Scale-up operating model series: Creating scaling systems for an agile, high-performance culture
Startups are always one big family – a group of individuals really striving and working together to grow a business. But as the startup grows, how can you and your team make sure you’re using the foundational building blocks to change from a family to an elite, high-performing sports team?
We sat down with Chris Obdam, co-founder and CEO of Betty Blocks (with his brother Tim Obdam), the number one no-code application development platform for citizen development, to discuss how to build a high-performance culture through proper scaling of people, systems, and workflows.
As a serial entrepreneur, Chris started Betty Blocks to help enterprises be more innovative by building more applications and solving their business problems. The Dutch-based company raised $33 million to fund a low-code application development platform in August 2021, bringing their no- and low-code dream closer to being a reality for every citizen.
We started with Obdam’s adventures in entrepreneurship and how vital it is for a founder to be ready to get their hands dirty, especially in the early days. Much like a family, everyone has to pitch in, including the founder and CEO. “I joked earlier this week that in the early days if there was something messy in the office, I picked up a broom and started cleaning the office,” said Obdam. “But when you grow bigger, you need to be a high-performing team. So that means that you need to select the right members of that team. And you need to make sure that you coach them well.”
Culture and Performance Go Hand-in-Hand
While performance is at the forefront of most growing startup’s minds, Obdam placed just as much emphasis on picking the right people and setting up a great culture where performance is expected. “You need to balance it between organizing a great culture as well. So culture needs to go hand-in-hand with performance. Learning fast is paramount in the scale-up and growth phases, and having those systems in place allows you to be more predictable in your growth,” he says.
For Betty Blocks, it’s all about having the proper systems in place – both for the business and high-performing employees – and about evolving these systems as your business does. “We are big fans of continuous improvement or the compound interest rule. If you change your company and yourself, for 1% every day, at the end of the year, it’s more than if you make two or three big jumps that are 50%. And that means that you need to create a culture. But if you set up systems to work on that continuous improvement, and everybody can set targets, everybody can make people accountable for those targets. But if you don’t have systems in place to meet those targets, you’re never going to succeed. So these systems are essential,” he points out.
This is why Betty Blocks implemented the agile methodology – allowing the company to take a retrospective every two weeks to improve continuously.
At Betty Blocks, the agile system prevents a lack of progress, which Obdam had to learn to deal with years ago. During a holiday, he thought about why he implemented none of the great ideas at the beginning of the year six months into the year. Frustrated by the lack of progress, Obdam and the team decided to start doing sprints. “You decide what to do in two weeks. After two weeks, you need to be accountable and present to stakeholders. Did you succeed in what you were planning to do?” says Obdam. “That is how we rely on our systems.”
And the agile system is throughout their organization, from product development (naturally) through marketing, finance, and even human resources. Obdam admits it takes a little bit of getting used to, but in the end, it works. “If you want to make sure that you grow and as you learn, it [the agile framework] gives you guardrails, as well. So, if you want to grow but don’t have a system in place, you need to accept a little bit of chaos and be more reactive. Having a system in place allows you to be proactive and lets you grow and scale seamlessly,” says Obdam. “And of course, the latter is what is preferred.”
Building an Agile Organization
Setting up an agile mindset can help change your attitude and business, but you have to plan everything according to the methodology. That means organizing your goals in sprints and holding everyone accountable for their role over those two weeks.
Obdam admits, this can be hard for some teams, like sales and marketing, to take on, but it’s worth it in the end. “It takes some time before people get adapted to it, other than in product development. But in the end, people like it, and people like the cadence that it brings as well.” Adopting the agile mindset helped the team make those incremental changes and steps to reach that end goal. “I’m not a big fan of organizing targets in quarters,” says Obdam. “Ideally, you want to have a spike every month, which offers a better cadence at the end. You don’t want to work towards the end of the quarter, but it is still part of the natural mindset of every salesperson,” Obdam says. “So it’s tough to change that. I’m already happy that we introduced some agile concepts in sales, which was quite a big mindset change to start with.”
Obdam says that when it comes to planning for long-term growth, startups need to build their entire growth model around one north star metric. “I think that it is important for every growth company to understand and find your one metric to measure that everybody should rally around. If you build your entire growth model around that metric, it helps to align everything and prioritize,” Obdam says. “You need to make sure that it’s not a management thing but that everybody understands where growth needs to come from. Everybody needs to find out what they can attribute to that to increase that metric. That way, everybody knows which part to play.”
Planning for Growth
As startups, finding that product-market fit early is essential. Once you’ve thought through product distribution, it impacts how you design your organization, operations, and processes. According to Obdam, bringing on board someone who’s very operational but can also do the planning in terms of growth can be helpful to support that hyper-growth phase. The moment after you are raising a seed round, it helps to have somebody in place. When people are in charge of finance, they need to understand the entire organization. So it helps as a founder if you want to focus on growth and product, to have a strong finance person who is also into operations and has experience creating agility in financial planning. You can then focus on building the company and not controlling the company,” he explains.
Changing Habits for Everyone
Obdam recommends Atomic Habits by James Clear for all founders. The book talks about how creating systems for your personal life, not just your business, can not only help you but make you happier.
“Research has proved structure will make you feel happier. We need structure to feel happy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not only does this apply to your business, but also you as a person because one helps the other,” says Obdam.
He says that it’s never too early or late to get started with the growth mindset regardless of your team’s size or business. He points out, Betty Blocks began a bit late but made up for the lost time. He suggests starting right off the bat, making sure you, as a founder, see everyone as a part of one team – and have a plan in place from the start.
“If you don’t plan, you’re not, and you don’t know if you’re succeeding,” came Obdam’s final piece of advice. “Start planning and start checking if your plan works, then update your plan. And repeat.”
This article was brought to you by Pegafund, Modern CFO services for high growth European SaaS businesses, in collaboration with Chargebee.