Stephen J. Bronner

Scaled Up

How this entrepreneur had to give up control to save his business

At some point, you can't be the helicopter parent anymore.

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Entrepreneurs can be a bit controlling when it comes to their businesses. That’s OK! After all, to many entrepreneurs, their businesses are like their babies. Their employees’ livelihoods are also at stake, so bad decisions can be costly.

But at some point, your business takes on a life of its own, and you can’t be the helicopter parent you were when you started. This is a lesson that Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO at The Slumber Yard, learned the hard way, as he shares in the below Q&A.

Tell me what your company does.

We are a digital media company that operates in the sleep vertical. Specifically, we produce unbiased reviews, comparisons, and buyer guides so consumers can make educated purchase decisions.

At what point did you scale up, and what did that growth look like?

We started to gain some traction in late 2018 leading into 2019. At the time, we only had four employees in addition to my business partner and myself. We quickly saw the opportunity in the marketplace and scaled up to 12 employees so that we could produce more content on both the written and video sides of the business.

What went wrong when you scaled up?

One of the big issues we continually ran into was a bottleneck at the executive level. Because we scaled so quickly, my business partner and I were reluctant to give up control of important responsibilities. We felt as if we needed to be on every call, attend every meeting, and have a hand in every decision instead of trusting our employees. This put tremendous stress on both of us and hindered the growth of the company as a whole. Whether it was ego, lack of time, or simply stubbornness, we refused to hire or train a mid-level manager who could take some of the more senior-level responsibilities off our plate.

“We realized we needed to give up a little control if our company was going to continue to succeed.”

How bad did things get?

Several aspects of the business began to suffer very quickly. Our employees felt as if they didn’t have enough freedom to make decisions or do their jobs because my business partner and I were probably a bit too overbearing and controlling. This obviously had a negative impact on employee morale. From a more personal perspective, I can tell you my business partner and I were getting burned out. We were constantly working and getting stressed out over small, inconsequential details that really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Simply put, our work/life balance was not healthy, and it was affecting the business. We just didn’t have enough time to focus on the big picture items that really mattered.

How did you fix the issue?

Our first step was to promote two all-star employees to managerial roles and give them more responsibility. We spent time training each individual and getting them up to speed with what their new position entailed. Further, we also took steps to start developing a new company culture in which employees are empowered to make decisions. We removed some of our internal control policies so that my business partner and I were not involved in every decision.

Where did you get the idea for the fix?

I’m not so sure it was an idea more so than just the fact that my business partner and I finally reached a breaking point where we just knew the current structure of our operations was not sustainable or healthy. We realized that we needed to invest in our employees and give up a little control if our company was going to continue to succeed for years to come.

What do things look like now that you’ve corrected the problem?

We now have a much more balanced and healthy workflow. Our employees are happier and my business partner and I have more time to focus on growth opportunities, optimization, and other big picture items.

What did you learn from this experience that other business leaders need to know?

It’s actually beneficial to give up control. I know that may be difficult for small business owners like myself, and that your company may suffer in the short term as responsibilities transition and new employees get caught up to speed, but in the long run, it’s absolutely crucial if you want your company to scale up in a sustainable manner.

Scaled Up is a weekly interview series by Inverse with entrepreneurs. They share how almost everything went wrong while growing their business — and how they fixed it.

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