Scale-up principles for driving sustainable growth
In the past two years Wise has grown from 4 million to 10+ million customers, and from 1,600 employees to over 2,400.
Growth is great, but when happening really fast, it can be hard to keep customers and our people happy. And advocacy from both sides is essential to a company’s growth – right now, 86% of customers would recommend our product to a friend and 83% of employees would recommend Wise as a great place to work.
So what have we learned about growing sustainably? Here’s my experience from 7 years at Wise.
Working at Wise today is like working in a startup within a scale-up
Working at Wise today is a mix of the big and the small. You get the benefits of a startup culture – the autonomy, speed and no top-down bureaucracy. And at the same time, you also get the benefits of a scale-up – the stability of a financially strong company and support you need from world class operational teams like people, legal.
We work a little differently from most companies out there, and that way of working has been instrumental to our success. Let’s break that down:
We’re organised to deliver speed and maintain accountability
At Wise, we work in autonomous teams, formed around customer problems. Teams are grouped into multi-disciplinary tribes, focused around the same overarching customer goal, with each team working on a specific customer sub-problem.
For example, the Spend tribe focuses on building and bringing our debit card to customers around the world. They’re divided into teams working on specific areas of the Spend experience like user experience, business customers and expansion, among others.
Each team is autonomous, meaning they can prioritise projects and deliver results without being told what to do by leadership, keeping them agile and fast. Instead, their insights on what to prioritise come from customers.
We have an active feedback loop at Wise – teams get feedback from customers and from each other. It’s not uncommon for an engineer to feedback our marketing team, or the other way around.
Our structure enables multiple areas for growth
Our structure of tribes focusing on different customer problems enables them to move independently, without blocking each other. As each tribe is autonomous, they have all the resources and skills they need to get work done.
This way of working means tribes can impact growth in parallel, enabling multiple vectors of growth.
With autonomy comes accountability
High levels of autonomy are then coupled with accountability that comes with a traditional functional reporting structure. Engineers in our autonomous teams are supported by engineering leads, who report up to our CTO; our product managers are supported by product leads, who then report to the VP of Growth. All our tribes are led by a cross-functional leadership team across product, design, analytics and engineering.
This multidisciplinary leadership enables us to balance priorities over different aspects of the product. It also helps our people focus on the biggest opportunities in their areas, without the need for cross-organisation priority setting.
New teams are created around customer problems
Our structure enables tribes to form teams around customer needs really quickly – our teams truly feel like mini startups.
As an example, let’s look at how the Investment Product team at Wise was born:
- We noticed a customer problem: Our customers hold £3.7 billion in their Wise accounts without generating a return for their money. This creates an opportunity cost in contrast to holding their money elsewhere.
- We developed a solution to the problem: We scoped the problem and looked for ways we can fix it to make our product more valuable for customers. We agreed on an investment product as the solution.
- We built a team around it: We gathered a team of regulatory specialists, engineers, designers, product managers and banking professionals who are now building an investment product inside Wise.
How does this autonomy work in practice and how don’t we end up running in a hundred different directions? Well, it all comes back to being guided by the same mission. So the scope of what to focus on for teams is quite narrow, and what to work on naturally gets prioritised for us, by our customers. The structure of tribes gives teams an additional layer of focus too.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Investment Product launch — soon!
This model is our secret for sustainable growth
Our structure has enabled us to scale the team at the rate of which our product grows. Over the past three years, we’ve doubled from 35 to over 70 product teams.
During a pandemic, we’ve onboarded almost a thousand new Wisers. From 88,000 applicants.
And it’s all been scalable due to our autonomous structure.
But, with non-stop growth, also come challenges. Our biggest one has been growing teams at a sustainable rate. If you grow teams too quickly, people get lost, struggle to have an impact, and we can end up growing our costs faster than our revenue. The solution? We only scale our teams at the rate at which we can onboard.
While we do have the resources and ability to hire more people than we do today, we constrain our hiring rate to the rate team leads can support new joiners in onboarding and having an impact.
Everyone works on growths and towards one mission
Empowered teams + one mission + happy customers = growth
That’s the secret to scaling at Wise. Everything we do is focused on real life problem areas our customers have when sending, spending and receiving money internationally. Working this way gets the best out of our people and allows them to see the impact of their work. Which in return keeps Wisers motivated to build money without borders for everyone, everywhere.
We’re growing fast, but there’s still one number we haven’t managed to hit – £150 billion. The amount people all over the world still pay unknowingly in hidden fees, every year.
We want to get that to zero, but we need some more help. We have some of the most exciting tech roles live now – check them out here.
1, 2 Edgar, Dunn & Company Market Study, 2021