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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

What We’re Reading: Blitzscaling

If your company is growing rapidly, then this book is for you!

Blitzscaling is loosely defined as the playbook for “building a dominant world leading business in record time.” Most importantly, Blitzscaling requires prioritizing “speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty.”

Blitzscaling is not for everyone. We’re talking hypergrowth and first mover advantage here. It’s not for those who crave work life balance or modest market share. This is the winner-take-all model that companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple have built.

Author Reid Hoffman is no stranger to Blitzscaling. He was a founding board member and executive at PayPal and the co-founder of LinkedIn. Currently he is a venture capitalist with Greylock Partners whose investment portfolio includes everyone from Airbnb and Facebook to Dropbox and Instagram just to name a few. Hoffman also hosts an excellent podcast on the topic called, Masters of Scale. Chris Yeh is a writer and an entrepreneur.

According to Hoffman and Yeh, Blitzscaling requires innovation in three areas: Business Model, Strategy and Management.

Not surprisingly, the section on Management Innovation was the most interesting to me and it’s worth noting that it was the longest section by a factor of 2! In it Hoffman and Yeh lay out 8 Key Transitions and 9 Counterintuitive Rules for Blitzscaling. Though structured differently, their framework aligns quite well with PeopleCap’s Six Imperatives for Growth:

Sharpen Focus
“Startups in the early stages of Blizscaling are generally single product companies that focus on doing one thing extremely well. That focus is key to beating the larger competitors.” The book also talks about focusing entirely on growth and prioritizing both pursuing initiatves and addressing challenges using that lens.

Calibrate Culture
Hoffman says “Ignoring your culture is not an option” during Blitzscaling. I wrote a blog a few months ago talking about culture as the “boss when the boss is not around.” Similarly, Hoffman and Yeh write, “Culture is critical because it influences how people act in the absence of specific directives and rules, or when those rules reach their breaking point.”

Strengthen Leadership
If you follow our blog, we talk a lot about building a cohesive leadership team with a high degree of vulnerability based trust. The book describes one critical step in Blitzscaling as establishing a “unified executive team to coordinate global operations.” Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick failed to create a cohesive leadership team which ultimately led to his demise. “Without spending time together it is difficult for a management team to build a group culture or to coordinate the many initiatives of the organization.”

Elevate Talent
We believe that you can’t outperform your talent. In the early stages of growth when you don’t have well developed training programs and career ladders, Hoffman and Yeh believe in hiring “smart generalists” who can learn quickly and be re-deployed easily to a variety of different tasks. Focus on hiring people who “are great at learning new things and at charging hard to execute on them.”

Align Structure
We are fond of saying that structure follows strategy. “While entrepreneurs often resist creating a hierarchy by classifying their people into executives, managers, and contributors, this kind of formal structure is essential to growth…the strength of its internal structure determines its ability to act quickly on those key insights and seize the competitive advantage.”

Amplify Communication
Communication is the lifeblood of any organization and evolves as the organization grows. According to Hoffman and Yeh, communication at the Family Stage (less than 10 employees) is described as “prairie dog style” – just popping your head out above the cubicle wall to shout a question to someone across the room. Later, though, the company must move beyond 1:1 communication to 1:Many. “The big change is the need for formal, explicit, broadcast communication.”

I experienced Blitzscaling first hand at Google from 2003-2008. When I arrived at Google in 2003 there were fewer than 1000 employees. In 2008, just five short years later, there were 25,000. It was an exciting and dizzying time. Growth is exciting, but brings enormous challenges. Blitzscaling amplifies those challenges further with an emphasis on speed. But, the lessons from the book reaffirm that the basics are still the same: Vision, Culture, Leadership, Talent, Structure and Communication.