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What Unicorns Know: The Physics of Scaling for Growth

A ScaleUp company is a vehicle for rapid business growth, whose momentum can be likened to that of a professional NASCAR or Formula 1 race car – where speed is a key determinant of success.

There is a notion for SaaS companies that to get to $100M in 5 years and be valued at $1B (unicorn status), companies need to follow T2D3; that is, they need to triple their revenue growth two times and then double their growth three times. Not all companies will follow this trajectory of growth, and different industries also have varying growth rates. Growth is key for any company to scale effectively, whether it is a startup, ScaleUp, or mature public company.

However, any object moving at a high velocity faces physical forces of resistance that must be overcome to achieve the speed and agility required to win. These restraining forces have business corollaries that act as inhibitors to scale, the net effect of which, if not minimized, can determine whether a company realizes its market potential.

Watch: What a Unicorn Knows: 5 Principles for Growth in 2023

The following four physical forces work against any body in motion, including a fast-growing company: Drag, Inertia, Friction, and Waste.


Drag is the resistance of air against a moving object. Drag in the business context is often present at the strategic level, e.g., adverse indicators such as sluggish market moves, inability to change direction with agility, and company-wide misalignment of strategies and objectives.

A few key questions can help you assess whether your company may be vulnerable to drag:

  • Does your company have clarity on Where to Play and How to Win?
  • Do all business operations and functions have supporting strategies aligned to these choices?
  • Does your company have clearly defined and relevant strategic priorities?
  • Do all business operations and functions have contributing metrics?
  • Are cascading goals in place to deploy strategies and achieve metrics?


Inertia is the resistance to any change in the current state of motion. Corporate inertia is often responsible for waning product performance and competitiveness, feature fatigue, and a poor innovation pipeline.

The following questions can help you assess whether your company may be vulnerable to inertia:

  • Does senior leadership favor experiments over ideas?
  • Is constant experimentation a required core competency?
  • Are fresh opportunities and new insights consistently pursued through experimentation?
  • Do you have a common method for rapid experimentation with customers?
  • Do you have a standard approach for advancing early experiments toward innovations?


Friction occurs when moving parts rub against each other and is a common cause of slow adoption speed, poor customer experience, retention/renewal difficulty, and undelivered customer outcomes.

The following questions can help you assess whether your company may be vulnerable to friction:

  • Do customers realize value from your products quickly and effortlessly?
  • Do you have documented customer jobs-to-be-done for all key customer profiles?
  • Do you clearly understand the job(s) your customers are trying to do?
  • Are your products and services aligned to customer/user desired business outcomes?
  • Do you have a prioritized list of opportunities to improve the customer experience?


Waste is the motion of performing unneeded, unrequested, or unnecessary work or the byproduct of that activity, which restricts value flow.

Waste is perhaps the most prevalent impediment to value. It is present not so much because the work being performed is inefficient but rather because it is ineffective, defined simply as doing the wrong work. As business strategist Peter Drucker once noted, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Companies in the ScaleUp stage are often fraught with waste simply because growth has outpaced development of the standardized operating processes needed to sustain the business into the future.

Insight Onsite’s work with dozens of ScaleUps reveals that waste most often takes the form of performing work that no one, especially a customer, is asking for or needs.

The following questions can help you assess whether your company may be vulnerable to waste:

  • Is high priority placed on eliminating all forms of value-destroying waste?
  • Do key customer value-adding activities optimize quality, cost, speed, and experience?
  • Do you have standard operating procedures for all key processes?
  • Is continuous process improvement a company-wide capability?
  • Do senior leaders actively champion and participate in process optimization?

Typically, most ScaleUps cannot answer the questions above with a resounding “yes!” A new and effective operating framework is often needed to address the unique way restraining forces manifest themselves in rapidly growing software companies. The framework centers on the concept of “lean.”

Lean should be a grand unifying concept encompassing a concerted effort to reduce the momentum-stealing effects of drag, inertia, friction, and waste. While lean methods are the benchmark in manufacturing settings and have been applied with some success to entrepreneurial startups, broad application of lean-based principles to software technology enterprises remains mostly a counterintuitive concept and rare practice.

