Yara Paoli of Growth OS highlights the mistakes she experienced during her growth journey of over 15 years, which led to her creating the Growth OS - a validated framework for sustainable company growth.
When it comes to growing or scaling up your company in multiple markets - it’s your people and how you lead, structure and organise them, that will ultimately make or break your business. Remember that it’s your people that carry the growth DNA for your organisation.
Whilst it’s absolutely essential for any successful start up to achieve Product Market Fit, it’s your people - your teams - that will find (and scale) that fit. As a founder, leader or manager, it’s your job to avoid these 7 sins and instead empower your people by providing conditions that allow them to grow your business, and themselves.
Rather than talking about product market fit from the usual, well-worn angles, in this article I unveil the most hidden and most enabling aspects of product market fit at scale: people market fit, and the sins you must avoid as a leader when you’re seeking growth.
1. Letting assumptions rule rather than data: beware the HiPPOs
We all have preconceived assumptions about what will work and what will not. Indeed most successful businesses began with a completely unvalidated idea. But be careful of letting too many untested ‘hunches’ guide your actions for too long.
A danger that most companies experience is that assumptions from senior staff can go unchallenged, because of the ‘HiPPO’ effect (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).
Therefore, it’s vital to embed the idea into your organisation that almost everything should be tested. Your culture needs to be shaped so that all people are bold enough to challenge ideas from ‘higher ups’ without fear, and are able to easily test such ideas (see Sin #2). Indeed, an open, free and psychologically safe culture where additionally data decides, rather than seniority alone, is vital for growing your business.
Commandment: Almost always let the data decide. Provide teams with the tooling to quickly and easily test their hypotheses, and just as importantly, the mindset to do so and the freedom to make mistakes. This requires you as a leader to enable a data-driven approach, a psychologically safe environment, and to respect your people’s ideas. (how to do this in another article).
2. Making metrics and measures too painful
It’s well known that measuring your efforts is vital to any successful growth activity. Though it may be tempting to rush through your brilliant new idea without the proper tracking in place, if you can’t measure it, how do you know if it worked?
But on the flip side, if your experimentation framework is too rigid and painful to use, it will dissuade your staff from experimenting frequently, and hamper the speed of your test cycles.
For growth to occur, experimentation is an ongoing requirement. New ideas, new products, and new variations need to be tested as quickly and simply as possible. As a leader, empower your teams by building metrics and measurement into your company culture, providing easy frameworks for experimentation and ensuring people use them and share the results.
If you’re not sure exactly which metrics you should be measuring, here are some helpful resources to help you decide:
And beware the vanity metric; don’t confuse signals with sales, for example the number of social followers, likes, or just straight survey feedback doesn’t necessarily equate to willingness to buy.
Commandment: make the important measurable (not the measurable important) Reading suggestion: Making the Important Measurable, Not the Measurable Important
3. Ignoring cultural market fit as you start to scale geographically
Your business is doing great in your home market, so now you’re ready to move into new countries. Your growth playlist worked brilliantly in your own territory, so now you can just translate your site or app into French, Japanese or Russian and your business will thrive in these places - right? Wrong. International growth is much more than just translation.
When you’re bootstrapping, using free or cheap translations might suffice. But if you really want to grow outside of your home turf, you’ll need local linguistic and cultural wisdom that Google Translate alone cannot provide.
In one of my previous companies, many amusing translation errors were only spotted once we started hiring natives of our target markets. For example, we found that our CEO had been described as a ‘Computer Weirdo’ in the Polish version of his bio - a mistranslation of ‘IT Geek’.
Invest in hiring native experts so they can find product market fit for your target markets’ language and culture. Indeed, scaling a business sustainably in multiple markets does not happen by chance. Company culture is key and you must lay out a framework for growth across different countries that utilises (and excels in) local knowledge.
Local cultural wisdom is vital for growth too. Each country has a complex set of cultural norms which must be properly understood if you are to thrive in that market. Ignore these at your peril.
Commandment: Hire natives with expertise in your target market countries and empower them to find or grow your product market fit (or an agency with genuine localised expertise)
4. Underestimating the importance of EQ - Emotional Intelligence
Whilst data is vital to growth, a high level of emotional intelligence from leaders is key to growing a company long term. At the heart of a successful, growing business are happy and engaged people. The more fulfilled they are in work life, the more energy they will put into growing your business.
Building EQ into your organisation is vital as you strive to grow, and for retaining your staff. You need some of your senior leaders to display high levels of Emotional Intelligence; without it, you’ll soon find discontent brewing amongst your ranks. I think about it this way: you spend at least 7 or 8 hours a day at work, which is more time than you dedicate to any other activity in your life - apart from sleeping.
Would you want to waste your time or invest your precious hours to work for a manager or ‘leader’ who does not care about you, cannot listen or empathise with your struggles and who doesn’t support you?
