What David Graff learned scaling the Hudl team from 3 to 170

(Guest post by David Graff) "As the company grows, this change can be hard for some of your early associates. The company that person first signed up for may not the company they work for now and may not be the type of company they want to work for. As a result, you’ll lose people

Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. July’s topic is about scaling a company.

About the author: David Graff is the co-founder and CEO of Hudl, a software company out of Lincoln that manages video for sports teams.

Scaling your business: A fun problem to have 

Scaling a business is tough. You can never hire enough good people as fast as you want, and if you do succeed, you run into issues like a shortage of desk space, too much demand for meeting rooms and not enough parking spots for everyone.

Whenever we’re talking through (okay, maybe complaining about) these issues, Jim McClurg, the chairman of our board of directors, is quick to remind us: “Gentlemen, these are good problems to have.” And he’s right—it is more fun to tackle a scaling problem than worrying about making payroll or having to cut back.

Tackling the “good problems” 

So, how do we best tackle these good problems? On the product side, CTO Brian Kaiser and VP of engineering Jon Dokulil deserve a lot of credit for considering the impact of wild success and building Hudl to scale. On the business side, we did a good job staying conservative and hedging risk, but did a poor job considering the upside of “What if?” scenarios, and it’s led to some pain points.

When we’ve found success (and trust me, we haven’t always), it’s usually been the result of careful planning to get ahead of issues, even when it seems like they may only come in the distant future. If you can invest the time to think through scalable systems from the start, you’re going to be far better off. Hopefully you can learn from the things we feel we did well or did poorly, and not make the same mistakes.

Some things we definitely did poorly

For most companies in the early startup phase, there’s not a lot of funds available to grow the team. But that shouldn’t stop you from connecting with talented individuals and building a wish list of folks you’d hire when you have the need and the money. We could have done a much better job with this early on. Get out to conferences and meetups, connect with as many talented people as you can and keep in touch with them. You never know when the right opportunity may arise in the future for you to join forces.

When you’re closely watching every dollar, it’s hard to convince yourself to spend the extra money on additional office space. But the right environment, with space to work and solid meeting room setups, can make a huge difference in productivity. Spend a little extra money to get a solid space. It is an investment that can pay itself off very quickly in enhanced productivity from your team.

Also, make sure you have flexibility in whatever office space you choose, because when you are ready to hire, you’ll likely need room available to grow quickly. Don’t box your team in, forcing you to relocate when you’re ready to hire. Consider paying for additional space right from the start (the right landlord may give you flexibility to pay as you grow into the space) or getting a right of first refusal on nearby expansion space.

Some things we think we did well 

It’s worth investing the time to give deliberate thought to your company’s mission and core values, and write them down. Once captured, review the decisions you’re making against the mission and values to make sure they align. If there are inconsistencies, it’s worth reconsidering either the decision or the mission/values and making changes so they are in alignment.

Your mission and values will evolve as your company matures. That’s fine. Just make sure you recognize when those changes occur and consciously embrace the maturation. We review our mission and values quarterly, as well as any time we make a big decision to ensure alignment.

To ensure we were positioned to hire the best talent when we were ready, we decided to invest early in great benefits. A lot of the things we offered weren’t a huge cost when we were small and just getting started, but made a big difference in helping us attract top people and set the right tone. See my earlier post on this topic.

If you want to be a company that scales successfully, you need to teach your team how to let go. There are big changes involved with growing from a 10- to 20- to 50- to 100-person company. Early on, everyone knows everything because it’s easy—there is just naturally less going on and fewer decisions to be made. But as you grow, it’s important to be able to trust your teammates and learn to delegate and specialize. 

I mentioned Jim McClurg earlier in this post, and, if you’re around me, Brian or John much, you’ll often hear us quote his wisdom. Jim pushed us early on to get our team thinking about growth and specialization, and their role as Hudl grows. Those who were involved early on had a unique opportunity to chart their path—if they can mature and grow their skills with the company, they can define the growth of the pyramid beneath them. But that meant they would need to let go of certain job responsibilities they might love to really master the skills that the company required out of their specific department at that time. This is a trend that repeats itself as we continue growing.

As the company grows, this change can be hard for some of your early associates. The company that person first signed up for may not the company they work for now and may not be the type of company they want to work for. As a result, you’ll lose people who don’t want to make this transition, and that’s okay. The important thing is to be honest and recognize this as early as possible. Then, don’t make it an awkward exit. Celebrate the accomplishments that person had during their time with the company—they probably played a big role in getting the company to where it is today—and wish them the best on their new adventures. You never know when you’ll cross paths again.


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