Ask yourself the questions above, and if you find many apply to your business, read more for how to implement the lean principles of SCALE.

Learn more about applying lean principles to scale by reading What A Unicorn Knows, available now.

7 Things to Include in Every Board Deck

Why do many executive teams loathe board meetings?

At Insight, we work closely with executive teams to drive growth, scale operations, and achieve better and faster results through Onsite, our team of 130+ dedicated operators in sales/customer success, marketing, talent, and product/tech. As a result, we have attended and prepared for many board meetings.

Board meetings are invaluable. They are the ultimate time and place to evaluate strategic progress, refine or revise goals and timelines, and receive insight from experienced people who are invested in the company’s success. These meetings can be a time to reflect on progress and celebrate wins and milestones.

But often, executive teams dread the quarterly board meeting. They are a lot of work, they necessitate business scrutiny, and they might even reveal issues.

Compounding this dread is that founders and company leaders are rarely told what to include in the board agenda and materials, and what makes a presentation valuable for both management and the board. Crisp, open, thoughtful, and productive board meetings build positive relationships between the board and executive teams. However, board meetings that waste valuable time can undercut the board’s confidence in management. We summarize our best practices for productive board meetings here.

Board meetings are a CEO’s strategic weapon

Effective board meetings clarify priorities; they allow leaders to spotlight results, highlight challenges, and discuss key strategic issues. The best management teams and board members hold each other accountable and truly want to review company progress and improve where possible.

CEOs and management teams get the most out of board meetings when they arm directors with the information required to ask smart, pertinent questions. And the exceptional teams focus on the places where those questions — and the answers — will have the highest impact.

Seven must-haves for your board presentation

While every company is different, the software companies that run the best board meetings have common approaches and provide similar information in their presentations. At a minimum, include these seven things in your board presentation decks.

1. Establish and stick to stated objectives

Too many of the worst board meetings begin with an agenda, but not with objectives. That is a big point of difference. An agenda is merely the data that gets presented. Objectives are what you want to get out of the time together.

Before every board meeting, the CEO should complete this sentence, “This meeting will be a success if we…”  “…get through the agenda on time,” is not an ideal response.  “Agree on a budget,” or “Set baseline goals and metrics” are much better.

2. Include a “State of the Union” from the CEO

Board meetings are most effective when organized around top priorities and issues. An update from the CEO on key accomplishments, challenges, and how the company plans to address those challenges helps orient the board. With a 360-degree view of the business, the board can provide sound advice and guidance.

Avoid the temptation to speak in phrases. “Good” is not a number. Include data. Real measurable outcomes aligned with key performance indicators will help the board – and the management team – make good decisions. It’s also important, as part of the CEO report, to include and review action items, including any from the previous board or leadership meetings.

This is also the time for the CEO to ask for guidance on key decisions. Asking for the board’s point of view on challenging decisions ensures that the board agrees with the decision and is invested in the outcome.

3. Don’t shy away from non-financial numbers

Board members can add the most value when they have access to the rich data that informs management decisions, not just the requisite financial statements. So, while you may summarize, also provide the metrics you use to monitor progress. That way, board members can help you be sure you’re measuring the correct things, in the best way.

Board members can share how your measures stack up against other businesses and help provide greater context to the data. When in doubt, hand it out. If you don’t have data on something, it may be worth discussing that as well.

Data such as financial statements, HR metrics, sales and marketing data (e.g., bookings growth and customer success metrics), and product management and development metrics (such as product roadmap milestones) are all useful for board members.

Board meetings are more effective when the materials – especially data information – are sent 48 hours in advance. To assist with productive board meetings, Insight Onsite has developed a template board package that includes the metrics that are important for effective board discussions. Your investor should be able to provide this sort of guidance.

4. Functional summaries matter

A one-page summary by function with key highlights from the quarter, near-term priorities, and current challenges lets the board quickly see what’s happening by department.

The executive team leaders in a software company (product, engineering, marketing, sales, customer success, HR, and finance) should present a dashboard of key metrics, current priorities, and progress against previously discussed priorities. Good CEOs have leadership team meetings where functional heads know the constraints and priorities of their colleagues. Where this doesn’t occur, the board meeting is a good forum to disseminate information so everyone may understand the situation. When the team has a complete view, priorities can change, cooperation can grow, and teams can be more effective. By getting visibility into these functional priorities, your board may be able to help the process along.

