Rapid Growth Doesn’t Have to Be Rough on Culture

By building a strong foundation of people, these 4 companies became top dogs in scaling.

Written by Avery Komlofske
Published on May. 11, 2022
Rapid Growth Doesn’t Have to Be Rough on Culture
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Anyone who’s adopted a puppy understands that if you don’t prepare for how big something will get, you’ll be in for a world of trouble. The dog that started out as small and manageable will quickly grow beyond your capacity to handle — if you don’t hit the ground running with training, supplies and good habits. 

The same principle is true when scaling a company — if you don’t set the foundation for effective growth early, you risk losing the things that made your business work in the first place. But if you set yourself up with a strong culture, onboarding and communication processes, then scaling can bring your organization tremendous success.

“I always start with people first,” said UPshow CEO Adam Hirsen. “Without a strong foundation of hardworking, driven team members, no company can successfully scale.”

Halo co-founder and President Jason Barsema also spoke highly of his company’s culture.

“When you walk through our front door, you can feel the electricity,” said Barsema. Their people are so passionate about Halo that they overwhelmingly voted to return to the office in 2022 — and that passion has kept the company focused as it scales.

Built In Chicago sat down with Barsema, Hirsen and leaders from Farmer’s Fridge and Finix to discuss the culture, people and processes that have aided their businesses in their time of rapid growth — and made them top dogs in scaling.

 

Outside entrance of Halo Investing office building
Halo INvesting

 

Jason Barsema
President & Co-Founder • Halo Investing

 

Halo Investing is a connected marketplace for protective investing.

 

What’s the biggest challenge your team faced as the company scaled? 

By far our biggest challenge was keeping up with the speed of Halo’s growth. We’ve grown by 20 percent since the beginning of 2022, with more new hires joining almost every week. We could barely keep up. 

A lot of credit goes to our recruiting team. Despite the tight market, they were able to find the right people for the positions we needed to build out our company infrastructure. The processes and procedures that they’ve built — especially for familiarizing new hires with all aspects of the company and department shadowing — allowed us to lay the foundations carrying us into the next growth cycle.

 

What’s been your secret weapon when it comes to scaling successfully?

It isn’t a secret: It’s our company culture. 

When Biju Kulathakal and I started Halo, it was just the two of us in a one-room office. But we really believed in what we were doing, both product-wise and with regards to our mission of putting impact before profit. Structured notes and annuities may be our bread and butter, but Halo is committed to bettering the world — whether that’s solving the retirement crisis, revolutionizing the way people invest or democratizing finance by making it cheaper, faster and more transparent.

Covid presented a real challenge for us. We’d changed offices a few times before and during the pandemic, and we weren’t quite sure what kind of space to get. We wanted a place to cultivate the interpersonal bonds that go into any strong corporate culture, but we also wanted to respect those who preferred working from home. When it came time to find a new office, we took a straw poll — and people overwhelmingly wanted to come back. We’ve been in our new offices for a few months, and it’s impossible to imagine how we did it any other way.

When it came time to find a new office, we took a straw poll — and people overwhelmingly wanted to come back.”

 

Looking ahead, what will growth look like for your team?

Looking ahead, we expect that growth will look like it always has for Halo: rapid. Our sales team is expanding into more and more territories — both geographic and product-oriented — demanding a vastly increased pool of expertise. Halo’s team in our UAE offices has also grown significantly, allowing us to pursue opportunities from Cape Town to Calcutta, as well as offering our stateside employees the chance for international experience. 

We recently launched a success team to provide our clients with white-glove service as they navigate the ins and outs of trading structured products on the Halo platform. Our product team has managed to keep pace with our expanding online platform — with many more hires on the horizon we move closer to our D2C launch. 

Marketing has also emerged as a major pillar of Halo’s success. The team has tripled in size since June, developing many highly specialized teams handling everything from social media to event planning to thought leadership. It would be nice to say that only management or product forms the backbone of Halo, but that’s just not the case. Each department relies on the other — working, learning and growing together, moving all of us forward.

 

 

UPshow team members having a meeting in the office
UPshow

 

Adam Hirsen
CEO • UPshow

 

UPshow is an in-venue entertainment and marketing platform.

 

What's the biggest challenge your team faced as the company scaled?

The biggest challenge for any company as it scales is finding the right people to grow with you. You want to bring on incredible talent — people who see things in ways you don’t and whose skill sets complement yours. Our HR team has been working overtime to create a hiring experience that every candidate will love, while simultaneously ensuring we speak with the best talent from across the country.

 

What’s been your secret weapon when it comes to scaling successfully?

You have to surround yourself with people who are better than you in various areas and who are willing to learn from mistakes to ultimately make the team and company stronger. 

We’re very aware of the impact of culture on team members, which is why we launched our More Together initiative this year. At the start of every all hands meeting, I ask what our vision is for the year and get the team hyped up around this mantra of “more together.” We’re already seeing this ethos play out — our various teams collaborate with and support each other more than ever before, which is leading to tremendous results.

As CEO, it’s my responsibility to foster a great culture and a fulfilling, growth-oriented work environment. I help set the vision for the product and the business strategy — and help each member of our team to achieve their maximum potential in realizing this vision.

