How to Scale a Startup Team: Top 12 Software Development Tips to Know

How to Scale a Startup Team: Top 12 Software Development Tips to Know

Every venture wants to innovate like a startup and scale like an enterprise.

Startups are known for their innovation, creativity, and ability to move quickly. They’re often able to come up with new ideas and products that can disrupt an industry. But to be truly successful, they need to be able to scale their businesses and “own” their category.

On the other side of the spectrum, mature enterprises have the resources and infrastructure in place to be able to support a much larger number of users or customers. But they often struggle to be innovative and often end up being late to the tech party.

By combining the best of both worlds, you can create a powerful company that both continuously innovates and scales quickly.

But the one key ingredient regardless of where you are in the business lifecycle is the team (and especially the software development team). Great dev teams shepherd companies to amazing outcomes; bad dev teams steer them to doom. Indeed, team problems cause startup failure in 18% of ventures.

Why startups fail | TurnKey

Thus, the main question for any company – but especially startups – is how to build and maintain a highly productive and collaborative development team as they grow.

In this guide, we share what we’ve learned about how to scale a startup team not only from when we were SaaS-based founders ourselves, but also from the experiences of working with the many startups and high growth companies we partner with. Let’s go!

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When Is The Right Time for a Startup to Scale its Software Development Team?

Scaling startup teams can be a daunting task, but it is often necessary in order to continue growth and success. By keeping an eye out for a few key indicators, startups can make the transition smoothly and ensure that their products and services remain responsive to customer needs.

Here are the top signals that it’s time to start expanding your startup’s software development team:

#1. Your customer base is growing rapidly

By hiring additional developers, a startup can keep up with customer demand and continue to innovate its product at the same time. In addition, a larger team can provide greater expertise and knowledge in specific areas, leading to a more refined and stable product.

#2. Your roadmap expands into different platforms or verticals

As a startup grows and becomes more successful, the development team usually needs to scale up in order to expand the product onto a new platform (mobile for example) or industry vertical (such as an enterprise product moving into the small business segment).

Many startups make the mistake of thinking that they can continue to operate with a lean, agile development team regardless of roadmap demands. However, it becomes increasingly difficult for a small team to maintain quality and meet deadlines. At this point, it is essential to scale up the development team in order to maintain this horizontal expansion.

#3. Your existing development team is running out of bandwidth

For any startup, there comes a time when the development team can no longer handle all of the company’s software development needs. This can be a result of several factors, including an increase in customer demand or the launch of a new software product. Scaling a startup’s software development team helps the company not run out of gas while it’s sprinting to viability.

#4. Deadlines and milestones start to get missed

While it may be tempting to wait until the last minute to add more software developers, this can often lead to missed deadlines and frustrated team members.

Instead, it’s usually best to start scaling up the team as soon as you realize you’re falling behind schedule. Adding more developers early on can help ensure that your startup stays on track and meets its deadlines. In addition, an early investment in extra software developers can pay off in the long run by helping to avoid costly delays and setbacks.

#5. Product-market fit is achieved

Once a startup has achieved the nirvana of product-market fit, its chances of failure decrease drastically.   And with less risk, the startup can now more confidently scale its software development team to improve the quality of its product, as well as the speed at which new features are developed and released.  Companies in this stage are often called “scaleups” vs. “startups” to connote the fact that the startup is now ready to scale.

Not scaling may even be more risky than scaling in the first place.  Indeed, the inability to scale quickly causes 30-40% of the scale-ups to fail, according to Failory.

Failure rates of scale-ups | TurnKey

#6. Time is of the essence

As the startup grows and becomes more successful, competitors may start to create “copycat” versions of your feature set.  As a result, you may feel pressure to double down on new features to stay one step ahead of the field.

But this is hard to do if you just stick with your existing development team.  Scaling your software development team ensures you have the necessary horsepower to continuously “out-innovate” your competitive set in a timeframe that they will struggle to replicate.

12 Best Practices to Scale Your Software Development Team Successfully

So now that you’ve determined the time is right to scale your software development team, the next key question is how to do it effectively. Here are TurnKey’s Top 12 tips to help you scale up successfully:

#1. Determine – and clearly articulate – your goals

What are you trying to accomplish with an expanded development team?  Are you looking to increase efficiency? Bring in new customers? Enter new markets? Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can start to develop a plan for team expansion.

This planning may also involve investing in new technology or hiring additional staff outside of developers. Whatever route you choose, be sure to set realistic goals and a practical path for execution.