5. Review strategy

A board’s role is governance, results, and strategy. Too often strategy gets lost amidst the approval of board minutes and the dissection of business metrics.

CEOs should discuss market dynamics, competitive moves, environmental factors, new relevant regulation, talent retention, M&A, and company direction. The board meeting is an opportunity to get a broader perspective and review industry dynamics that may impact the business. Discussing the probabilities of different scenarios is a core responsibility of the board.

6. Spotlight your team

People are the most important asset of any business. As any good manager knows, recruiting, hiring, training, and developing the best talent is what separates great teams from the rest.

Leadership and execution are hard work for company leaders. By giving functional leaders a chance to display their potential and be acknowledged by the board for their accomplishments, the CEO ensures that leaders are motivated and aligned.

Understanding and displaying their senior leaders’ potential and performance in a board deck calls out key team members and helps keep the organization focused on talent development.

7. Seek out direct feedback

Good board meetings include time alone with the CEO for the board to provide the CEO with confidential feedback, and for the group to collectively review executive team composition, highlight capability gaps, and discuss succession plans. The board is able to provide observations and proffer help.

The CEO job is lonely. The board meeting time represents an opportunity to discuss concerns behind closed doors and obtain input. The CEO should view this time as one of the key benefits of board meetings. The collective capability of the board is focused on improving the company. Take the chance to tap into this experience and knowledge.

Board meetings done right

When prepared and delivered well, board materials help leadership teams focus on what matters and allow board members to prove their value. As you prepare your presentation and run your board meetings, follow the rules. Be honest, support your plans and presentations with data, and most importantly, seek and solicit feedback from board members. Rather than dreading the work board meeting preparation can take and seeking perfunctory sign-off, view this time as an opportunity to get the advice and investment every company needs to deliver outstanding performance. Our list of seven must-haves will get you most of the way there; the quality of the dialog will do the rest. 

Analyst Relations 101: How to Successfully Engage and Brief Analyst Firms

Many ScaleUps think of analyst relations (AR) as a black box. They might know they need to engage with analysts, but they’re not sure how to effectively do it. Other companies ignore AR completely because they don’t understand it. Do this at your peril. Getting featured in an analyst report can unlock major opportunities for SaaS software companies selling into the enterprise.

What is analyst relations (AR)?

Analyst relations is the proactive engagement of analysts at research firms (e.g., Forrester, Gartner, IDC, and others) to develop a mutually beneficial relationship that results in advocacy and market impact. It’s important to note that you don’t need to be a paying customer to brief these firms. In addition to this blog, my colleague Charlene Chen authored our ScaleUp Guide to Analyst Relations which provides context and tactical tips.

After spending six years as a senior analyst at Forrester, I’m excited to share my AR knowledge with Insight’s portfolio and the broader community. While at Forrester, I authored dozens of research reports and conducted five Wave evaluations in the digital experience space, with my most recent Wave published earlier this year on Digital Asset Management (DAM). I saw firsthand what good and bad AR looked like and its rippling effects.

It’s never too early to consider analyst relations

AR is key to scaling a business. It’s never too early to start thinking about and planning an AR strategy. Even for early-stage companies (sub $5 million in revenue), AR can provide powerful benefits. For example, when you brief an analyst for the first time, you have 30 minutes to make this tough audience understand your point of view and make them care. The practice of AR and analyst interactions forces all companies to clearly articulate the market challenge, detail customer pain points, and succinctly describe how their company or product uniquely solves the challenge. To convince the analysts, you must supply evidence in the form of market data and customer case studies. In other words, analyst relations is a form of company branding and product messaging and positioning.

At Insight, I educate our portfolio on the importance of AR: what ScaleUps need to know about engaging with analyst firms, how you can build a briefing deck that catches the eye of the ever-busy analyst, and key insights and tactics to improve positioning. Here are some important key takeaways from these conversations that will help any company with its analyst relations strategy.

