I’ve heard this phrase used in context to software development a lot and find it to be true for any high-tech product or service to be developed.  One of the many difficulties for startups is getting the “secret sauce” right: the right messaging and positioning for specific target markets; the right-fitted operations to scale for internal stakeholders and contributors; and the right barriers to entry to “Heisman” the competition.

During the chaos of innovation and exuberance for any given startup, it’s important to have members of the team pay attention to how things can scale from the new, unique offerings.  Of course the scaling must address potential, overwhelming usage of a service or product by many customers, but the prospect of scaling also challenges startups in whether they have their business basics in order to support such services.

In addition to the business basics of sound operational and fiscal measurements from standards and procedures is the cultural discipline to ensure consistent execution and keeping one’s eyes peeled to solve pain points twice: once for the obvious short-term benefits and the second time to solve root problems for long-term benefit – preventing similar challenges in the future.

For many, the time and resources to measure performance and tweak/revise internal operations is a difficult task, but for every instance of gained efficiencies or effectiveness, the time that would have been lost from inefficiencies can now be a step closer to making operations rocking.  Even if it’s a small gain, it’s mental bandwidth that can be freed up so that everyone can start shifting some of their thought-process and actions to more strategic issues and concerns.

Although this isn’t always the case for all startups – some corporate cultures may naturally strike the right balance of focus and discipline coupled with the time to dwell on the “larger fishes” to ensure creativity and future innovations.  Having worked in a monolithic, Fortune 500 company where our products literally meant life or death when it came to using our products, to small, privately held companies where incremental consumer benefits were rendered through the long tail approach, I’ve been fortunate to see that neither company’s culture nor modus operandi would have suited the other, but still they both pursued continued improvements for different goals.

Although it could be said the startups will always have growing pains until it gets more mature but, in my mind, that maturity doesn’t happen without some effort from all parties and requires a large bit of cultural shifting.  Regardless of what stage any given startups is, the need to pursue the discovery of the right-fitted hammer to build the company, the culture and its products upon a solid foundation and architecture, with scale in-mind, will be crucial for it’s continued success.

“Scaling is an overloaded term.  Finding a discrete definition is tricky.  Everyone and her grandmother have their own idea of what scaling means.  Most definitions are valid, but they can be contradicting.  To make things even worse, there are a lot of misconceptions about scaling.  To really define it, one needs to scalpel to find out the important bits.

First, scaling doesn’t refer to a specific technique or technology; scaling, or scalability, is an attribute of a specific architecture.  What is being scaled varies for nearly every project.  Scaling is specialization.”

– Joe Stump, Lead Architecture of Digg.com and SimpleGeo.com