There comes a time when all thriving businesses need to scale. This do-or-die inflection point all but determines whether organizations are primed to prosper or perish.
I’m always on the lookout for companies that embrace a mindful approach to scaling; opting to prioritize building a strong foundation over moving quickly. I recently sat down with Brynn Putnam to discuss her approach to scaling. A former professional ballerina for the New York City Ballet, Brynn Putnam has long recognized that success is a journey, not a race. After Brynn launched Mirror–which empowers people, including celebrities like Alicia Keys, Reese Witherspoon, and Kate Hudson, to create a nearly invisible interactive gym by streaming fitness content through its flagship product, The Mirror–she prioritized mindful and purposeful scaling.
Here are a few of the scaling lessons Brynn shared with me.
1. Better is better.
Some startups pride themselves on building things fast, shipping quickly, and fixing things later. We’ve seen the negative ramifications of this approach firsthand over the last couple of years.
As Stanford Professors Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao detail in their book, Scaling up Excellence, too many companies view scaling as an exercise in speed and addition–adding more people, more products, more technology, more quickly than ever before. When companies move too quickly and prioritize speed over process, the results can be crippling.
Brynn explained to me that Mirror is “a culture where we believe that the difference between 99 percent and 100 percent is important.” Instead of foraging into multiple applications, Brynn and her team have opted to perfect building Mirror as an interactive gym before expanding into different markets. While it has bold ambitions to expands into e-commerce and telehealth, the Mirror team wants to spend the time to conquer that extra one percent and build a strong foundation that it can leverage as a launchpad for other pursuits. Brynn and team live by the mantra “better is better.” In the lingo of Sutton and Rao, effective scaling often involves spreading a mindset, rather than a footprint.
2. Always have a DRI.
Brynn and team embrace the concept of DRI (directly responsible individual)–a term that was coined by Apple in the Steve Jobs’ era and widely espoused as key to Apple’s commitment to high-quality products and services. At Mirror, every project–big or small–has a corresponding DRI.
Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of the DRI isn’t exclusively to ensure people are held accountable for projects and things don’t fall through the cracks. Perhaps more important, a DRI culture minimizes duplicative work. Redundant accountability can be just as crippling to a scaling business as no accountability at all. According to a recent Asana study based on a 2019 qualitative survey among 10,223 global knowledge workers (full disclosure: I work at Asana), workers spend, on average four hours and 38 minutes each week on pure duplication of work!
3. Overcome tool bloat.
When companies scale too quickly, they often fall into the trap of technology tool bloat–they add technologies to their tool stacks without carefully evaluating the purpose of these tools. The result is workplaces that are teeming with a hodgepodge of different tools that aren’t integrated, don’t speak to each other, resulting in constant chaos and context shifting. According to Asana’s study, knowledge workers use ten apps and software programs on average every day.
Early on, Brynn recognized the importance of the thoughtful implementation of technology tools. She reflected, “We went through a period when we were small and growing quickly and we were using Slack and email for task management. It was chaos.”
To ensure that workplace tools were empowering, not constraining work, Brynn and team established rules of engagement for technology use. After discussing the pros and cons of the tools in its stack, Mirrors’ leadership team decided that Slack would be used for quick questions and status updates, Asana for all project management, and email only for external communication and setting up meetings.
This clarity in terms of the purpose of tools is rare, though immensely valuable, especially among young businesses. Do you know the purpose behind each of the tools you and your team members are using? Do they align or overlap? These questions should be top-of-mind as you embark on your scaling journey.
Scaling is difficult work. It’s worth the effort to slow down, embrace a “better is better” mindset, and prioritize thoughtful implementation of technology.