Read more: The ScaleUp Guide to Analyst Relations: A Fast Track to Enterprise Credibility

How to build your AR program

The hardest part of getting started is getting started. Many organizations start their AR practices with a marketing professional spending only some of their time on AR. Teams tend to be small. Most Insight portfolio companies have a product marketer carving out a few hours a week to focus on AR, while others may have one or two people dedicated to the practice. For early-stage companies, the founder or CEO owns the AR strategy. It’s only when you move into very large enterprises that full teams of AR professionals are present. Some best practices for developing an AR program include:

Understand the analyst firms and coverage

Gartner, Forrester, and IDC have the broadest coverage of the firms. Even non-clients can search these sites to see topics analysts are covering and some of their recent publication titles or summaries. Do your research to understand which analysts are covering your topic and create a prioritized list of primary and secondary analysts who are related to your space. There are also more specialized firms like Celent and AITE for financial services; KLAS for healthcare; Lux for oil, gas, chemicals, and utilities; and RedMonk for developer-focused companies. These can play an important role in your AR strategy if they’re the right fit.

Think beyond evaluative research

Getting in a Forrester Wave or Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) is at the top of most companies’ lists when it comes to analyst relations. But analysts write more than evaluative research. They also write reports on best practices, trends, and predictions. One key series is Gartner’s Cool Vendor reports. Gartner looks for companies that are innovative, intriguing, and impactful; they’re solving problems in new ways. If you catch the eye of Gartner analysts on a briefing, they may nominate you for a Cool Vendor report that publishes in the spring or fall. Your future as a Cool Vendor can be very bright.

Be an endless supply of “grit”

When I was an analyst, every paragraph I wrote needed grit — or evidence. I would often pull from our vast repository of data or look for customer case studies to illustrate a point or key trend. When I needed to dig up new case studies, one of my first stops would be our vendor clients. They had customers who were doing exactly what I was researching. I would conduct a 30-minute interview with them and then use quotes or data, often citing the technology company in the research.

How to brief analysts

The most important piece of information about briefing analysts is that you do not need to be a paying client of the firm to brief. All major firms will accept briefings from non-clients if there is alignment with analyst coverage and if you intrigue an analyst in your briefing submission. Each firm has a landing page on how to request a briefing; some may require you to create a free account to collect some basic information. Briefing analysts successfully requires you to:

Develop your outside-in view

The way an analyst sees the world is different from how you see it. That’s because they’re talking to a vast array of end-user customers (the buyers and users of technology) as well as most of your key competitors. There’s also an army of supporting research staff who are collecting survey data and market insights to inform research. To this end, avoid using your own jargon because this signals an inside-out approach. Use your customers to help drive how you talk about yourselves. You could use a formal or informal voice of the customer (VOC) program or a customer advisory board (CAB), which can help up-level your thinking and go-to-market strategy. To create your outside-in view, some questions might help you get started:

  • To customers: Why did you choose us, and why do you continue to do business with us?
  • To partners: What can we do to help you drive differentiation?
  • To employees: What is our biggest market challenge?
  • To sales: What are our competitors saying about us?

Create an interaction cadence

An AR program cannot be run on autopilot. When you engage analyst firms only during a Wave or MQ evaluation, it’s the sales equivalent of showing customer love only during a renewal. Instead, aim to brief your key analysts three to four times a year. When you speak with them, find out what is on their research agenda and offer connections to your experts (both internal employees and customers). Find out which other analyst colleagues might be interested in a briefing and follow-up. Additionally, if you are a client of the analyst firms, you should be engaging in more inquiries to uncover market insights and trends. When I was an analyst, most vendor-clients underutilized the inquiry process and missed opportunities to engage with both their primary and secondary analysts. Inquiries are 30-minute calls with analysts where paying clients can ask questions and gain market insights. Briefings tend to be more one-way interactions. If you have inquiry access, consider booking inquiries on either side of your briefings. If it’s before, it can help you align messaging; after can provide high-level feedback or validation of direction.

