Let’s talk: Startups
Wed 7 August 2019 - 1:43 pmFeatured | Leadership | Let's Talk
Everyone wants to know the special ingredients needed to make a startup succeed. When dedicating all of your energy, time and financial investment into founding a company, there comes a huge personal drive to make it work no matter what the odds are.
In those inevitable times of doubt and trouble on a startup journey, it’s easy and understandable to start looking for that secret and magical advice that has been given to those other successful entrepreneurs you see everywhere today, and not you.
While we probably all accept that this one specific piece of guidance – that has the ability to propel us all into success similar to Musk, Jobs, and Branson overnight – doesn’t exist, it’s still important to learn from the experts.
That’s why today Dynamic Business shares insights and tips from no less than 39 startup experts. We asked them what their secrets to building a great company are; hard-work, work-life balance, culture and great people have all made the cut, but there are also some perhaps less-expected answers to read through too.
John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack
At InfoTrack, our people are our most precious asset. Despite being much larger than a start-up and now, more developed, we still function like one. A couple of secrets, I want to share that have helped InfoTrack develop our award-winning company culture include:
- We have a strong onboarding program with a buddy system, to help new starters feel at ease. Our ‘coffee with the boss’ for new starters reinforces the flat structure of our organisation. We encourage a culture of no bad ideas.
- Each day, our teams have huddles where they can share any roadblocks, brainstorming ideas to tackle challenges. Building a great company culture at InfoTrack means striving to continually improve.
- We regularly offer Lunch and Learn sessions and map out personal development programs for all employees.
Being a legal tech innovator, it is important that our staff push the boundaries and stay agile within a changing industry.
Heath Fitzpatrick, COO at ebroker
If you’re looking for short-cuts, think again, there are no short-cuts. The secret to building a great company is all about putting in the hard-work and laying solid foundations that you can continue to build on. Have a goal, mission statement and clear plan. Do your research. Stick to your goal and don’t get distracted or stray away from it. Seek advice and employ skilled professionals who complement your skill set; if something isn’t your strength, find someone who excels at it. Play to your strengths, always. Build a supportive team around you who can enable you to consistently make smart decisions.
Ed Mallett, founder and managing director, Employsure
Running a business naturally comes with challenges, however, since the most important resource for any business is its people, it pays to give the issue close attention.
Becoming an employer means there are many complexities to consider. Not only do you need to manage the safety of your people, you also need to manage the relationship with them while simultaneously staying focused on growing your business.
A business that does not treat its staff fairly and safely will never be successful – after all, a fair and safe workplace sets the foundations for success.
The secret: start success from within.
Stephen Barnes, Byronvale Advisors Pty Ltd, Management Consultants
The one thing to remember in any company, no matter is small or large, is that every business is a family business. Things you do at work impact your home life, and things in your personal life affect your work life. Every time you answer an email or take a phone call after hours, you’re impacting your family. Every time you stay back at work, you’re impacting your family. Going to work worrying about a sick child impacts your company. My one piece of advice if bring your whole self to work. Work and home lives are not mutually exclusive, and you’ll be a better person at both home and work when you understand that.
Angus Dorney, co-CEO of Kablamo, Digital Product Engineering Firm
If you’re in tech, you’ll need great talent which is hard to source and keep. Top tech talent are mobile and flexible. These girls and guys embrace different communication tools and channels in order to make things happen. They work from home, from the train, or during unusual hours of the night – but they do so on their own terms. Unshackle your workforce. The worst trend is companies requiring a return to work-from-base model. Let them roam free.
Melissa Bowden, Head of HR/Innovation Catalyst, Intuit Australia
A great company is one where you have employees who are passionate about and also really believe in the purpose of your organisation. At Intuit, our mission is to power the prosperity of small businesses around the world and so, ultimately, we’re helping to support people’s livelihoods. And, that’s what our employees feel passionate about.
Underlying our culture is a set of values. You need people who share your values and who are going to make the right decisions, even when you’re not around. As a start-up, this is especially important, as there will be a lot of things to focus on in the early days. At Intuit, we hire, manage, review performance and recognise people based on values. That’s what has helped us secure numerous Great Place to Work awards since entering this market.
