Opinion

Growing at pace: How to go from startup to global player in under four years

6 min read

17 March 2015

As an entrepreneur at the helm of a fast-growth SaaS venture, Vaughan Rowsell shares his tips on the approach and attitude needed to create a technology business selling around the world.

My company, which provides a cloud-based point-of-sale platform, has grown at breakneck speed since I started in 2010 as a one-man-band with a vision to build a billion dollar company. 

We are now a global business with more than 220 people in seven offices, and customers in over 140 countries. I’m often asked how this happened and what advice I would give to other entrepreneurs with an ambition to shake things up. Here are my top five recommendations.

(1) Think and act globally from day one

Before I wrote the first line of code I knew Vend would be a global company. This impetus was built into the company’s DNA, and gave us direction and momentum in the early days. By promoting ourselves internationally we picked up customers in different time zones from the outset. This forced us to provide global 24/7 support and scale teams in other regions very quickly.

Our international reach demanded a physical international presence in key areas such as Silicon Valley. We came up with a model that allowed us to have people on the ground in all strategic areas, without over-extending ourselves. We selected cities based on compatible time-zones, a less cut-throat hiring market, and quality of life for our staff. We then set up lean business development teams on the ground; ensuring we didn’t miss any opportunities.

Because we made these choices from the outset, Vend is probably the most global software-as-a-service (SaaS) company in the world. Few startups are as wide-reaching as we are, with revenue spread equally between key markets. Others are already following in our footsteps.

(2) Ship your product fast

While I would encourage you to invest in your product, and research, test and develop your portfolio rigorously, I would also urge you to resist the temptation to tinker. The more you tweak it here and there, the longer the delay in taking your product to market; which will only stall opportunities to win customer favour and secure investor funding. 

While it’s tempting to limit customer interaction to your own backyard, particularly when validating your product, this local approach only works for the first ten or so customers. Once you’re comfortable you have a good market fit and your product is sellable, release yourself from the pressure of delivering something “perfect”. I would encourage you to get the product into people’s hands as quickly as you can. Customers rarely use every feature and functionality from the outset. 

Read more about growing a global business:

(3) Surround yourself with people you can lean on 

I’ve earned the nickname “chief delegation officer” because of my open reliance on my team. Delegation is vital to achieving scale. As a founder, I can’t solve everything. As the business has grown my involvement in Vend has had to evolve too. A business owner with ambitions for growth needs talented people first and foremost. They should be surrounded by people who are actually smarter than them, who they can trust and share responsibility with. 

My philosophy is that if I recruit the right people for the right tasks, and I have a culture in which everyone is encouraged to try new things without fear of criticism if they make mistakes, then I have laid the foundations for people to do amazing things.

(4) Grow into your stack

A company’s product needs to grow with it. We started with an enterprise stack we could develop into and which wouldn’t limit us or our growth. We originally attracted small retailers, like cupcake shops and tiny boutiques. These were our early adopters. After two years we evolved our product and started attracting bigger customers with more niche requirements. 

Because we had an enterprise-ready tool, we were able to simply update the product to match these needs. By taking a modular approach we’ve been able to turn functions on and off and bill customers accordingly. This flexible approach has proved integral to enabling growth.

(5) Go fast. Raise capital

When it comes to money, impatience is a virtue. Raising capital should be a fast-moving virtuous cycle. Companies need to spend money upfront to attract customers, build the product and hire amazing people. They then need to keep the momentum going. Personally if I’m onto a good thing, I don’t want to slow it down.

Now I’m the founder of a fast growing company, my role is centred on removing roadblocks that could slow us down. I have underpinned this acceleration with good governance. This is critical. Companies can run their business in a myriad of ways but a common denominator must be solid processes, transparency and robust business ethics. Once these are in place, sprint as fast as you can.

Vaughan Rowsell is the founder and CEO of Vend.