Deliver your briefing efficiently

Half-hour briefings are the standard and time goes by quickly. Dynamic senior leaders who are willing to go off-script to answer questions are the best briefing presenters. When setting up your presentation, use the section and timing guidance below.

proposed analyst relations briefing

How to prepare for your first Forrester Wave or Gartner Magic Quadrant

Many ScaleUps dream of being included in a Forrester Wave or Gartner MQ and unseating established players in the coveted leader category. This is no simple task. In fact, it will take hundreds of hours of dedication across product, sales, and marketing with no guarantee of success. Ranking reports like the Wave or MQ are important to establish your enterprise legitimacy. When enterprises buy technology, they often look to these reports, and if you’re not on it you can be seen as a risky bet. After running five successful Wave evaluations at Forrester, here are some insider best practices when engaging in this process:

Understanding the timeline and not ignoring the initial steps

You must be included in the corresponding landscape report to be considered for the Wave. Once the landscape progresses to a Wave (and it doesn’t always), the Wave process takes about three months from start to finish. Between vendor briefings, customer references, analysis, and writing, analysts alone easily spend 100 hours or more on the evaluation. It is critical that you meticulously project-manage your side of the Wave to make sure that key resources across the company are aligned to meet specific deadlines. Additionally, one often overlooked portion of the Wave is your chance to provide feedback on the draft questionnaire. At the beginning of the Wave process, you’ll receive the draft questionnaire on the criteria the analyst is considering evaluating you against. Now is your time to shape this process by suggesting the addition of criteria where you can differentiate, or the omission of capabilities that are commoditized in the market.

Nailing your briefing and demonstration

Every vendor in a Wave evaluation gets two to three hours to present their strategy and current capabilities. Dozens of hours of collective preparation time should go into this briefing because it is the most important chance to influence the analyst. The firm will provide you with guidance on the information and the scenarios you need to prepare. When you present, it’s best that you follow this guidance in the order listed because the analyst is often entering preliminary scores during your demo. Following the guidance helps them score as they go. If you don’t have a specific capability they’re asking for, show how you might solve the problem with a third-party integrated solution or where the capability sits on your future roadmap.

Being strategic and respectful during the fact-checking process

Once your analyst has scored all the vendors, you’ll receive your initial scorecard and your writeup. You’re receiving this to fact-check your scores. You (or others at your company) may bristle at the “1” scores that highlight you’re below par compared to other vendors in the evaluation, but unless you truly meet all of the capabilities of a “3” score, you should resist the futile act of arguing your position. Instead, target a few key scores where you may have truly not communicated your capabilities and create a fact-based case to have those scores adjusted; one or two may come through. Also, avoid red-line edits to your writeup to align it with your marketing materials. If there is something factually inaccurate or incomplete, suggest a correction, but otherwise hold back.

wave report analyst timeline

Summary and recommendations

Analyst relations is not about quick wins. ScaleUps that understand the long game of consistent AR effort will be rewarded with market visibility, revenue growth, and competitive differentiation. When ScaleUps approach analyst relations, remember to:

  • Educate your company on the value of AR. Many companies don’t have AR practices because they just don’t know that they should. This post can be a great starting point to educate founders and other team members on the value that strategic AR can drive for businesses, especially if your category is covered by the firms. It is critical to get buy-in from the highest levels of your organization to have a successful AR program. AR practices benefit companies by inclusion in more RFPs, sales teams that score more meetings with prospects, and higher website lead gen.
  • Approach the practice with adequate resources. In general, smaller companies will need fewer resources than larger companies that might be involved in multiple evaluative reports a year. At early-stage companies, the founder and/or CEO must drive and be involved in the AR effort. As the program progresses and the company grows, AR tends to be a function of product marketing. And as you gain traction with the firms, AR may get its own headcount or expand to include external partner resources to drive consistent wins.
  • Use experts and partners to guide your path. Insight Partners portfolio companies have access to analyst relations experts (me and my colleague Charlene Chen) through Onsite, just one of the superpowers for our ScaleUps. Once you outline your goals for an AR program and get buy-in from the top levels of your organization, it’s time to forge ahead. Your investor should be ready to help advise along this process.

Break Through with These 5 Lean Principles from Unicorn Companies

In 1988, John Krafcik coined the term “lean” in his graduate work at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program. His paper, “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” challenged that it was not the location, the culture, or even the technology that determined car manufacturing plant performance. Indeed, the plants that operated with a “lean” production mindset were highly productive, while maintaining high quality. Lean was his way to express what he came to believe in his previous role as a Toyota manufacturing engineer to be the essence of the game-changing Toyota Production System: “an absence of slack in the system, aka waste.” Krafcik famously went on to become CEO of Waymo, the self-driving car company spinout of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.  

