Thoughts on Growing a Company
Between 2015 and 2019 Ingenuity Studios, where I worked, grew from about 20 people in 1 location to just under 200 in 3 locations. That's 10x in 4 years.
I recently met someone (not in the VFX industry) who is faced with the prospect of scaling-up their company 2x in the next 6 months. At the risk of being incredibly presumptuous, I couldn’t resist writing-down a few hard-won lessons from our days of rapid growth. It is by no means comprehensive, and only addresses a few specific points.
The demand for your resources will probably grow faster than your ability to add them, which means one day soon you’ll look around and see a lot of new people and new ways of doing things but still feel like it’s not enough.
As you add resources you will also increase the complexity of the organization. Very quickly your managers may find themselves with far too many decisions to make and far too many conflicting priorities to manage. This bottleneck will burn-out your managers, burn-out the people depending on them, and deprive your projects of what they need most of all: people’s attention.
The only way I know how to avoid this is by strongly investing in logistics (hiring pipeline, tools, and infrastructure) and building robust resource-management and decision-making systems. The exact make-up of those systems depends on your situation, but you should be aggressive and prepared to get it wrong a few times before you get it right.
The balancing act you will face will largely come down to the trade offs between robustness and efficiency. The more robust you are the more expensive and complex everything becomes, and the more lean-and-mean you are the more vulnerable you’ll be to mistakes and failures.
Not only is it important to find the right balance, but you must be able to articulate that balance to your team. Team members who are in the dark as to why you’ve made the trade-offs you’ve made will tend to think (when they disagree with them) that you’re simply incompetent. These people will be very difficult to spot, faster to burn-out, and will become an element of resistance in the team’s forward progress.
Some of this is unavoidable because you’ll often have no choice but to do what is required and fix the mistakes and missteps later, that’s the price you pay for rapid growth. But you can fight the effects of these problems with something very simple: vision.
In a high-growth situation it is to your great advantage to be able to describe a vision of the future that your people feel they have a stake in, that they’re excited about, and that they find worthy of their efforts. That shared vision becomes a defensive layer over the team that protects it from the inevitable difficulties that come from rapid growth.
But above all, this kind of growth is a personal opportunity. To learn new skills, to be pushed out of comfort zones, to prove oneself. Growing a company 10x in roughly 6 years taught me a great many things. Not just about how to do the work and run the company but about myself. I am more confident, more compassionate, more patient, more willing to take risks, more invested in relationships, and better equipped for life in general. These are the lasting benefits of my investment in the company.