The mistake I made trying to hold on to a startup culture

The mistake I made trying to hold on to a startup culture

One of the biggest mistakes I made at Yellowfin was trying to hold onto our startup culture too long.

I loved the early days – five people in a room working on the business. It was great fun and quite a unique startup culture. So I wanted to hold onto that feeling as long as I could, but at the time I didn’t realize that it was inhibiting the growth of our business.



Businesses have to mature to scale


Growing up as a business is a bit like growing up as a person. While it’s fun to play and have a giggle, there comes a point where you have to mature to become the adult you want to be. Our culture had to do the same thing – it had to adapt and change to match the business we were growing into.

I’m open in saying that it took me a long time to realize this. I wanted to believe that we were still swashbuckling pirates who could do anything, but really we had matured.

So while I tried to protect our culture, there were elements that just didn’t scale. For example, face-to-face communication or a lack of business process just isn’t feasible as you grow. Trying to maintain these elements of our early startup culture ultimately held us back.

It finally became apparent when we brought in a much stronger leadership team. They expected more from our organization and I realized that I had to let our culture change to move forward as an organization.


Cultural change can actually be a great thing


It had never occurred to me that we could change our culture and still have a fantastic business. While Yellowfin matured into something new, the core elements of our original culture are still in the business and that’s vitally important.

We have a great place to work, we hire good people and we can still have fun and laugh at ourselves. At the same time, to support a much larger organization, we now have more processes in place. While this might be the antithesis of our past culture, it’s allowed us to grow into the organization that we now are.

In hindsight, I would have prepared for the change and driven it much harder earlier on so that our culture could support our growth trajectory. While we never reached the point where maintaining our startup culture became a massive burden on our growth, it was certainly looming. The reality is that the culture that works for a company with 50 people simply cannot support an organization with hundreds of people.

By embracing change and being willing to move forward the business had a huge surge. Our sales organization matured and adapted really quickly to the change – letting go of the past enabled us to double our business in less than 18 months.


Not everyone wants to change and that’s alright


Changing our culture was important but it wasn’t something that everyone wanted to do. Some people that were working at Yellowfin wanted to remain in a startup style culture, so they moved on to other early-stage startups to live that experience again.

Yellowfin is now a very different organization but it still has a great culture and that’s what matters to me most. I now realize how important is to embrace change and allow the organization to grow and thrive. Implementing change is a continuous journey – our culture will continue to adapt, evolve and grow – and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. After all, there’s nothing better than seeing your baby grow up and become something incredible.