Watch: What a Unicorn Knows: 5 Principles for Growth in 2023

A key part of Insight Partners’ approach to helping portfolio companies scale has centered on helping leaders eliminate these kinds of organizational impediments, applying the principles of  lean thinking in a rather unconventional way: to the operations of software ScaleUps. That work with highly successful “unicorn” companies has led to the development of five foundational principles any company can use to create rapid and lasting growth. 

Five lean ScaleUp principles

The term “lean” became popularized as a management philosophy with the 1996 bestseller Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones, who led the MIT study during John Krafcik’s graduate work in the late 80s. In 2011, lean gained a resurgence in the tech world with Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, which focused on helping entrepreneurs test ideas and iterate quickly.

Over the years, lean has evolved and grown to become an organizing principle that engages people in adding the highest possible value for customers across all operations. What makes lean compelling and different as a management philosophy is how that value is created. The lean process is one of addition by subtraction — reducing or removing anything that impedes the free flow of customer-defined value. Amazon calls it “working backwards.”

We have discovered that applying a broader interpretation of lean can be a powerful stance for battling the momentum-stealing effects of drag, inertia, friction, and waste. By keeping Krafcik’s original idea of “zero slack” front and center in efforts to help tech firms scale for growth, we have seen certain themes repeat themselves across various successful scaling companies. Those patterns evolved into a set of guiding principles, which, when adopted, make success more likely. The handy mnemonic to remember is SCALE:

  1. Strategic Speed
  2. Constant Experimentation
  3. Accelerated Value
  4. Lean Process
  5. Espirit de Corps

Learn more about using these lean principles for rapid, lasting growth. What a Unicorn Knows is out now!

Principle 1: Strategic Speed

Fighter pilots, professional cyclists, and race car drivers know what geese flying in a V formation know: You can travel faster and farther with half the effort by “drafting” in the slipstreams created by those in front of you. The faster you go, the more energy you save. It’s a virtuous cycle. And the more people in alignment, the bigger the slipstream, so you go even faster. This is the simple physics of momentum, the equation for which is velocity (speed with direction) times mass.

You can apply the concept to your company’s strategies. We call it strategic speed, defined as the optimal speed for swift strategy deployment and decision-making.

To produce a similar effect and create the organizational equivalent of slipstreams requires strategies, priorities, and objectives to be simultaneously linked vertically and horizontally. Mechanisms like Japan’s Hoshin Kanri (“strategy deployment” or “policy management”) and the younger but more well-known Western version, OKRs (objectives and key results), implemented with tools and practices like the lean alignment practice of catchball — essentially the business equivalent of the children’s game of tossing a ball back and forth — help boost strategic speed.

We have observed that ScaleUps achieving company-wide alignment are able to accelerate their growth over 30% more than their peers.

Principle 2: Constant Experimentation

Continuous innovation is a survival need and a competitive must. Without that capability, inertia will act as a speed governor. But innovation cannot be relegated to department status or reserved for the next-level killer app that may never materialize. Doing so is an inertia-producing temptation, but one that can be avoided by making simple, fast, and frugal experimentation an operating norm.

One of the big misperceptions about lean is that it’s all about quality and cost. Those who have spent time embedded in the Toyota culture will delight in correcting you, letting you in on the little-known fact that the Toyota Production System was developed to shorten the time from order to delivery and create a “dash to cash” method without requiring the deep resources of the big U.S. automotive companies. The entire system was evolved through a series of desperate experiments to scale up and grow revenue faster with less.

For high-velocity ScaleUps, creating a steady stream of innovative new product and process concepts that consistently make it to market requires an equally fast, lightweight, high-impact method for carrying out constant experimentation, one that is, unfortunately, missing in most.

Experimentation also isn’t just about product development. Applying agile principles to rolling out a new sales process in one market allows you to test and improve before rolling out globally to your entire organization. As Netflix’s co-founder and first CEO Marc Randolph writes in his 2019 book, That Will Never Work:

I’ve realized that the key to being successful is not how good your ideas are, it’s how good you are at being able to find quick, cheap, and easy ways to try your ideas.

