Media Updates

What’s the secret to… successful leadership within a scale-up? – Erin Callaghan


“I always say that success is like an elevator going down and stairs on the way up!”

Camilla Scholten, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, CustomerGauge


This is the first in a series of posts which aims to share the insights and opinions of executives within the Wilton & Bain network. Each post will ask industry experts their opinions on a specific topic, with the intention of shedding light on questions I’m asked by clients and candidates as well as areas I’m personally curious about.

Today’s post is on the secret to being successful within a scale-up software business. This is something I’m asked about frequently, as scale-ups continue to be a highly attractive environment for executives who want to be part of a business they can have a visible and influential role in, and where there may be an opportunity for wealth creation.

Camilla Scholten, Tracy Linne and David Leibowitz work for CustomerGauge, the leading SaaS provider of monetised net promoter software. CustomerGauge were founded in 2007 (securing Series A funding from Newion Investments in 2015) and are headquartered in Amsterdam, with their North America hub in Boston which is where both Tracy and David are based. Tracy joined in July 2017 is the Global VP Sales, and David is the Global VP of Customer Success, having started earlier this year in February 2019. Camilla is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, based in CustomerGauge’s global headquarters in Amsterdam.

Erin CallaghanCamilla, Tracy, David, what secrets can you share with us about how to be a successful leader in a scale-up and how is it different to working in a corporate environment?

David: You can certainly apply some of the tactics from large firms into a scale-up, but you wouldn’t always apply the same principals as it depends on the context. What I’ve found is that there are some things you can move extremely quickly on in a scale-up, which is really exciting if you’re used to moving more slowly. However, just because it’s possible to do something speedily doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. Taking the time to think things through and planning to do it in the right way is important.

Tracy: In my view, the most important part of the job is recruiting and developing your talent. The stakes are high and talent mistakes are costly. The people who are attracted to work in smaller, more entrepreneurial businesses do this because of the reasons we’re all familiar with – potential for equity/wealth creation, a more flexible working environment, less bureaucracy and personal growth… The trade-off is that your talent may have less experience to draw upon so coaching and knowledge transfer is vital. We use talent assessment software to compare candidates against an ideal sales benchmark. Once hired, these assessments double as a coaching tool for ongoing development and growth of the salesperson. By measuring talent fit and correlating it with sales performance we continuously improve our recruiting efforts while scaling up. This is a useful practice that originated in larger sales organisations from my past.

David: Working in a scale-up, you have the opportunity to deepen relationships with your clients even further by spending more time on account management and on solving complex problems. Having worked in larger firms in the past I know that there are some who may sell a software solution and then are less involved post implementation. In a scale-up you can be more client focused and that helps drive customer engagement and stickiness.

Camilla: Here at CustomerGauge we have a very diverse workforce, I believe this is what makes us special. In work as in life I believe that you have to spend your time doing something you love with people that excite you. It’s not always possible to have both at 100% but one of those should always be at 100% and working with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, and with high passion and competence can make your day worthwhile over and over again. It’s self-perpetuating.

When you start a business, you see an opportunity in the market and you create a solution to address it, imagining that it’ll be successful very quickly. What l’ve learned, though, is that success takes time and the key to success is tenacity. Success isn’t always immediate; in many cases it’s based on having the persistence to keep going before finding the angle which is going to result in the velocity you want for your business.

In order to lead a business successfully you need to keep your team motivated and happy, you need to practice careful financial management, and you need to keep momentum around winning and retaining clients – these are all hard work. I often say that success is like an elevator going down and stairs on the way up! Having said that, I get to do something that truly ignites me, that I’m passionate about, and where I can create the culture and environment in which I work. That is something which I for one am highly motivated by every single day.

Written by Erin Callaghan, Partner at Wilton & Bain

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