Bottlenecks of Scaleups

A collection of articles on common problems startups face when scaling.

16 March 2022

Tim Cochran, Carl Nygard, and Roni Smith

Throughout Thoughtworks’ history, we’ve been partnering with startups to help them scale. We’ve worked with organizations at various stages in their development — from helping early-stage startups experiment, land on the right idea and create an MVP, to helping later-stage scaleups create the right technical platform and organizational structure for managing hyper-growth.

A typical scenario is a medium- or later-stage startup that has reached an impasse in its business. They might have an unreliable product, high costs, unproductive product delivery, trouble hiring the right staff or be stuck on new ideas to delight customers — affecting the growth of their company.

Frequently, we see that the underlying cause for these challenges is a bottleneck. As the company grew, it didn’t adjust its initial strategy to encompass the stress that scale would place on its people, processes and technology.

The bottleneck might not be new — bureaucracy, delays, business challenges and cost impact organizations of all stages — but as a company grows and its product takes off, what was once a small amount of friction becomes a limiting factor. As a company scales, these bottlenecks become major problems that require significant changes or investments to address.

Through extensive learnings from Thoughtworks scaleup teams and conversations with scaleup leaders about their scaling journey, we’ve identified the 11 different common bottlenecks listed above. For each bottleneck we are writing an article that digs deeper, looking at what led to the bottlenecks, what were the warning signs and what the solution is to get out of the bottleneck.

To help us discuss how bottlenecks form, we find it useful to think of a startup's journey in terms of four phases.

Phase 1

Experimenting

Phase 2

Getting Traction

Phase 3

(Hyper) Growth

Phase 4

Optimizing