#2. Choose your startup scaling strategy

Amid the excitement of a startup’s early success, there can be a temptation to try to scale up too quickly. This can often lead to problems further down the line, as the company struggles to cope with the increased demand for its resources. That’s why it’s important to choose the right strategy for scaling your development team from the start.

Scaling startups | TurnKey

One common strategy is to hire a startup development team offshore. This can be a cost-effective way to scale startups without incurring the overhead of hiring and training new team members.  Moreover, by hiring offshore you have the flexibility to scale the team up or down as priorities change or your needs evolve due to competitive pressures or market dynamics.

#3. Prepare your existing development team

If you’re looking to scale up your development team, there are a few things you’ll need to do to prepare your current development team for expansion.

First, you’ll need to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of the company’s goals and objectives. This means communicating clearly and frequently and getting everyone aligned on the same vision.

Second, you’ll need to ensure that your team has adequate resources and tools in place to support an expansion. This might include investing in new hardware or software or expanding your team’s access to external services.

Finally, you’ll need to establish processes and procedures for managing a larger team, including communication protocols, code review processes, and testing and deployment procedures.

By taking these steps, you can set your entire team up for success as you scale your development efforts.

If you’re ready to scale but need more all star developers to do it, we’ll make it easy for you.

#4. Recruit high quality talent and choose wisely

The right mix of skill sets is essential for a startup’s success, so it’s important to carefully consider who to hire and how to structure the software development team.

The first step is to identify the talent you most need on your team. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start sourcing candidates. The most efficient way is to use a partner that offers custom recruiting, especially if hiring offshore.  (Shameless sales plug: TurnKey is the most trusted partner for global software development hiring).

Be sure to ask each candidate non-technical interview questions about their experience with the specific technologies you’ll be using to deliver your development initiatives. It’s also important to gauge their ability to work as part of a team and their willingness to learn new skills.

After you’ve made your decision, it’s time to extend an offer and get started on building your dream team.

#5. Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and track them regularly

CTOs of early-stage ventures face a unique challenge when it comes to scaling up a startup development team. On the one hand, they need to be able to attract and retain top talent, while on the other, they need to maintain the agility and nimbleness that are characteristic of successful startups.

One way to strike this balance is to track changes by setting KPIs. This will help you keep abreast of your startup expansion and make sure that your development team is on track. Some KPIs you may want to consider tracking include test cycle time, issue rate, and maintainability score. By tracking these KPIs, you can ensure that your startup development team is both effective and efficient as you scale.

#6. Establish clear lines of communication

Proper communication is essential for any software development team, but it becomes even more important when the team is scaling up. With more people come more ideas, and it can be difficult to keep track of everyone’s thoughts and suggestions. That’s why it’s important to have a clear project management plan in place that can adapt to the new scale of operations.

Having designated team leaders and clear channels of communication will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that tasks are completed efficiently. Additionally, regular team meetings can help to resolve any outstanding issues and ensure that everyone is aware of the team’s current goals.

#7. Design an efficient team structure

Choosing how to organize the software development team into the most effective structure will depend on a range of variables, but there are a few key elements that need to be in place:

  • Clear communication channels so that all members of the team can be on the same page as it relates to product goals and objectives.
  • Broad understanding of each person’s individual role and responsibility within the team so there is no confusion or perceived overlap in duties.
  • Infrastructure (hardware, software, HR, etc.) that can accommodate growth and not break down when supporting a larger team.

One rule of thumb that many engineering leaders prefer is to break down the software development organization into “pizza teams” of 4-6 people (so called because one pizza should be able to feed one team). This is because smaller teams are often more effective than large ones because it is easier for everyone to pitch in and contribute when there are fewer people. It also helps to promote communication and prevent misunderstandings.

#8. Align the people strategy with the product strategy

One of the biggest challenges in scaling up a startup development team is ensuring that your people needs match your product needs. By aligning the people strategy with the technology or product roadmap strategy, you can achieve the right balance across your software development efforts and thus reach maximum efficiency.

#9. Create a software architecture that optimizes code quality

In software development, architecture refers to the overall structure of code. A well-designed architecture can make code more maintainable, extensible, and testable. Conversely, a poorly designed architecture can make code more difficult to work with and can lead to errors and bugs.

When choosing an architecture for a software development initiative, consider the tradeoffs between different approaches. For example, a monolithic architecture may be easier to develop and deploy, but a microservices architecture may be more scalable and easier to update.

The right choice depends on the specific needs of the project. However, taking the time to choose an appropriate architecture can pay off in the form of improved code quality.