Diversity of thought is also really important. Make sure you’re bringing in people who will challenge things. This is where magic happens – and again, it’s just as important when you’re a start-up because you’re going to be making those crucial decisions that set you up for long term success or failure.
Anthony Sochan, co-founder and director, Think & Grow
The best companies in the world have a few things in common. Great people, a strong sense of purpose, clear organisational values and fantastic culture, all of which underpins the mission. The very best companies excel in all of these areas. We find all of the things above translate to higher revenue, strong growth, high employee engagement and the opportunity to be more ambitious if it is desired.
Ben Thompson, co-founder and CEO, Employment Hero
I agree with the adage that great companies are built on great people, however a critical step that comes before having great people is having a compelling purpose. As Simon Sinek says, you need to “start with why”.
If you watched the live stream of Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface business, Neuralink, a few weeks ago, you may have noticed that he started by saying the whole purpose of the event was to explain their “why” so they could recruit the brightest and best talent on the planet. I have no doubt they are now inundated with top talent and are well on their way to becoming a great company.
The purpose of Employment Hero is to make employment easier and more rewarding, for everyone. We only ever recruit people who are deeply engaged with our purpose and values. That is, people who are innovative, ambitious, customer focused, team players who will own the way they achieve their objectives. We align every employee around our purpose using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) so everyone understands how their role (and those around them) contributes to Employment Hero achieving its purpose.
Finally, we make sure that as we make progress towards achieving an objective, we celebrate it. Making people feel appreciated for their contributions, no matter how small, ensures people know they are valued for helping us achieve our purpose. This also sets great examples for everyone else to follow.
Michelle Gallaher, CEO of ShareRoot
Similar to the four points on a compass, my business Northstar is strategy – what you do, who it benefits, the problem we can solve and the value you are creating. I like to use business strategy canvasses and spend time focussing on my value proposition design. The counterpoint to the Northstar is financial sustainability. Making sure I have the financial resources to deliver at each stage of the business and knowing how I will sustain the business during growth stages. My east and west relate to people and values. My approach to building a business is heavily influenced by a leadership style that values creativity, risk taking, trust, transparency, dignity and respect…dogs and a well stocked chocolate drawer. Building the right team is probably the biggest secret and I’m constantly learning on this front.
Amir Farhand, founder and CEO, Soar
Building a company takes a long time, a lot of effort and let’s be honest, it’s very risky. But, if you want to leverage some of that time, effort and risk, then I would say developing and expanding on building strong networks and partnerships is vital. Many entrepreneurs think that treating everyone as a potential competitor is vital in this cut-throat world of startups, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Also, let’s think about why people get into business in the first place. They see a problem in a certain industry that needs solving. If you approach your startup as an individual goal rather than a broader industry goal, you risk developing not only a very narrow mindset, but you will also be seen by your peers as being selfish and exclusive. These are not good quality traits for any leader in my opinion.
Don’t forget being nice to people is paramount and if you have an inclusive mindset when it comes to networking and partnerships you will be surprised by how many people are willing to help you out. Collaborative efforts are in fact the pillars of human civilisation and they form the basis of innovation and success.
Quote from Emma Lo Russo, CEO and co-founder, Digivizer
Everything starts with a great vision – one that inspires your team and your customers to join you, one that allows you to continuously check your progress against.
Then everything you do should have your customers’ success at the heart of it. We certainly believe that our customers’ success is our own success.
Growing your business is dependent on the people you hire. If you hire the very best people you can find, and focus on growing them, they in turn will grow your business and give you capacity for far greater growth. At Digivizer we hire people who are smart, talented, gets things done, are infinite learners and not arseholes. We don’t look solely for degrees or previous experience – or even at all. Don’t waste time hiring people to then tell them how to do things, or to spend time managing difficult people or non-performers.
Whilst your vision shouldn’t change, you will likely need to pivot fast, always ensuring you have aligned a strategy and its execution.
Lisa Rickert, CEO and Founder of decorative paint company Jolie Home.
