The Secret to Scalable Business with Rich Wong (General Partner at Accel)

scalable business process managementThis article is based on a segment from Process Street Highway 2021, where Rich Wong talks with Vinay Patankar and Blake Thorne of Process Street to discuss everything about scaling a business (namely, why it’s impossible without building solid processes.)

You can check out the full segment below, or read on for highlights.

Rich is a General Partner with Accel; he’s led investments across all sorts of exciting industries and companies, including sitting on the board of some great companies like Atlassian, UIPath, and Process Street.

Here’s what he had to say about why and how process management is so important to building a scalable business.

Two big shifts in how teams approach process management

Key takeaways:

  • First, that process management should be balanced with other key priorities, and that doing too much too fast can hurt a company. Rich argues that finding product-market fit can be more valuable in the early stages than overly focusing on process management.
  • Second, that process management should be iterative, implemented one-step-at-a-time, as opposed to everything-all-at-once.

Rich: “It’s important to recognize that if you do too much process too soon, it is bureaucratic, and it can slow a company down, and you really don’t want to do that.

In the early days of the company, when you’re just struggling for product market fit, trying to get the first product out, you need a certain intensity on that first axis of product, when you’re a pre-product company just trying to get going.

So I think one of the first things to realize is not to imagine perfection from day one. I think people that expect that, often find themselves disappointed. You have to take it in certain steps.”

Rich: “I think a really healthy change that’s happened in recent years is that people are realizing you want to take it a bite-size at a time. Let’s not try to make it all perfect, every button with rounded corners; let’s just start by getting the obvious organized and set up in a way that makes the organization more efficient, and you accept a certain lack of perfection.

You just iterate forwards: Agile versus Waterfall, if you want it as a development metaphor. It’s not like you’re just waiting every two years to make improvements but you’re making small improvements every month.”

What makes a great company so great?

Key takeaways:

  • Rich posits that the reason why great companies are so great is because they innovate along both the axes of product (e.g. product-led growth) and process (building discipline and systematizing process management).

Using Atlassian as an example, Process Street CEO Vinay Patankar argues that a lot of their growth has been driven by processes, by building out amazing marketing organizations, sales engines, building out strong channels, communities, etc. – none of which would be possible at scale without rock-solid process management.

Starting off with a strong product as a basis, they successfully expanded beyond that first stage of growth (especially post-IPO) by driving innovations in how they manage their processes.

In short, process management helps organizations to:

  • Avoid small, but cumulative mistakes that can really slow down growth (especially compounding over longer time periods);
  • Create a healthy workplace culture of transparency;
  • Enable data-driven decision-making.

Empowering people to build quickly & iterate

Key takeaways:

  • Adopting a lean startup culture that focuses on building & documenting simple, working processes in small iterative steps can help facilitate effective process management & improvements.

Vinay: “One of the key tenets of modern process management is empowerment, which enables people, in a distributed way, to build and quickly iterate on their processes.

And I think that this kind of philosophy of essentially adopting the lean startup or lean product development methodology (originally from product development) but then applying that to process and becoming more of a mature process organization, and doing it in this bite-sized, iterative, quickly improving way while you’re gathering data and using those processes in real time in your organization, getting real feedback on them.

This is something we recommend a lot of our customers do, and it’s also something that we promote a lot here at Process Street.

We call it lean process management. We talk about the minimum viable process and getting that going first, and I think that’s a big shift we’ve seen as well.”

Rich Wong’s process management advice

Key takeaways:

  • Identify recurring manual tasks you find yourself doing often.
  • Build a simple process to streamline recurring work & offer greater horizontality & transparency.
  • Automate reporting & recurring requests where possible.

Rich: “We’re a venture capital firm and we have a fair bit of capital under management. New investments are being made; we issue term sheets, we close those investments, we wire the cash.

It’s amazing how much time is spent constantly asking for stats and trying to figure out ‘has that deal closed?’, ‘have we called the capital we need?’, ‘have the shares come in from Salesforce?’, etc.

