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[VIDEO] How to build a billion dollar company

This four part series, is based on our interviews with CEO and founder of RealVNC, Dr Andy Harter, about how he grew a small tech startup into a future billion dollar company.

In the past few years we've seen a huge surge of interest in startups from large businesses, investors, and the general public. Everyone wants to jump on board with the next big thing but when it comes down to it, we know from statistics that 80 per cent of these promising startups are likely to fail in their first two years. In this guide Dr Andy Hartner, CEO and founder of RealVNC, shares his insights on how to grow a small startup to a large SME.

Read more: Pocket Gamer Connects 2014: How to build a gaming business (opens in new tab)

Three stages from startup to SME

As we discussed in our Zomato insights (opens in new tab) having a talented workforce is an essential part of success. In our interview with Dr Harter, we go a little deeper and explore his three-stage process for ensuring that staff not only stay with your organisation but stay at the top of their game.

Stage 1 – Equity:

Startups have so much to offer people at all levels of their career; education, modern environment, agility, but lack the ability to offer a market rate salary to their team members. So what can you offer instead? Equity or share options. At this stage you need to give your key staff everything you can offer and once they have a stake in the business they have something to fight for.

Stage 2 – Market rate:

Once your business has evolved and has sufficient business to build a positive bank balance, you can start offering a market rate salary which will attract more talented people to your organisation and keep members of your team who've worked hard to get your enterprise to that level.

Naturally the financial aspect of a market rate salary is an excellent bonus to have and provides loyal staff with a sense of satisfaction with what they have built.

Stage 3 – Stay interesting:

The final stage to keeping and attracting talent is to keep your team interested. Dr Harter told us "let them be creative, let them contribute."

Give your staff responsibility and ownership of their work, Dr Harter explains, "when I say responsibility and ownership I mean people who are the go-to for a particular project." Dr Harter explained further that in the competitive world of recruitment, graduates will often "choose a company that's been around for a while that's still doing interesting things."

A billion dollar structure

The structure of a company defines the organisation's culture. To get the most out of people Dr Harter supplies us with two key pieces of knowledge:

  • "top down is the death knell of innovation"
  • "we're organised into small teams, each team is responsible for a product line"

These two core pieces of philosophy go hand in hand. To have one without the other is to negate any advantage the other has.

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In order to keep work "interesting" creativity and innovation need to flow, a top down structure destroys and suffocates that flow because a top-down structure progressively gets smaller. The closer an idea gets to the apex, the more layers the idea or strategy has to travel through before it gets approved.

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Dividing the organisation into small autonomous teams provides (even a large organisation) agility and flexibility, as ideas can be processed faster. The difficulty with this structure is in finding someone who'll embrace the responsibility and accountability for being in charge, as Dr Harter elucidated "finding someone within that team to take ownership and responsibility for that project and product line is critical."


As a business decision maker it's up to you how you want the business to be run. If you're in a enterprise with an existing top-down structure it's up to you to change the paradigm. One advantage of being in a startup is that the business wisdom accumulated over the ages can be implemented immediately.

To remain competitive and nimble, established companies need to alter and evolve based on modern management styles and new business techniques, and it can be difficult to change the status quo. As Dr Kelso from Scrubs once said "Nothing in this world worth having comes easy."

In part one (opens in new tab) of the series Dr Harter reveals the one overlooked secret to success, in part three (opens in new tab) he explains the pros and cons of your financing options, and in part four (opens in new tab) details when you need new tech and when you absolutely don't.

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