Principle 3: Accelerated Value

A failure to understand and align with customers on their desired business outcomes can produce enough downstream friction to produce what every recurring revenue business dreads: churn.

The tendency is to equate the concept of a customer journey with a sales funnel coupled with a monolithic view of the customer, which is wrong. In other words, customer = account is a key source of friction that can ultimately lead to head-scratching when seemingly satisfied customers churn.

At the root of the issue is the difficulty of thinking and operating horizontally in a structurally vertical world. Customers are organized vertically, as are most company support functions, but the customer experience is horizontal. Rather than think like a star quarterback leading a team with set plays being sent in from the sideline (vertical thinking), think like a Formula One pit crew. A horizontally-oriented Formula One team has over 20 people with specific roles so tightly synchronized that they can stabilize the car, change the tires, adjust the aerodynamics, and safely release the car to get back in the race in under two seconds.

Enabling customers to realize value quickly promotes product adoption and positively impacts community spread, customer retention, renewal, and expansion.  Ensuring that everyone in your company is aware of how to enable that value quickly, and in a unified fashion, only helps to accelerate your growth through improved customer satisfaction.

Principle 4: Lean Process

Lean as a concept encourages simplicity as the path to speed. It holds that less is best, and that to make more room for what truly matters, eliminate what doesn’t. It’s a subtractive approach to continuously improving and simplifying even the most complicated workflows. It starts with a clearly defined value, then systematically removing everything blocking the path to delivering it. It’s a relentless endeavor, a different way of thinking, and requires a mind shift.

Targeting waste involves using a methodology over 80 years old developed by the U.S. War Department in 1940, who coined the term continuous improvement. The concept was aimed at the effort to convert the American manufacturing base to the war effort. It was then utilized to stabilize war-torn Japan under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur during the seven-year U.S. occupation. Japan, having scarce resources other than human creative capital, termed it kaizen, meaning “change for better.”

With fast-moving tech ScaleUps, we use an adapted method of traditional continuous improvement called a kaizen blitz, which works best, as it is both faster and more effective.

When applying lean principles within Insight’s portfolio companies, we have been able to achieve a 20-30% improvement in time to value.

Principle 5: Espirit de Corps

You can’t build a Formula One car by yourself, or for that matter, a company. It takes a team and leaders of and within that team to create the kind of environment that enables the first four principles to come to life.

Enter the notion of esprit de corps. French for “group spirit,” esprit de corps figures centrally in military and paramilitary organizations, which are notorious for favoring results-oriented leadership. Mission first, people always is the mantra. But social research suggests that for a high-velocity organization like a ScaleUp, a cohesive culture of “people first, mission always” may just be a better approach.

As UCLA social psychologist Matthew Lieberman reveals in his bestselling book, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, those viewed as having predominantly strong results focus have only a one-in-seven chance of being viewed as a great leader, while those viewed as having a predominantly social or empathic focus have about the same or slightly less chance. But for those strong in both results and social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader is five times greater.

Leaders of this ilk understand that a people/culture fit is every bit as important as a product/market fit when it comes to scaling for growth. Your star product requires a team of star players to advance it to market and capture maximum value…so much so that Netflix is happy to advertise to all job seekers that they will pay an ill-fitting employee an industry-leading severance of four months’ pay while they search for a star replacement.

What a unicorn knows

A cursory glance at each of the individual principles in the S.C.A.L.E. framework might lead you to ask whether there is anything really new here. That’s fair. What is unique is the lean interpretation of the principle: Well-worn terms like strategy and experimentation take on entirely new meanings when viewed through the lens of lean. What is unique is the synergy created from integrating any one of the individual principles with the other four and pointing the collective model toward the goal of scaling up by leveraging a lean, zero-slack mindset.

Learn more about applying lean principles to scale by reading our book, out now: What A Unicorn Knows.

