GameChanger co-founder and co-founders have been working on a startup for nearly 8 years. They have had many successes and many failures and have done our best to take it all in and just keep learning and doing it better. At many of the crucial junctures along the way, I didn’t know going in what was happening or whether we’d get to the other side, or indeed what it would look like when we did. With the extreme benefit of hindsight (and the privilege of having lived to tell the story), I can now see a clear progression of eras.
Ted and I have been working on GameChanger for nearly 8 years now. Like most startups, we started off meeting at lunches, weekends, evenings, and slowly chipping away at a itch. We talked to customers, we raised money, we shipped things, we hired people. We had many successes and many failures and have done our best to take it all in and just keep learning and doing it better.
Scaling the company itself has been full of surprises. At many of the crucial junctures along the way, I didn’t know going in what was happening or whether we’d get to the other side, or indeed what it would look like when we did. With the extreme benefit of hindsight (and the privilege of having lived to tell the story), I can now see a clear progression of eras. None of these were as clean or distinct as they come across here, but I wish someone had been able to give me a heads up on what was coming before I lived it.
The Founder Era
Ok, you’ve gotten enough chutzpah together to start building something that doesn’t exist. It’s an awesome feeling, full of optimism.
Staff: 1–3 founders with curiosity and drive
Focus: learning your market, understanding your customers, proving your concept solves a real problem for someone, trying lots of shit
Pitfall: being too obsessed with your own vision and not open enough to iterating toward the emerging reality
Economics: bootstrapped, friends & family money, side gigs
The Scrappy Era
Having created something of value to someone, you are now trying to reach some bar of quality or completeness to sell it. It feels like the hard part is behind you, and it’s all about execution now.
Staff: 4–10 mostly individual contributors, culture of passion & flexibility
Focus: initiative, delivering on your promise to your customers, honing in on key areas of value, and moving fast
Pitfall: stretching yourself too thin, not delivering at sufficient quality
Economics: some outside funding, maybe some early drips of revenue
The Heroic Era
Having slapped together a fully functioning product, you’re actually getting real usage by real customers and facing lots of new reality.
Staff: 10–25 of the smartest and hardest-working generalists out there
Focus: productizing your prototype, hardening your infrastructure, formalizing your architecture, investing in user experience
Pitfall: key players burn out if reinforcements aren’t fast enough, and your organization isn’t deep enough to take much turnover yet
Economics: professional investors put in 7-digits, meaningful revenues
The Team Era
Having stopped most of the bleeding, the company is evolving past reliance on individuals and developing into an organization that can sustain and focus.
Staff: 25–50 with a layer of domain experts and experienced management and clear areas of responsibility
Focus: standardizing operations, creating clear goals and metrics, clarifying roles and responsibilities
Pitfall: it’s easy to lose focus and drive as layers of management and indirection are new necessities, and failure to get strong leaders in place can overwhelm you
Economics: institutional capital, maturing revenue model
The Enterprise Era
It’s hard to keep calling yourself a startup, because you have established revenue streams and do grown-up things like make somewhat reliable annual projections and plans, but you need to expand.
Staff: 50–100+ with professional management and great HR
Focus: optimally managing investment of resources and maintaining organizational alignment toward growth as the internal complexity grows
Pitfall: it’s easy to get mediocre as your heroes ride off into the sunset