#10. Tightly define your software development roadmap

A clear-cut product roadmap is an essential part of scaling up a development team successfully. By having a detailed roadmap, the team can track their progress and ensure that they are on track to reach their goals. The roadmap should include milestones for each stage of the development process, as well as deliverables that need to be completed at each stage.

Additionally, the roadmap should be updated regularly to reflect changes in the development process or customer needs. By keeping the roadmap up-to-date, the team can avoid getting off track and ensure that they are making the most optimized product for their target audience.

#11. Measure the rate the development team is improving

Without hard data about the efficiency of your software development process, it’s impossible to know what’s working and what isn’t. Data helps you understand if your startup development team is getting better or simply staying in neutral.

Continually monitoring your development team’s rate of improvement is critical to accurately assessing their potential bandwidth and the timelines with which they can potentially deliver. Since executive teams are always pushing for more features delivered faster, you need to have a clear grip on what your team can actually produce and when.

#12. Use the advantages of Offshoring, Nearshoring, or Yourshoring

Scaling your development team onshore – at least if you are an American or Western European country – is costly (high wages) and time consuming (long lead times for recruiting). As a result, many companies looking to scale their development team take advantage of Offshoring, Nearshoring, and Yourshoring (the last of which is only offered by yours truly here at TurnKey).

  • Offshoring refers to hiring developers in another country. Offshoring can be a great option if you are looking for lower costs and increased flexibility. However, partner with a reliable offshore software development company in order to avoid communication difficulties and time zone differences.
  • Nearshoring is a subset of Offshoring that refers to hiring developers in a neighboring country. So Mexico would be a nearshore option for an American startup, and Ukraine would be a nearshore option for a Western European startup.  Nearshoring can be a good option if you are looking for increased efficiency and easier collaboration.
  • Yourshoring is an upgraded version of Offshoring and Nearshoring. In this unique model, TurnKey custom recruits each of your developers from scratch in the region that’s best for you, and then we take care of all the administrative and payroll hassle so you don’t have to.  So think of it as your fully customized, fully scalable dream team, but with none of the headaches you would have to incur to build it on your own or through another vendor. We scale your startup’s development team entirely around your specific needs.

Ready to scale your dev team with a partner that makes it easy as pie–and with results that are just as sweet?

Things to Avoid when Scaling Your Startup Development Team

How to Scale a Startup Team | TurnKey

When you are ready to go and you start scaling your startup’s software development team, there are a few pitfalls you want to be sure to avoid, including:

Do not lose sight of the big picture by getting lost in the weeds

As your startup begins to scale, it can be easy to get bogged down in the details of software development. However, for rapid growth, it is increasingly important to keep the big picture in mind.

Remember that your goal is to build a product that meets the needs of your customers. To do this, you will need to focus on developing a strong team. As you scale up your startup, take the time to carefully assess your hiring needs. Are you looking for new employees with specific skill sets? Or do you need more of a generalist team?

Once you have a clear idea of what you need, you can begin to source candidates. In addition to qualifications, pay attention to personality and cultural fit. After all, you will be working closely with these individuals on a daily basis. By taking the time to build strong teams, you can set your startup up for scaling success.

Do not reject new ideas and opinions of team members

The human urge to dismiss new ideas or perspectives can be a challenge as the team grows and becomes more diverse, but it is essential for maintaining a cohesive and effective group. Embracing a diversity of opinion will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that no one feels left out or marginalized.

One way to encourage this is to have regular meetings where all team members can share their thoughts and ideas.  For example, holding frequent all-hands meetings where you both highlight the accomplishments of each team throughout the company and let everyone share their opinions and suggestions on new ways to grow will make everyone feel invested in the company’s success.

Another way to keep the team collaborative is to create clear roles and responsibilities for each member. By doing this, everyone will know what their part is in moving the company forward.

Do not allow others to expand or change your roadmap (at least not without good reason!)

When you scale your startup development team, keep your goals top of mind in order to not keep chasing every bright shiny object that comes across your desk. This will help you adhere to your roadmap while you scale and avoid any unnecessary detours.

As you scale, you will also need to consider how your team’s size and structure will impact your development process. Make sure to meticulously update your roadmap with new timing and milestones, and communicate regularly with all team members to avoid misunderstandings.

Do not have overlapping roles–use the power of delegation

Delegating tasks also allows you to build a strong team that can work together efficiently. When everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, the team can function like a well-oiled machine. This will help you focus on the most important aspects of the business and avoid burnout.