Start-up businesses can be both stressful and exhilarating so the more you can reduce risk and maximize revenue, the better you can breathe in the early days. There are a few secrets to success that business newbies should understand. There are different categories that you need to concentrate on: business infrastructure, operations, and marketing. Infrastructure would include setting up your ABN number, bank accounts, utilities, and staffing. With operations you need to focus on your supply chain, internal processes, and customer service plan.
Lastly, and what may be considered the most important aspect, is marketing your brand. Developing your brand is more than just selling a product. A brand has its own identity, its story, and needs to connect with your customers. Free market economies are fierce and it’s not just about what your selling, but how your selling it. Customers crave an experience and a connection with brands in order to build loyalty. Spend time on the front end asking yourself, what makes my brand unique? What differentiates my product or service from my competition? If you can’t clearly answer these questions, then you are not ready to start your business!
Will Santow, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Longtail UX
Growing a startup is about the small decisions made every day. From hiring the best cultural fit to how you approach risk and opportunity.
In the same way that you need to ensure an idea is big enough to sustain the business’ ambitions, you need to be prepared to walk away it if it isn’t going to advance your commercial objectives. In the publishing industry, this is known as ‘kill your darlings’. Its when a clever expressions doesn’t advance the manuscript. A good editor (like a good Startup CEO) needs to be able to put a line through these ideas. This concept is crucial in startups. If an idea doesn’t help advance your business, make a quick call and move on. Importantly too, a startup CEO must ensure there is always enough funding to get to the next destination, whether that be to profitability, a planned capital raising, or both.
Nick Bell, cofounder Removify, serial entrepreneur
Speed & people were key drivers in building my first company, WME. I am now responsible for a global group of nine digital agencies, with over 1,000 people, so we continue to make, quick, semi calculated decisions that have contribute to growth. Yes, we do make the wrong decision at times, but if we do, we stop reassess, fix and move forward quickly. My advice is to never allow ego to dictate your decisions, as ego often kills companies!
I firmly believe a great company is full of absolute game changers, people who join and instantly transform your organisation for the better. Over the years we’ve employed 20 – 30 insanely talented people who influenced our extreme growth. It’s cliché, but great people make great companies!
Aaron Smith, founder KX Pilates
For KX Pilates, the secret to our success is the people. Our franchise owners and trainers are rockstars in their own right. They are the smiling faces that represent our ‘Kaizen’ philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’ to the tee. Their number one goal is to always have their clients walking out of studios sweaty, smiling and feeling like they belong. KX is a true experience and the dedication of our franchisees ensures the KX brand is consistent across the country.They are true brand ambassadors who go above and beyond for clients day-in day-out and provide an exceptional, personalised client experience.
Kym Atkins, CEO, The Volte
The secret to a great startup is surrounding yourself with great people, both colleagues and mentors, building a team with a good cultural fit with the company, upskill in areas relevant to your industry and work really really hard!
James Gilbert, Director of APAC, HubSpot
The secret to building a great company is to prioritise growing better over growing faster. To do this, you need to view your business as a flywheel with customers at the centre of everything you do, not a traditional funnel, where they’re simply the output of your marketing and sales strategies.
Invented by James Watt, the flywheel is simply a wheel that’s incredibly energy-efficient. The amount of energy it stores depends on how fast it spins, the amount of friction it encounters, and its size.
The flywheel model is an efficient and effective way to think about growing a business. It’s about focusing on creating a remarkable customer experience and delighting existing customers to the point that they become your strongest marketing channel, effectively applying ‘force’ and spinning your flywheel.
Startups that understand the influence of their existing customers in their growth trajectory will grow better (and be more likely to succeed in the long run) than those who view their customers simply as an output of their marketing and sales funnel. The goal should not be to grow fast at any cost, but to grow sustainably, with a customer-obsessed approach.
David Burt, Executive Manager of the CSIRO ON
The secret to building a great company is the strength of the foundation that it is built on. For new ventures this means the founding team – who are they, why do they want to build a company together, and do they have a shared vision of what success looks like? If the founding team is wrong then the chances you will build a great company are also low.
