Did a talk today on my experiences scaling a startup, at the London Fast Growth Forum.
Here it is:
Did a talk today on my experiences scaling a startup, at the London Fast Growth Forum.
Here it is:
Work hard at your company culture, and keep working at it. Don’t give up, and don’t compromise on your values.
I’ve reached moments of exultation, madness and mania, worked through stress & fatigue, generally kept my head without leaping off buildings or launching into tirades, all during some of the most trying aligning of circumstances that I could imagine.
But we’re talking about now, so let’s get back to that… Recently we got asked to do a short application for an EU startup competition, where one of the questions was around company culture.
So Isabelle posted a little SurveyMonkey survey, and this is what came back:
HOW FUN IS IT TO WORK AT WEDO? (1 BEING NO FUN & 10 BEING LOADS OF FUN)
5 6.90% – 2
6 20.69% – 6
7 20.69% – 6
8 20.69% – 6
9 6.90% – 2
10 24.14% – 7
WEDO IS GREAT BECAUSE?
1. great people make a great company
2. We’re trusted to figure out most things on our own.
3. The atmosphere is a good compromise of hard-working and laid back.
4. Good atmosphere
5. Of the Culture and the people
6. it’s growing fast and I can learn a lot in that process
7. Everyone is happy and time flies.
8. it treats you like family
9. The people are great, we have social events and we now have a flexible time off system
10. It is made of great people
11. Great Colleagues and values
12. The company culture is brilliant! Awesome people to work with too
13. Family ethic and transparency.
14. Of the people!
15. we have great people working on interesting problems and we have a laugh while working hard
16. Employees get fantastic career growth that are hard to come by at other companies
17. Ed tells me stories about his Twingo
18. of the amazing people that work for the company and because you know how to treat your employees
19. We’re the little guy.
20. Its fun and friendly and I have learnt so many extra skills
21. There are some fun people around.
22. Of the people
23. Interesting people, interesting work
24. some fun people work here
25. We’re doing things differently from other retail or furniture companies
26. of the fun friendly working environment
27. Everyone is of a similar age and likes to be social!
28. Company Culture, Opportunities
29. it’s young, it’s fresh, people are cool
After all that’s happened in the last 12 weeks, I can go home smiling
As for the rest: grit teeth, hustle and metronome.
So, we’ve grown from 16 odd to around 45 in the space of 12 to 18 months. In that time we’ve grown with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Key lesson as been that e-commerce requires lots of types of people, so you can’t hire like you would for a tech team, just doesn’t work.
Today I posted something on our team site which I’ve been stewing on for a while, thought I’d post it here for others to see and perhaps utilise in their companies.
Key issue is that when you don’t explicitly state things, then people make assumptions. When they make assumptions, then often the way you think things should / would / could be done, are not the same as the assumptions… Be prepared for fuckups to ensue.
So, you have to make things a bit more explicit to make sure that people know where the boundaries are.
And without further ado (some stuff removed to take out competitive intel):
A quick update on what to do and what not to do in situations where decisions need to be made, and where (some) overall responsibility, accountability and decision making lies.
Bulk importing often upsets indexing / caching on the servers; communication that it was happening could have solved the issue
This is your responsibility if you are doing an update. Let tech & ecomm teams know you are doing an import / export to rest of the team.
Flo is working on solution for this not to be an issue, which will go live with AWS. This may negate the above.
Gareth has overall accountability for this. If the conversion rate is materially down ( more than 30% reduction for more than a day ), needs to be raised immediately with Gareth.
If there are material changes in the conversion rate ( more than 30% reduction for more than a day ), we should expect to drop everything to work on analysis and a fix.
All website changes to the frontend need to be run through Gareth for foreseeable future.
Posting onto the team site is great for feedback, but does not constitute approval / decision making.
Excludes merchandising tactics like banners & product labels etc.
Flo has overall accountability for this. If this is a significant problem, we should expect to drop everything to work on analysis and a fix. If Flo is in a meeting, then that meeting should be interrupted. If Flo is not available, first port of call is Gareth then Martijn. If it is a weekend, then first person to contact is Gareth to triage severity of the problem. If it needs to be fixed immediately, Gareth will get in touch with Flo. Do not attempt to contact Gareth via anything other than a phone call or txt message. Skype and email are not reliable enough for this.
