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Ready to Scale: How Cambrian Grew their Tech Business

By Kyle Smith | Apr 04, 2018

Ready to Scale: How Cambrian Grew their Tech Business

We Create KC, our annual report on the state of Kansas City entrepreneurship, will hit the shelves and URLs this Friday, April 6. This is our fifth report, and this year we are focusing on the six imperatives the community laid out to reach Kansas City's goal of becoming America's most entrepreneurial city:

  • maximizing entrepreneurial support resources

  • telling the story of KC entrepreneurship

  • creating a strong entrepreneurial pipeline

  • building talent

  • engaging the corporate community

  • increasing available startup and growth capital

We Create KC also celebrates the “we” of our entrepreneurial community—the entrepreneurs, innovators, resource providers, investors and storytellers who work together to advance entrepreneurship and make KC a great place to play, work and live. Entrepreneurs are at the center of that story, and we at KCSourceLink work hard to surround them with the resources they need to build their success.

Cambrian is one such success story. Cambrian designs augmented reality software for mobile devices. Heather Spalding and her partner Joel Teply started the business after Joel left his position as a successful engineer with Zoloz (f.k.a. EyeVerify).

Joel stepped into the role of CTO and Heather took on COO. She led the company through the startup phase, and when it came time to grow, she sought help.

Heather signed up for ScaleUP! Kansas City, a four month program offered by the UMKC Innovation Center for entrepreneurs exactly in her position: you have a successful startup and you need advanced strategy, processes and coaching and to expand and thrive.

That’s exactly what Heather received. We’ll let her take it from here:

I am so incredibly grateful to have been accepted into ScaleUP! KC. It’s hard to articulate all that ScaleUP! and Jill Meyer, the director, have done for me personally and for Cambrian, so I’ll just focus on a few specific points.

When I started ScaleUP!, I didn’t think of myself as a “business person.” It felt like during the startup phase, our success had come about through a lot of hard work and luck (even if we were the ones that created that luck).  

As COO, I ran the everyday, business side of things:tracking our finances and payroll, making sure we were fine legally, running the team and a little bit of everything else. It felt disorganized, even overwhelming at times, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why specific things needed to change (or that the time and effort to change them would be worth it).

I knew I needed to learn more and do better, but I also didn’t know what I didn’t know. I needed a business bootcamp that could shape us up and give us guidance. I needed to meet other entrepreneurs and learn from them—what had worked and hadn’t and even feel like we weren’t alone in this difficult task of growing a company.  

Building a network of support to scale

I don’t remember exactly how I heard about ScaleUP!, but I thought it sounded like it could be just what we needed, so I submitted my application.

ScaleUP! Is a four-month commitment, four hours per week. The idea of spending that much time in a class is a hard pill to swallow for most small business owners. There’s always so much to do within the business that every minute is precious.  However, the value of ScaleUP! quickly became apparent and I found myself wishing my whole team could be there absorbing this information with me!

Right away, I realized that time spent ON the business is every bit as important, if not more so, than time spent in the business. It became clear that spending time up front setting up processes and laying the road work would save us time and headaches in the long run.

It’s not that I didn’t know it needed to be done, it’s that I had absolutely no idea how to do it.  I had been a scientist up until running Cambrian full time, so I liked numbers and measurements and absolutes. Where I had trouble was knowing how to apply this to my business, how to lay it all out, especially in areas like programming (not something I knew well).

Joseph Rosenburger, ‘Rosie’, was a process triage coach who presented one week at ScaleUP!.  He showed us how to cordon off pieces of what we do (e.g.,selling to a client or creating new content) and lay out every step from start to finish so we can identify the bottlenecks and improve them.

He said (this was the ah-ha for me) that these processes don’t come from us as managers, they come from the people who do them every day. You sit down with your team for an afternoon and lay out, start to finish, what needs to happen to go from idea to product or contact to closed sale.  When it’s all written out, we can see where we are getting stuck and improve the process. We can check back and see if things need to change, we can measure and improve things from within the business.

Getting your business ready to scale

I’ve improved our systems  with the Cambrian team and we continue to do this. It’s not an instant change, but we’re moving toward regular and predictable cycles so if we doubled in size we won’t be doubling in chaos.

We have standards in place that were never there before and it came from the employees telling us where they were getting stuck and what could be done to make things run more smoothly.

Beyond the massive improvement we’ve had in our processes, I have to say my confidence in my company and myself has grown significantly having been through ScaleUP!. We’ve had many recent wins, including taking home the grand prize $100,000 in last year’s LaunchKC competition.

Now, even though I am still always learning, I most definitely see myself as a business person. In fact, I recently became CEO of Cambrian.  I couldn’t have come this far without the support of the entrepreneurial community. That includes the absolutely outstanding people in ScaleUP!, both the entrepreneurs alongside you in the cohort, as well as the generous and talented people that run the program and present every week.

Get to know more people in Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community

Thank you, Heather, for sharing Cambrian’s story. If you want to meet more inspiring entrepreneurs like Heather, check out our newly release We Create KC report, which also includes the entrepreneurial support organizations that help our entrepreneurs succeed.

 

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