That’s why in the CSIRO ON Accelerate program, we focus on working with founders pre-incorporation, before the business is started. This means that we can help the founding team ask all the hard questions up front and ensure that they start from a solid base – or that they don’t start at all.
ON Accelerate helps startup founders bring together teams full of passionate individuals who have been leading research in their respective fields for years, whether that be robotics or food processing, to lead the charge on the development of game-changing products and services. This united passion for paving the way forward in new industries is crucial to establishing a great new company culture for each new venture.
Darrell Hardidge, CEO of Saguity and author of The Client Revolution
There is no such thing as a great company without a great team, and a great team builds excellent customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is the direct result of great teams, and that is the direct result of great leadership. People don’t leave companies they leave management, and the opposite occurs when it’s powerful. There are many cases where a business is in desperate survival mode, and the team are what brings it back to life. They do whatever it takes to serve customers and work crazy hours. They do this because they believe in the company and its leadership. Team loyalty is the same as customer loyalty, and they both are critical to the success of a business. As Winston Churchill said, ” we build the culture and then the culture builds us”. A great company is founded upon a culture of integrity and it always starts at the top. Be the leader that others want to follow and you will unstoppable. If you have to highly pay them to do it, its destined to fail.
Alan Manly, CEO of Group Colleges Australia and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur
The secret to building a great company is that there is no secret. The combination of bravery or foolhardy endeavour, measured risk taking or a gambling, cleverness or too smart for your own good plus of course the ability to attract folks who you can inspire to share your vision is a good start. Add that to plain long hours working smarter than the average and you should are on the way to building a great company. How great depends on your own measure. If you are achieving something better than if you had not tried then you are on the way to building a great company.
David Sharrock, Managing Principal of Sharrock Pitman Legal, and author of Fighting for Enterprise Success
No doubt about it. A great company always has great people on board. That is the key to business success. In great companies, the leaders will be providing highly effective, inspiring and passionate leadership to talented, fully engaged, high performance team members, with the company delivering exceptional product and service to truly delighted customers. To do so, leaders and team will be motivated to build a company that really stands out from all other companies of the same type and in the same industry, fuelled by a relentless passion for that company to become ‘world’s best’ by being obsessively customer-centric.
Carrie Kwan, co-founder and MD, Mums & Co
Being in their shoes – having an intimate understanding of your customer’s journey is important – knowing their anxiety points, their celebration points and everything in between. Then making sure the team, whether in finance, IT development or community management, understands that journey and who the team is all serving.
Collaboration – surround yourself with people more intelligent than you, and attract the best talent that you can afford (or convince) to get on board. You’re a collaborator until you’re my competitor! Invest and build in mutually beneficial partnerships to help you along with your vision and grow as fast as possible.
Hard work and purpose – plain old hard work and putting in the hours when and wherever needed, which is easier to do when the work is purposeful. Being out of my comfort zone and working with so much unknown means I of course also apply my resiliency building behaviours, thoughts and actions.
Believe in yourself, be self-confident and self-advocate. These are indeed the attributes that you, men, women, and the younger generation need you to have. You have a voice, you can share stories and information, speak up and be a catalyst for positive change.
Sam Bashiry, Founder, Broadband Solutions
The secret to starting a successful business is having a goal and the way you go about executing it. You can’t forge a path to get somewhere if you don’t know where it is you want to get to.
You need to clearly understand your vision and identify what differentiates you from your competitors so you can seamlessly deliver that. Both good and bad competitors will influence how you run your business, so pay attention.
Additionally, use your strengths and highlight them when you’re talking to potential clients, networking is your best source of marketing which is critical for a new business.
Finally, when you get to the stages of building your workforce, it’s important to choose people who understand and believe in your vision, having the right team is a huge asset.
Colin Anson, CEO and Co-Founder, pixevety
Growth and potential are intensely important during the early stages of start-ups with pivotal questions being ‘when is the right time to hire and who?’. New clients are exciting, but every client gallantly garnered adds to the working day, meaning more people are required to maintain service levels – essential for repeat business and recommendations. Don’t approach your hiring decisions solely based on your budget. It’s about the type of people you hire, their level of empathy, adaptability and skill set, as well as the level of commitment to the team, culture and the business. Make sure you, as the CEO, are part of the hiring process and share your vision and passion. Share your ‘founder story’ so new hires understand the ‘heart and soul’ behind the company. Healthy start-ups should always plan for growth, take that leap of faith when it feels right, rather than hope for it or react to it!