Do not send the problem directly to one of the developers in the tech team. Ever.
First port of call is Anish for triage. If Anish is not available, then Gareth. If Gareth is not available then Flo.
If the problem is threatening our ability to transact, fulfil orders or complete payments to suppliers, then this takes priority. If this is a significant problem, we should expect to drop everything to work on analysis and a fix. If Anish is in a meeting, then that meeting should be interrupted. Do not attempt to contact Anish via anything other than in person, a phone call or txt message. Skype and email are not reliable enough for this.
Jacob has overall accountability for this. If this is a significant problem, we should expect to drop everything to work on analysis and a fix. If Jacob is in a meeting, then that meeting should be interrupted. If Jacob is not available, first port of call is Ed then Gareth. If it is a weekend, then first person to contact is Jacob to triage severity of the problem. If it needs to be fixed immediately, Jacob will sort it out, or get in touch with Ed for help. Do not attempt to contact Jacob via anything other than a phone call or txt message. Skype and email are not reliable enough for this.
Alan has overall accountability for this. If this is a significant problem, we should expect to drop everything to work on analysis and a fix. If Alan is in a meeting, then that meeting should be interrupted. If Alan is not available, first port of call is Tom then Jacob. If it is a weekend, then first person to contact is Alan to triage severity of the problem. If it needs to be fixed immediately, Alan will sort it out, or get in touch with Tom for help. Do not attempt to contact Alan via anything other than a phone call or txt message. Skype and email are not reliable enough for this.
All meetings should have: (1) agenda, (2) meeting notes, (3) actions.
All meetings must go into calendar.
Agenda goes into calendar description, or team site before the meeting.
Meeting notes go into the team site; comments go into replies.
Actions go into Asana; comments and collaboration goes into Asana tasks.
Any project changes must go into intranet spec / project page so they are documented as such.
With respect to external people:
All meeting notes via email and then onto the team site as a reference.
Actions into asana as usual.
We start going down rabbit holes. We chase too many rabbits. We chase lots of shiny things but we don’t get the important things done.
We end up with lots of rabbits, but nothing else.
Do not do anything unless it is in a team project, and associated with a team deliverable. Do not go off piste. Do not add projects to Asana unless you are clear that they are a part of the larger company objectives. Do not assign tasks that send people down rabbit holes.
Gareth has overall accountability for direction, deliverables, deadlines and focus. If you want to change direction, go for a different deliverable, change the deadline, or change focus, it has to be run past Gareth first.
If you do not, you run the risk of losing your job, missing out on a bonus, missing out on a promotion, or worst of all letting your team and the company down. Stay focussed.
If you are not sure of what you should be doing, then the first thing to do is ask, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, asking for help, asking for direction, and getting help with focus is one of the first signs of greatness.
And to be clear (this will be fleshed out more in the coming week), these are the general objectives for 2014:
1. get XXX down to XX% or less
2. get revenue up to £XXm per month
2a. get XXX up and contributing
2b. get XXX contributing more
2c. get SEO and other performance marketing channels contributing XXX% of revenue
3. Add XXXXX as transactional site
3a. Get Wedo brand ready for XXXXXX
4. Add XXXXXX
5. Add XXXXXX channel
Any effort into anything else is superflous. Period.
Email is asynchronous. Sending an email does not mean you have to get a reply. If you want to speak to someone, speak to them, do not rely on email.
Get into the habit of posting meeting notes during meetings; or directly after meetings
Get into the habit of allocating enough time to work on projects so that they are done to completion. I am guilty of this because I’m chasing 25 things at once, so I’m going to start being more ruthless with my time and focus – so should everyone else.
Get out of the habit of ad-hoc interruptions. This is a great little primer for anyone who thinks that ad-hoc interruptions are OK.
Posting something onto the team site and asking for feedback does not mean it will be done, not that it will be remembered – that is what Asana is for.
Adding someone as a follower to a task does not mean they will do it – you must assign to that person if you want them to do the task.
Get out of the habit of using Skype for conversations; Get into the habit of speaking to people. Use your legs and feet to walk over to people when you’ve agreed to discuss something. Accept that you will have to schedule time with people to have these conversations, because the best time to discuss things is when you’re both ready to discuss and can think clearly. Accept that a quick 5 min conversation is waaaaaaaaaaaay faster than a 30 min Skype conversation which interrupts work flow.