It’s enormously inefficient to be constantly Slacking ‘hey, did it happen yet?’, ‘have we gotten the legal terms?’, ‘has the wire shown up?’.

So, that’s an example of something that, when set up in a great, transparent process, saves an enormous amount of time.”

Horizontal knowledge: Connecting efficiency across teams

Key takeaways:

  • Using the analogy of an island archipelago, Rich compares these disparate independent islands that are not well-connected to how vertical organizations typically functioned in the last 10-20 years.
  • There is excitement & potential in the gap being bridged between these vertical islands.

Rich: “The connective tissue that brings those together, the bridge system that ties the islands together, is only starting to be built now. In my view, this is where the real power is. Where you connect efficiency across functions.

Most things that are important that happen in a company ultimately do connect across a functional group, that’s where the rising importance of horizontal systems like a Process Street or a Trello, Docusign or HelloSign; those are all increasingly important as the islands have gotten more developed.”

Vinay: “To summarize what Rich was saying: Cross-functional processes that are connecting different silos that work across different teams inside an organization.”

Long-tail processes: An opportunity for horizontal products

Key takeaways:

  • Horizontal products are positioned to offer solutions to challenges that have traditionally lacked complete dedicated vertical solutions & tools.

Vinay: “The other place that I see a lot of opportunity for horizontal products, like Process Street, is in the “longtail processes”, where these are areas that can be very important for a business, but are just not big enough markets for people to go out and build specific solutions.

For example, for Process Street, an area that we’ve gotten some good traction in is around post M&A integrations.

We’re working with some of the biggest M&A deals in the world, with some of the biggest companies in the world, helping them get those 2 companies integrated together after the acquisitions happen and all the processes that are involved in that.

The thing is, M&A just doesn’t happen that much. There isn’t that big of a market. Each business is not doing that many acquisitions; 1 or 2 a year are probably the most active companies in the world.

So, because of that, it doesn’t make sense to have a whole vertical solution just for M&A integration, but it’s a great cross-functional, longtail process that is still incredibly important for this business. They’ve spent hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in this acquisition and it’s a very important, strategic initiative for the organization, so they want software and they want systems to be able to make that smooth and work as well as possible, but it just doesn’t warrant it’s own platform.”

Automation: A core tenet of modern process management

Key takeaways:

  • We’re just getting started with total process automation.
  • Shift to more open APIs in SaaS space has done a lot to make automation far easier & more democratized.
  • No-code has been a huge enabler for process automation.

Vinay: “Automation is another core tenet of modern process management that we believe any businesses trying to get to phase 3 or process maturity needs to embrace. There’s so much work, like Rich said, that humans are doing that is not adding value that humans don’t need to do that machines can do better. So, I think we’re just at the beginning of unlocking that.”

Rich: “The point is about minimizing non-value-added manual work, so we can focus on what matters. And I think we’re a long way from getting all that to happen because we’re only just getting the cross-functional systems to be tied together. So, once we achieve that, then you can actually automate, but we’re still in the early innings of that precondition.”

Rich Wong’s simple trend-spotting process

Key takeaways:

  • Think of the 20 smartest people you know of in your network and ask them what they’re reading.
  • Look for deep, highly vertical knowledge – the experts in certain spaces – and have the discipline to try and understand it. That’s where a lot of insight can emerge.
  • Maintain a healthy cynicism for whatever is currently peaking in the hype cycle.

Rich: “I always ask people this. I often find in addition to the standard things we might all read, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal, or TechCrunch, or TechMeme, or Hacker News, the people that are really experts in certain spaces have some blog or some deep thinker that is not obvious to the general population. It’s not obvious to the general business press. Maybe it’s something super deep in crypto or in aviation or the electrification of aircrafts or something just totally random, and I try to balance the normal reading of the feed that we all look at, all the normal Tech VC stuff to try to read some of that very deep vertical stuff and try to understand it. I feel like when you do that, insights will come out of it.”

Rich Wong is currently reading: Wolf Street
Vinay Patankar is currently listening to: Kevin Rose’s Modern Finance

What did you think of our first Highway? Let us know in the comments below!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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