Focus will also give your team members a feeling of being personally invested in the business, and entrusted with decisions and responsibilities.  This type of emotional engagement builds loyalty, growth, and ownership –and ultimately results in higher product quality.

Things to Avoid when Scaling a Startup Software Development Team | TurnKey

Potential Challenges When Scaling A Software Development Team

Scaling software development teams itself is one of the biggest challenges faced by startups. According to research on startup failure, more than two-thirds of startups never deliver a positive return to investors.  Among the top reasons for startups’ failures are the lack of product-market fit, marketing misfires, and team problems.

This last one – team performance – is the most critical to scaling. Two potential issues with teams arise that you need to be sure to handle appropriately in order to successfully scale:

Getting the organizational chart right

As a startup grows, the amount of work required to develop and maintain its software products increases exponentially. At the same time, the number of employees available to work on these products remains relatively static (or at least grows incrementally).

This often leads to project management difficulties, as the startup tries to break its development team into smaller groups and prescribe the strategy and tasks in detail. But if the goals for each team aren’t outlined correctly, it can lead to problems down the road as the company grows and changes. 

Without a clear organizational plan, it can be difficult for a startup to make the necessary adjustments to its development process. As a result, many startups struggle with people management difficulties when scaling up their software development team.

Hiring a highly qualified software development team

As a startup, you have two choices: try to scale your development team on your own locally, or work with a partner to help you scale your development team offshore.  As mentioned previously, many firms opt for the latter option since it is usually much quicker and more cost-effective. 

So how do you find and hire a highly qualified offshore software development team for your startup’s growth?

There are a few things to look for when choosing a software development partner. First, you want to make sure the partner has experience working with startups. They should understand the unique challenges that startups face and be able to offer advice and guidance on how to overcome them.

Second, they should have a proven track record of delivering high-quality offshore software developers, who have in turn delivered projects for clients on time and on budget. Finally, they should be able to help you scale your team across all potential roles and positions to meet your growing needs.

To this end, TurnKey is a software development partner that ticks all of these boxes. We have extensive experience working with startups, and we’re experts at helping them scale quickly and efficiently. We also have a proven track record of delivering high-quality software engineers, from front end to backend to DevOps to cybersecurity and much more.

Want to learn more about how we can help your startup build a high performing offshore development team?

Why You Should Choose TurnKey as your Partner for Scaling Your Software Development Team

As any startup founder knows, growing a successful business takes hard work and dedication. But it also takes a highly qualified software development team. Luckily for you, we know the “how to scale a startup team” road like the back of our hands.

Being former startup founders ourselves, we built TurnKey to deliver what we couldn’t find when we were in your shoes: a partner that builds a custom offshore development team based 100% on your specific needs.

TurnKey brings the expertise and resources that help your startup scale its dev team quickly and efficiently. We handpick a dedicated team of software developers and other technology talent from either Eastern Europe and Latin America (the choice is yours!), all of whom will be fully dedicated to your cause.  Enjoy tons of cost savings without sacrificing an ounce of quality.

We do it for your competition every day. Are you ready for us to make the magic happen for you, too?

We’re ready to build an awesome offshore dev team for you.


How can I help my startup scale its software development team?

Scaling a startup development team is dependent on a few key factors, including outlining a clear product roadmap, sharply defining roles and responsibilities and –most importantly – finding the right talent to fill your needed positions.  For this last piece, many startups turn to offshore partners to help them recruit the right talent since looking internationally is often quicker and more cost-effective than trying to scale a team locally (at least in America or Western Europe).

What is meant by scaling in software development?

As customer demand for a product grows, at some point a software development team lacks the bandwidth to both maintain the current application and continue delivering new features.  But with careful planning, you can scale your startup development team successfully to avoid this inflection point and successfully manage the growth of the overall business.

How do you make a scalable startup development team?

Creating a scalable startup development team has a number of key steps. First, determine what you need in a team based on your product roadmap. Second, establish clear roles and responsibilities across the team. Third, find the best talent to fill these roles, either onshore (which can be costly and time-consuming) or offshore (typically using a partner like TurnKey).

What is the optimal size of the development team?

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question—the optimal size for a startup development team will vary depending on the specific needs of the company. In the early days of existence when the startup is just getting off the ground, a team of three or four developers may be all that is needed. As the company grows and scale becomes more important, the team size will need to fit what the product roadmap requires.

December 6, 2022

TurnKey Staffing provides information for general guidance only and does not offer legal, tax, or accounting advice. We encourage you to consult with professional advisors before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business or legal rights.

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