Building Boost: Design for Scale
A series where we share learnings from our journey of building the business of Boost.
In early 2020, I opened my notebook and wrote down the following statement of intent:
Boost will be a purpose-driven company that will power growth for 10 million small businesses in order to create sustainable jobs and income for the future.
I have learned, as an entrepreneur, how important it is to dream big. A big vision attracts ambitious talent, great investors and helpful scaling partners. It also serves as a renewable source of energy to stay motivated through the inevitable ups and downs of company building.
But I have also learned that a big vision means nothing without a plan for how to achieve it. So, in our first week of working together, my Boost co-founders and I got together and came up with the following principle:
Design for Scale: We will start small but think big. Everything we do must have the potential to scale with a thoughtful roadmap for how to get there. We will learn from our past experiences and take care to avoid common scaling pitfalls, even if this slows us down in the short term.
Putting this principle in practice has enabled us to think differently and make some seemingly counterintuitive decisions. For example, we chose deliberately to launch Boost in three disparate markets at once: Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria. To increase the degree of difficulty, we chose to do this during COVID without being able to travel.
A more conventional strategy would have seen us successfully launch in one market, and then raise a big round of investment to expand into others. However, we have all learned from past experiences that executing on this approach can lead to burnt cash, time and relationships:
Technology and enabling infrastructure (i.e. brand, operations, finance, etc) become too localised and cannot scale without being rebuilt
Decision making and control become over-concentrated with the original founders, who have intimate understanding of the first market, but not the expansion markets
New employees hired to lead expansion lack the entrepreneurial behaviours to start a new market from scratch and weren’t part of the first market’s success
In contrast, Boost’s approach to launch three markets at once forced us to design every aspect of our business for multi-market scale right from day one:
We designed a data-light technology platform to be easily launched across a diverse customer base in any market, and work in any currency and in any language
We designed a value proposition to remotely recruit experienced local co-founders to adapt Boost to their markets (see our Founder Series featuring Noxolo Mthethwa, Koye Oyeyinka and Joseph Kuvor)
We designed an operating model to push the boundaries of what it means to be asset and people-light in order to scale more efficiently with reduced management overhead (see my last blog)
We still have a long way to go to power growth for 10 million small businesses, but the leading indicators are positive. In 2022, Boost grew monthly order volume by 25x, serving 10 thousand active retailers across our first three markets while retaining a low, flat cost base and headcount. We also built an exciting pipeline of partnerships to accelerate into 2023. Our principle of designing for scale is what made this all possible.