How to Plan a Virtual SKO that Educates, Motivates, and Entertains

November and December are always frantic times for sales leaders, as they are focused on closing out the current year while simultaneously preparing for the upcoming year. There are a hundred things to consider, from redesigning compensation plans to setting quotas, and capacity planning. And then there is the daunting challenge of hosting the sales kickoff (SKO). Each year, sales leaders develop multi-day, in-person events to train and update their sales teams on new techniques, processes, and tools, celebrate the successes of the past year, and energize the team for the year to come. With increasingly distributed teams, lingering concerns about the pandemic, and constrained budgets, more teams may be considering hosting sales kickoffs virtually.

Key Insights

  • With increasingly distributed teams, lingering pandemic concerns, and tighter budgets, teams are considering hosting virtual team events, including sales kickoffs (SKOs).
  • Planning a virtual SKO requires different planning and presentation than simply hosting your normal SKO over video conferencing.
  • Virtual SKOs can offer unexpected benefits from physical events, including opening the SKO to the entire company and offering guest speakers who may have previously been out of budget.

Making a sales kickoff virtual isn’t just doing last year’s event over video; it’s fundamentally different in both planning and presentation. And if you plan ahead and follow these tips, it can be even better than those in-person events. One of the biggest opportunities is the ability to extend the SKO into a full company kick-off. For a minimal additional cost and effort, everyone in the firm can hear the vision of the CEO and sales leaders, get insight into the sales strategy, and most importantly, understand precisely their role in helping sales achieve its goals. Another key benefit of the virtual event is the flexibility it offers when booking guest speakers: By avoiding the logistics of flying guest speakers to events, you can engage someone from anywhere in the world, or even engage someone previously outside of your budget range.

Virtual SKOs require a different approach than in-person events

To help you plan a successful virtual sales kickoff, here are 5 key considerations and a few useful tips from our portfolio and from Jacco van der Kooij, Managing Director of Winning by Design.

Drive impactful engagement

It’s easy to multitask during a virtual event, so you have to create something that is compelling and holds the audience’s attention.

  • Hype it up by leveraging short-burst videos to create breaks in the presentations and mix in music to change the mood.
  • Keep the sessions short and succinct — approximately 45 minutes.
  • Spread the sessions over a few days with no more than a 4-hour session block, rather than holding an 8-hour-long marathon event.
  • Leverage music, video, and interactive presentation tools to shake things up.

Plan and practice

We’ve all had those moments where the video platform doesn’t work right, or a presenter forgets that they’re on mute. In a normal meeting, it’s mildly annoying; in an SKO with 100+ people on the call, it’s disastrous.

  • Double the amount of time needed to create the event.
  • Test your technology with each speaker, and always have a backup plan.
  • Practice the transitions to create smooth and natural handoffs.
  • Record sessions in advance, and stick to the timing.
  • Have one dedicated moderator and one dedicated tech support person.

Teach them something new

This is true even in physical events, and in a virtual one, you can’t keep your audience captive.

  • Use breakout rooms to engage smaller groups.
  • Assign pre-work for attendees.
  • Train the trainers in advance. Make certain that they can drive impactful sessions.
  • Ask your reps in advance for feedback on what they want to hear or learn about. Also, at the end of a segment, ask one member of the audience to summarize their key takeaways. Then have them select the next person to do the same.

Let them catch up with their peers

One of the best parts of SKOs is being able to share best practices and war stories with peers. Make your virtual event memorable by giving them this capability when they weren’t expecting it.

  • Plan specific times for catch-up sessions.
  • Create coffee chats or happy hours with random assignments of attendees to breakout rooms.
  • Create “wedding table” assignments for breakout rooms to ensure teams socialize.

Keep it going after the event

Because a virtual event costs a fraction of a physical event, you can hold follow-on events throughout the year.

  • Create a reinforcement program to drive home key learnings from the SKO.
  • Host a mid-year event. Things change rapidly; a mid-year meeting allows you to course-correct.
  • Use Slack channels or Teams chats to collect ideas live during the sessions and to communicate with the attendees throughout the year.

The shift from physical events to virtual may seem daunting, but if you keep the above considerations in mind, you will create a game-changing event. Take advantage of technology and the reduced cost to expand the reach of your event and energize the whole organization, not just sales. But most importantly, remember that during your event, you should always aim to educate, motivate, and entertain.

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