Founding + Scaling Is Hard
Startups build something out of nothing. They are among the greatest contributors to economic prosperity and one of the purest opportunities for the flourishing of creative expression. Founders have an idea. They scramble to put together the people and resources necessary to begin realizing their vision. They strive to create real value for others. They work tirelessly to capture some of that value for the expansion of the company. The small core team hacks and scrapes and claws to make the impossible achievable. Then they raise money.
After a funding round, a startup must cater to a new kind of stakeholder – the investor. Sometimes this stakeholder represents their own interests, but often they are bound by fiduciary responsibility to the people and institutions they serve. In either case this influx of capital is expected to catalyze growth. 10x growth. 100x growth. 1000x growth.
Not Built For This
The most lethal threat to success at this stage, regardless of the size of a business, is that the organization is not built for this kind of process-driven, high-velocity sprinting.
Startups have a dedicated and talented core team, but they need to expand ranks quickly while often not knowing what roles to hire and simultaneously not being able to afford the highest-end or most experienced professionals. Completing the fundraising effort took far more of senior management’s time and attention than they would have liked, and now they must shift to months of interviews. Process and culture-building are profoundly important, but they take away from maximizing output. Finally, nearly inevitable hiring mistakes during this time can cost substantial money and unrecoverable momentum. Almost by definition, startups are not built for the moment that comes post-money.
In every startup, the leadership team and their financial backers feel accountability for producing innovation-driven growth, but more than any other combination of priorities, they constantly optimize for two elusive objectives. During the 12-24 months of concentrated effort toward expansion, they must find every possible way to (1) de-risk the process and (2) accelerate outcomes, both in timelines and impacts.
Everyone wants to know how they can achieve the highest order outcomes for revenue, brand, and product development with the lowest possible risks to capital, existing market position, and established operations. De-Risk. Accelerate.
The False Choices
You Want Both
Imagine you are facing a difficult and potentially dangerous medical procedure.
“Would you rather have a doctor who is sweet and kind and who listens to you and understands your personal situation, or would you rather have a doctor who has a terrible bedside manner, isn’t nice or interested in you at all, but who does this particular procedure more often and better than anyone in the world?”
The answer is simple – you want the second doctor of course. What matters most is having the best, most capable provider handle the part when you are unconscious!
Except no, that is the wrong answer.
You definitely do want the second doctor, but you want that doctor to be a close family friend who has known you for decades and cares about you personally. The correct answer is that the question is a false choice – you want (and deserve) both.
I heard the leader of a marketing agency say something similar on a podcast recently. “You don’t want a firm that does everything – development, marketing, content”, she said. “You want a firm that is focused narrowly but with deep knowledge in their particular expertise.” I understand her point. The business world has been disappointed far too frequently in the past decade by so-called “digital agencies” that do fancy presentations ending in pretty dashboards and then never deliver any real results. However, what she has posed is another false choice. You want breadth with deep expertise. You want both.
The Wrong Fix
Don’t Hire A Digital Agency
In order to build efficiencies, particularly at scale, most corporate pursuits get broken into silos. Design, product, support, sales, marketing – all attempt to collaborate when necessary, but otherwise they often work independently and solve their internal siloed needs and challenges on their own. It is no surprise then that outside service providers tend to mirror that organizational framework.
If you need a campaign or outreach program, you hire a marketing agency.
If you need headshots, you hire a photographer – a commercial, a video production company.
If you need to build a product, you hire a dev shop.
If you need a brand identity or new packaging, you hire a design house.
If you need frustration, you hire a digital agency.
Pixel Recess is a Studio founded on the idea that all of these are false choices – that you want (and deserve) it all – and that you frankly cannot get the results you want and need (and for which you are held accountable) by using an outdated and broken system.
Silos Are Dead
If you have been a part of any rapidly expanding business in the past decade, you have noticed one commonly reoccurring trend – silos are dying. We live in a world of DevOps, MarketingOps, SalesOps. Everything is folding in on itself. All teams are cross-functional, and all efforts are expended on Success and Experience.
In fact, when it comes to the highest caliber growth-innovation efforts, silos are already dead.
Pixel Recess was founded on the idea that our six areas of focus are not silos, they are layers. To produce the kinds of outcomes we desire – to De-Risk and Accelerate growth and innovation – these activities must be, at all times, inextricably intertwined.
If you have beautiful and meaningful branding, but the content on your sites and in your communications is awful, then nothing works. If your written content is compelling, but the supporting digital media (from photography to video assets to podcasts) is subpar, then nothing works. If your public face is captivating, but it leads customers to a product that does not deliver on the promises of the brand, then nothing works. If the product produces surprise and delight, but nobody ever finds out about it, then nothing works. And if everything else is humming along wonderfully, but you are not capturing the reams of data being produced and processing and visualizing that data so that it can drive your strategy and inform your stakeholders, then nothing works.
Each of these areas must inform the others as we continually research, then design, then test, then craft, then test, then deploy, then test – over and over again – unbounded creativity within the context of a rigorous, empathy-centered process. Getting this right produces real innovation that drives substantive growth, and it does so with two distinguishing characteristics – fewer mistakes and greater outcomes more quickly. De-Risk and Accelerate.