of Reincubate, a leading app data company. Contact Aidan at