Ever find yourself wondering how a startup makes the difficult decision to embark on the scale up journey? Is there a blueprint to success? Will it be obvious when your startup should begin scaling up?

Here at TechSPARK, we thought the best way to illustrate the answers to these common questions would to create a series of Scale Up Stories, featuring some of the South West’s most successful Scale Ups. Kicking things off for us is Bath-based Rocketmakers.

Rocketmakers is a software development company that designs and develops apps, websites and software for businesses that want to have a positive impact in the world. CEO and a co-founder, Richard Godfrey, explains, “To give you a taste for the kind of projects we’ve run recently, we’ve created Olympic athlete wellbeing software, apps to support women with postnatal depression, carbon neutral energy app and software that helps deliver thousands of sustainable homes.” 

And he’s here to tell us more:

When did Rocketmakers begin the transition from startup to scaleup? And what made this the right time?

Looking back over our history, the first few years saw us grow the team to five, and in the following years, we added a further 7 crew members. At that point we had definitely achieved ‘product market fit’ as we say to clients – we had a proven process which was to deliver innovative, well-engineered software to clients through an agile approach whether they were one man startups or multi-million dollar corporations. 

In early 2020 we implemented a new management framework which is described in the book “Traction”. This approach offers a complete set of simple concepts and practical tools which helped us refine our vision and build traction towards our ultimate goal of having a direct, positive and meaningful impact on the lives of millions of people through our technology.

In the last 12 months we have achieved some accelerated growth in the business – we have taken on 12 new employees in the last 9 months (we’re now a team of 35 and growing as fast as our culture allows). We have also seen our typical clients move more towards fellow scaleup businesses and corporates who need to innovate more quickly and want to be as nimble as startups. 

What was the biggest challenge to scaling up?

The experience of expanding the business quickly and in a global pandemic has been an adventure. If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night it is how we can sustain our culture in an organisation with significantly more people whilst not introducing unnecessary hierarchy. When we set Rocketmakers up, our ambition was to create a company that we would want to work in with people who: we like, we respect, want to learn, and deliver their best. As we grow, that’s still what we look for in every new crew member and it is at the heart of the culture we live every day.

What has been a defining moment in Rocketmakers’ scaleup journey? 

We pivoted the business from creating our own startup (which we foolishly realised we didn’t want to run once we’d built it!) to delivering partnerships with startups, scaleups and corporate innovators where we’re fully aligned to their success. There was a time when we realised what we’re great at – taking concepts, applying our design, technology and entrepreneurship skills to them and delivering well… I call it building the right product and building the product right. Knowing what makes you stand apart from the crowd – your core DNA – means you can focus on accelerating the business in the right way.

Why is the South West a good region to scaleup in? 

Our office is in Bath, right by Bath Spa train station and a short hop to Bristol and the rest of the South West. There’s a great (and possibly unique?) blend of collaboration and competition here – people to challenge and support us as we grow. We love the connectivity in the region (thanks to “super-networkers” like Briony and organisations like TechSPARK and TechSW!) as well as the ambition of other South West founders who also manage to prioritise a healthy work-life balance too. 

There is strong talent available in the area and some great examples of scaleups in the region, all of which means organisations beginning their scaleup journey have the key ingredients needed for success available to them in the South West.

What would be your key piece of advice for startups considering taking on the scaleup process?

I would start by thinking like an investor (even if you‘re never looking to raise investment!). If you were investing your home in your concept without it being “your baby” what would you look for? You’d want to know all the typical stuff such as who the audience is, how big the market is, how this is different and can be protected, what an amazing team, etc. But you’d also be trying to reduce your risk at every step of the way… how many times have we heard investors say “we’re interested but you need to do X first” BUT X changes as you reach it. 

So… start scrappy and test as cheaply as possible – de-risk it yourself from day one. Keep testing and only spend bigger bucks when you have to. You have to know you’ve found that elusive market fit for your product or service. So how will you know? What metrics will tell you? What hypotheses are you testing to get there? This is our typical and proven process at Rocketmakers!

When you really do know (because the metrics tell you, not your heart!)… hit the accelerator big time!

Thanks to Richard and Rocketmakers for taking the time to talk to us about their Scale Up journey! Find out more about Rocketmakers on their website, or to keep up with their latest news, give them a follow on Twitter here: @rocketmakers.