Alex Zaccaria, Co-Founder of Linktree
If you look at any successful company – from disruptors like Stripe or Slack, to huge companies like Shopify or Amazon – it’s obvious the secret to success lies in how you engage with your audience.
We started Linktree to solve a problem that we believed was uniquely our own, but it’s growth and success, from that starting point three years ago to now having nearly 3 million users, is built on meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users.
Once we started looking deeper and prioritised functionalities that would benefit the widest user-base, everything sort of fell into place. We’ve managed to build a product that our users want to talk about which is the best kind of marketing.
It also goes without saying that having a solid team behind you from day one is essential, the Linktree team is a testament to that. In just three years, our small team has grown what initially started out as a side hustle to a global platform with leading market share.
Angus McDonald, Co-Founder and CEO at Cover Genius
The business world is becoming increasingly more global, and companies need technology to power that international scale without losing the localised customer experience.
Customers have more options than ever to choose from, so servicing them best needs to be the first priority when developing any product or service. A customer-first approach means you must be open to doing things differently to address customer pain points and overcome challenges, such as allowing payments in multiple currencies, as well as adding personalisation, simplicity and transparency to the experience. The journey needs to be as simple and smart as possible for the customer.
Mike Robins, CTO and Co-Founder Poplin Data
Building a great company takes hard work and perseverance. Co-Founders need to be able to wear multiple hats without losing light of the overall strategy.
Here are my key learnings:
People are your biggest asset – Over invest early in smart people who have a passion for knowledge and learning; know when to build your team from the top down versus bottom up.
Use data to make important decisions – it’s easy in a small business to default to making gut decisions. Be ruthless with making data based decisions on everything from finance to clients, but be sure to always consider the context of the business when making these decisions.
Never stop building culture – core to Poplin is our Friday afternoon games day where the whole team gets involved with everything from video games to board and card games. This isn’t just for fun; we have a team of diverse thinkers and it really shows when we challenge ourselves in this way. We also aim to collaborate and solve problems outside of a purely academic context to strengthen our skills as a team. Fun fact; our Chief Strategy Officer is the former Australian Street fighting champion.
Encourage education – the importance of challenging and growing your team is paramount. Allow them to self serve information, make mistakes and go to as many learning and conference events as possible.
Be transparent – successful teams shouldn’t have secrets. This builds trust and loyalty.
Adrian Przelozny, CEO and founder, Independent Reserve
Perseverance is key and value is cumulative. Although it sometimes may not seem that way, every little thing that a founder does early on in the life of a business adds up and ultimately creates value which may only be realised years later. Starting a business is hard and requires a lot of patience and commitment to do what might seem like thankless tasks. It’s easy to get lost in the day to day operational activities when a founder needs to wear many different hats, but it’s important to step back periodically, relax and try to see the bigger picture.
Founding a company is an exercise of stepping far away from your comfort zone. This is difficult at first but it’s surprising how I’ve now developed a tendency to embrace it and even seek it out. Throughout my journey, I’ve had to learn a wide array of new skills. I like to think I am now fairly competent at things I never imagined I’d be good at. Over the past several years, I’ve had a much better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses.
The key to success is not giving up and keeping things in perspective. The path from A to B is often not a straight line and there will be hiccups along the way. The trick is to stay calm, trust in your vision and carry on. To borrow a phrase from Ray Dalio’s Principles which I’m reading now, pain + reflection = progress
Dr Anastasia Volkova, CEO and Founder, FluroSat
At FluroSat, our mission is to feed and clothe the world through efficient resource redistribution in high-impact crops. Building a company from ground-zero to attempt achieving this is not an easy feat, but our recent announcement on the successful funding round backed by Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, and other prominent investors has proved that we are on the right track and we intend to stay ahead of the curve.