You want to bring on incredible talent — people who see things in ways you don’t and whose skill sets complement yours.”

 

Looking ahead, what will growth look like for your team?

With the recent launch of UPshow SHIFT — a first-of-its-kind employee engagement platform that uses on-premise screens to better reach deskless workers like cooks, servers, retail sales associates, doctors and more — we’re going to see tremendous growth across the entire company. Right now, we’re looking for incredible sales talent to help bring UPshow SHIFT to the market, but as we grow UPshow SHIFT and UPshow Health — our patient experience and employee engagement platform built for healthcare businesses — the entire company will continue to evolve in substantial ways.

 

 

Sarah Rigsbee

 

Farmer’s Fridge is making healthy food accessible to more people.

 

What’s the biggest challenge your team faced as the company scaled?

Communication across the organization has been our biggest challenge. At different phases of growth, it’s been a challenge to keep everyone informed as well as to make sure we have the right group of people in the room to make a decision. 

For example, four years ago we were small enough to have a full company meeting every Monday. There simply weren’t that many of us, and so the full team was able to check in each week around a table or two, no microphones needed. As we hired and grew the team, we transitioned to monthly all hands meetings and began to experiment with new formats for leadership decision making — and of course, during the pandemic, we had to rethink it all again. 

Keeping everyone on the same page as we scale is crucial, as more decisions are made involving and impacting more people. We’re moving fast, and it’s easy to forget or deprioritize taking the time to explain why and how we got here — but we’ve seen enormous benefits when everyone on the team is informed and understands how company goals and decisions impact their role.

 

What’s been your secret weapon when it comes to scaling successfully? 

Transparency. As we share the full picture on performance and growth with the team, they start to feel a larger sense of ownership and are more empowered to make decisions.

Last year, we started sharing full financial statements and a five-year plan with the whole company, which requires a lot of trust that our team will understand and safeguard that information. What we’ve found is that the benefits have greatly outweighed any risk about that information leaking. Teams from menu to marketing have already demonstrated how they can use all this information to inform their strategies and where they focus their efforts. 

Another thing that has really helped us scale is having clear decision-makers for each area of the business. Setting up clear swim lanes and empowering teams to make their own independent decisions allows us to move fast and not get caught up in rounds of discussions.

We’ve seen enormous benefits when everyone on the team is informed and understands how company goals and decisions impact their role.”

 

Looking ahead, what will growth look like for your team?

We expect to continue to grow at this pace — and can’t wait to bring fresh, healthy food to everyone across the country. We’ll continue to scale our team alongside the business. We love to develop people from within and have had great success with our current team following that approach. 

We’re hiring a ton right now. The sales team in particular has quite a few exciting open roles, as we are opening new markets every quarter.

 

 

Fiona Taylor
Chief Operating Officer • Finix

 

Finix is creating a payments management solution for SaaS companies.

 

What’s the biggest challenge your team faced as the company scaled? 

Scaling a company is a multifaceted effort, where a variety of issues need to be managed through a phase of rapid growth. One of the biggest challenges is aligning resources in pursuit of the same goals. Many leaders talk about people having vectors — meaning everyone has both magnitude and direction. When you’re rapidly scaling, it’s critical that everyone’s vectors are heading towards the same goal. 

Misaligned efforts can work against each other to limit progress — even a small misalignment can end up being miles apart in a few months. Defining a strategy and cascading it throughout the organization is essential. Done well, this process infuses strategic alignment into everything you do — core goals are adopted by every group in the company, who in turn come up with their own strategy and associated goals. Cascading goals become criteria for selecting the right things in which to invest time and resources. 

However, and this is vital, leaders must be able to clearly articulate goals for this cascading strategy to work. Failing to align a company’s activities to its strategy will result in an inability to effectively scale.

 

What’s been your secret weapon when it comes to scaling successfully? 

Ruthless prioritization is hard, but it’s the only way to successfully scale. No matter the stage of a company, there will be different perspectives on how to best achieve goals and a long list of projects to complete. In a world of limited resources, choices must be made between projects that move the company forward and ones that don’t. I’ve found the best way to determine priorities is to consider the impact of the project on the defined company goals.

In 2021, Finix set a goal to become a payment facilitator — from then on, every project was evaluated by asking, “what difference will this project make to our ability to become a Payfac by the due date?” 

We used a zero-to-five scoring scale, where zero had no impact and 5 was a must-have to achieve the goal. As a rapidly growing startup, human resources are limited, and teams cover multiple projects, so removing non-aligned projects allows people to truly focus on the most important things.

The real growth is in building out our team to be resilient and have the skills necessary to take the company to the next level.”

 

Looking ahead, what will growth look like for your team?

The last two years have been challenging. As we work to overcome these challenges and try to provide a healthy environment for our loved ones and ourselves, we are faced with blocks at every turn. 

Rather than talk about growth in scale or sales, I think the real growth is in building out our team to be resilient and have the skills necessary to take the company to the next level. In this environment, the ability to communicate intention, listen for perspective and resolve differences in a way that maintains relationships is more vital than ever in achieving company goals.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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