5. Assuming everyone will understand your version of English
Just because your common working language is English, don’t assume all non-native English speakers will understand all your strange idioms, bizarre figures of speech, endless A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.S and your strong accent.
Native English speakers who have not experienced life in a non-English speaking country have a tendency to speak rapid fire, idiom-laden English, peppered with cultural references, that colleagues from Indonesia, China, Colombia or Italy, are unlikely to fully comprehend.
As a non-native English speaker who has been working in English-speaking environments for more than a decade, I have personally experienced many misunderstandings due to both language and culture. For years, one of my most visited websites was WordReference.com, because I had to constantly decipher the hidden meanings of emails and speech from my English-speaking colleagues.
And that’s before we even get into the ‘indirect’ nature of some forms of English (British - I’m looking at you!).
“Your idea is not bad, but maybe you could think about this…?”
Actually translates as:
“Your idea totally sucks. You should definitely do it like this instead.”
Whilst for native English speakers the meaning may be obvious, to others, it’s less clear.
Commandment: Ensure everyone in the company is aware of the potential of ‘lost in translation’ situations, by training teams about cultural differences, and leading by example whenever you communicate by keeping your communications clear, slowing down your delivery, and avoiding unexplained cultural references and acronyms.
6. Not respecting your colleagues’ time [zones]
Once your company has grown large enough to have offices across two or more time zones, you’ll need to deal with time differences. However, often the ‘head’ office will expect the other, smaller offices to log in early, or stay up late for meetings.
Whilst doing this once in a while is ok, it should not become part of your culture - because you’re not respecting your colleagues time and work/life balance. In fact, you’re actually stealing your colleagues’ time. This has become even more apparent since the Corona pandemic where separating work and personal life became an even bigger challenge! Growth requires employees to feel respected and supported, not taken advantage of. It’s all part of EQ - (see sin #4)
During my former role where we had offices across three continents, we noticed this was becoming a problem, with our American and Asian colleagues expected to rise early or stay up late to suit our UK headquarters. It wasn’t until senior members of the company started to spend more time in other offices that they became aware of the problem. So we introduced a formal policy and educated all staff on the importance of respecting others’ time.
Commandment: Respect your international colleagues’ timezones. If you must schedule ‘out of office hours’ calls, alternate the times so that you both share inconvenient hours.
7. Imposing ‘home rule’ on your offices and markets in other countries: ignoring Culture Market Fit
One big mistake many companies make is trying to impose their own way of working into all their offices and markets around the world. Whilst it’s important to have a unified company vision, we know that office culture - and culture in general - in Beijing for example, is very different to that in Barcelona.
Successful companies are able to allow local culture to thrive, whilst embedding a shared vision across all offices. This is what we call ‘Culture Market Fit’. You must align your company culture with that of the local culture, and thereby unleash the maximum potential of your people via clear operating rules, values and principles, whilst gaining a clear understanding of the cultural differences and gaps.
I personally saw the problems caused when one of my previous companies applied ‘British’ culture to their offices in the US and Asia. Whilst many of the successes we’d had in Europe were applicable to other territories, we learned we had to adjust to the local culture and allow each region to forge its own path. Even the seemingly small differences can cause big problems. For example, for our US recruiting, we had applied UK job titles - which we discovered didn’t really translate correctly to the American job market and led to difficulties in attracting the right staff.
Commandment: Trust your local teams to be experts in their areas. Enable your organisation to operate according to clear guidelines, direction and objectives, which allows each team, office or market to thrive and take localised decisions, whilst maintaining common and clear goals across the business.
For each of these Seven Sins - there is a human solution. The people who work for you carry the growth DNA for your organisation: you’ll find that, as you expand across new markets, having ‘People Market Fit’ will enable your business to keep growing.Train, respect, help your people to grow, and treat them well, with transparency of expectations and using EI (Emotional Intelligence, see sin #4), and your company can thrive. Ignore that fact, and your company may falter.
If you want to learn more about the Growth OS framework for sustainable business growth, see all our upcoming proprietary masterclasses or contact us at email@example.com to request brochures for our masterclasses on:
Growth Leadership - how to lead for growth
Growth Mindset - how to build and nurture the right mindset for growth
Growth Organisation - how to build the best organisation for growth; What is the right growth structure? How should your the teams look?
About Yara Paoli
Yara is currently Chief Growth Scientist for Growth OS, a validated framework for sustainable long term growth, and she is board director and growth advisor for Kolonial.no, the leading Norwegian online grocery retailer. She is also a growth mentor for the cross-border accelerators ChinaAccelerator and MOX (operated by the venture fund SOSV, which has $700M+ AUM and operates 5 global accelerators) and Singapore She1k, enabling dozens of start ups and innovating companies across the world to implement the best growth science and culture to build their own growth operating system.
Prior to this, she was the global VP of Growth at Skyscanner, where she was part of the company’s explosive growth success story, going from a 32-employee tech start-up, to a 1.4 Billion GBP acquired company with over 1000 staff.