Here’s how we’re doing it:
- By staying aligned to the market – We listen closely to what our end-users and customers want. We’ve found early adopters of the vision for our technology and what it can achieve.
- Persevering with our “why” – Achieving any goal requires an understanding of why we are doing it. The “why” is why anyone in the ag industry should care about what we are delivering.
- Hiring right – Having the right people onboard the team is crucial as this means that we will have the best chance of success together. Whilst the “why” will affect everything in our company, hiring the right people who share the vision will take the business forward.
Vlado Bosanac, founder and CEO of ASX-listed health tech MyFiziq
The greatest secret to building a successful company is to create the right team. A team that shares your vision and will create the right culture within your company. Your company culture should say not only who you are but who you aim to be.
The second most important secret is to protect your intellectual property right from the start. The world moves very fast and before you know it you will have competitors. Wrap a fence around your ideas however you can and seek the right advice on how to do this. Use a good solid NDA with a non-circumvention agreement.
Thirdly, when it comes to marketing, don’t underestimate the impact of blogs, podcasts and other smaller digital media platforms. It’s worth taking the time to create your own content and build your brand.
Alexie O’Brien, COO of Tell Me Baby
Identify a gap in the market with a real problem that needs solving. You can create a product with the best technology and design – but if there isn’t a need for it, you won’t succeed.
Discover your ‘why’. Having a future-focused vision and mission that is more than what you do everyday will inspire your team to deliver results and overcome challenging times together.
Have a clear strategy and roadmap that you share openly with the team. Through this you can identify your team’s strengths and skills that will help move the business towards goals. Giving them different tasks to own will keep them motivated as they are held accountable for delivering against certain KPIs.
Apply values that can be authentically embodied through the organisation – and hire great people aligned to those values. Create an environment that relies on everyone to contribute to culture from the top down, and people will be less likely to use it as a weapon.
Create an environment of transparency and honest communication. When staff feel empowered to contribute their ideas, and their feedback this will create a collaborative working culture that delivers great results.
Brad Jenkins, Head of Leisure at Lewis Land Group
Our company success is based around two key elements: staff and customers. Building a great business is all about people, and we place a huge importance on looking after yourself and your customers.
Have clear expectations of their roles and be flexible in meeting their needs. You want your people to be the best versions of themselves when they are at work so they are focused on delivering to the customers.
Know the customers you have and identify the ones who you don’t. The growth of your customer base is endless if you can narrow down to the fundamentals of why they spend with you. Continue to adapt to new trends and service opportunities to discover new types of customers and target audiences.
Tink Taylor, Founder and President, dotdigital
To build a great company, it’s important to have a clear picture of both present and future. The business world is going through a paradigm shift, therefore it’s imperative to be realistic about how and what your new venture can do, but also be nimble with the changing times.
I believe the three key aspects of any successful venture are, to connect, empower, and communicate. But companies should also be open to change, and this demonstrates their commitment to innovation.
Since dotdigital was established 20 years ago, the functionality and capability of the platform has significantly evolved, it got deeper, wider and broader, yet the perception of what we do had stayed the same. We recognised this, and as a result, recently rebranded from “dotmailer” to “dotdigital.”
Ultimately, everything comes down to the team, building a strong team, respecting and motivating them constantly is key to grow into a great company. Promoting a positive and driven culture enables both personal and professional success among the team members. While our business has changed dramatically since our founding, one quality remains as we continue our commitment to customers, innovation, partners and employees.
Mac Wang, Head of Growth ANZ at Stripe
Infrastructure, while often overlooked, is an important part of business success. Stripe research shows that modern technology stacks are key levers of growth for businesses, helping companies:
- Optimise developer time: Two-thirds of Australian businesses report developers spend more time addressing technical debt than on strategic projects. Infrastructure can help with that ㄧbusinesses that adopted a modern technology stack found it helped them accelerate product development.
- Speed up internationalisation: Regulatory and compliance issues are some ofthe biggest barriers to global expansion. Outsource this pain ㄧsoftware platforms like Stripe can abstract these complexities for you, while also providing reliability and support when scaling.
- Build fast, secure and frictionless experiences: Research shows that seamless experiences, particularly in payments, are central to the customer experience online. Infrastructure can alleviate the challenges of building your own.
While these aren’t necessarily secrets, they are important considerations for any business looking to start, scale ㄧand compete ㄧin today’s internet-driven economy.
Fiona Boyd, CEO, ipSCAPE
Having the right product, the right market opportunity and the right team to execute is essential to building a successful company. Underpinning it all, you need a great culture and it is crucial for a startup founder or CEO to set that tone from the top.
Kieran O’Neill, Hometime CFO & General Manager
At Hometime, our focus is on our people and building a culture that they are proud to be involved in. We champion a remote working environment, and in order to implement this effectively, trust is integral. We need to rely on our team members and distil confidence, without having to watch over their shoulder each day.
To foster talent and inspire our team, we promote from within, coordinate employee meetups, carry out cultural initiatives, and provide a space to collaborate freely; which are just a few ways that we build our company culture. Keeping a focus on our people helps us maintain a clear vision for the future and provides a strong base for continued growth.
In order to help us scale, we’ve built a dispersed team across four countries and five time zones. To ensure we all work effectively we have adopted remote working practises from industry leaders such as Base Camp and Zapier. This involves modern processes for weekly goal setting, internal communication and cultural initiatives that empower staff and results in an engaged team.
A combination of great people and best working practises has been a key driver behind our explosive growth since launching in 2016.
Sabri Suby, Founder and Head of Growth, King Kong
If you’re a service-based startup, the product is the people that are inside your building. The quality of the inputs into a system will determine the quality of the outputs, so you need to ensure your team is happy. Retaining the right culture while growing your business is challenging, but it’s the culture that will help you achieve initial growth. Hire good talent who are the right fit. You need an engaged team – a place where you have people rallying together, agreeing on a strategy and really trying to make things happen. Show them where the company is going, what that company is trying to achieve, and how they contribute to that plan – rally your team and get everyone to buy into the same mission. It’s too easy to be heads down concentrating on business success, but it’s vital that the small wins along the way are celebrated together.
David Boyd, co-founder of Credit Card Compare
There is a steep learning curve when doing anything for the first time, let alone something as complex and unpredictable as launching a business. In those early days, I wish I grasped the importance of cash flow. Things like spending too much too soon, handling outstanding invoices and placing too much confidence in the growth of the business have taught us many lessons. If I can offer one golden nugget of wisdom it’s this: consider your cash flow from day one, then–when the timing is right–ditch your debit card in favour of a business credit card. It was an invaluable tool that helped us manage cash flow and protect our business. Today, we utilise our expenses to earn points to fly our staff around the world in business class seats. A win-win all around!
Dai Williams, Chief Growth Officer at SiteMinder
I could detail at length the need for a solid go-to-market strategy, a defined and tightened funnel, agreed metrics and processes, and established feedback loops. Equally, a product that unquestionably fills a void would make the list as, in the absence of anything else, it’s what your business will fall back on.
However, at the risk of sounding cliché, the best kept secret to building a great company is really its people. The truth is, in the early days, it’s all about survival. You’re a small team with big dreams and so you feel every win almost as much as you feel every loss, and you feel those together.
As a leader of a startup, make sure you:
- Build a connection with your team as they will take you forward. Make everyone feel like they belong and are adding to your company’s success.
- Let data lead the conversation, not emotions. You won’t always agree on things and that’s good, but you need to park your own bias.
- Learn what to say no to. This requires discipline, but you need to be diligent in your decision-making and remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Hire the right people at the right time and never lose sight of your DNA.
Richard Watson, Country Director at Twilio
Successful businesses are powered by the teams behind them. And when it comes to startups, those working in the background can either make it or break it.
When building teams, it’s important to incorporate values into the selection criteria. Startups need to hire people who have the ability and attitude to be able to embrace & live the company values.
It’s also really important to use understandable wording when you describe these values – such as ‘no shenanigans’, rather than ‘have integrity’. They need to be understandable to everyone in the team. For example, it can be difficult for some employees to understand how far they can push the line when it comes to words like integrity, but they will always know when they are up to shenanigans.