I was listening to a talk recently where the speaker talked about the 5 types of people. I’ve understood this intuitively, but for the first time I’d heard it explained in a bite sized, easy to understand way.
Basically, the speakers assertion was that in any business you get 5 types of people, and when you ask them to do something one of the following things will happen:
By and large, I’ve found this to be true and think it’s a pretty good way of thinking about how people in my business are contributing. As a leader, I see my role as continually living in group 5, if only to lead by example.
His further assertion was that the proportion of people who belong to group 4 is about 1 in 25 and group 5, 1 in 50. Youngsters or entry level people should always be in group 3 and up, and you should always look to hire people from group 4 and 5. And then lastly, groups 1 and 2 should either be let go or managed out.
Of course, this is all easier said than done, but again a pretty good way to frame a hiring process which unearths these people.
Lastly, he brought up an interesting way of looking at talent and performance, which is explained below.
Basically, anyone who is red should be let go / managed out, yellow people need to be improving, and green people are the ones you build a business on.
Which one are you?
I’ve given myself 20 mins to write this, so here goes…
Last week I had another person ask me how they could earn more money. My answer was that you generally have to earn it.
A week or two before that I had someone say that they wanted to earn 3x their salary now in the next 18 months. My response to them was unless they were selling drugs, woman, body parts, or the whereabouts of Edward Snowdon, they were unlikely to achieve that in the corporate life they lived in.
Conversely, about a month ago I had one of my team tell me they wanted to earn a salary that was £10k p/y up on where they are now, within the next 3 years. My response to that was that they were underselling themselves, and I think they could earn £15 to £20k more per year if they kept on doing what they were doing (i.e. performing).
In all 3 examples, each person had what I thought was a distorted view of what it takes to build a career that gives them the financial and career opportunities they were looking for.
For myself, I look back and attribute career growth to:
1. doing the work
2. taking on more responsibility (because I displayed enough knowledge of the work to make good decisions)
3. gaining enough trust to be given the next step up
4. rinse and repeat
More often than not, phase 1 was a 1 to 5 year process of learning, and phase 3 was deeply dependant on whether I could convince people that I was capable and responsible enough to take on additional challenges / work / projects etc. In all cases, phase 1 started off with lots of manual, entry level, tedious, work; and the desire to move into phase 3 drove continually pushing the boundaries of what I could accomplish.
To simplify the above, my view is that if you’re sub-30, without dependants like children and a mortgage, and you want to take your career seriously, then you should always, always be under-paid, and over-worked and you should always pick career and personal growth over better pay.
If you unpack that, it means that you should always be growing so fast that you’re being underpaid (i.e.: your growth rate does not equal a yearly inflationary increase), and you should always be working at a capacity over what is expected of you (so you get given more opportunities because your capacity exceeds those around you).
If you do both of the above, you will be given more responsibility, more challenges, you will gain more experience, you will be exposed to more conversations and decisions, and you will eventually be asked to lead. When all of that happens, the financial benefits start to kick in, and then you are limited by what you can produce, the people you can lead, the decisions you make, the trust you engender, the problems you solve, and how fast you can grow to keep up. When all of that happens, most employers in the world will pay you more than you think you are worth today. Why? Because those people are scarce.
Put another way, when I interview and then work with people, I generally boil things down to whether I think I can give that person more responsibility, and then whether they can handle it. So if you ask yourself what you need to do to get more responsibility, and then what kind of person you need to be to handle that additional work / pressure / load etc, then you’re some of the way to figuring out what you need to do to build a career.
Hope that helps anyone sub-30 with no dependants and no mortgage
This an email sent to the team t say thanks for all the hard work in opening our new store in Colchester:
Last week everyone put in a lot of effort to get the store live, and then on the weekend it was really awesome to see everyone (some spouses included!) pitch in and help out. So thank you for all the hard work, and for helping to get Colchester launched on time.
To Andy, Andy, Paul & Ray, you’ve put in a lot of work to make the store come to life in a way which reflects what we’re trying to do with our brand and from the customers I overheard, you’ve done a fantastic job (and we’ve only just begun!).
For me, this was a huge task which involved pretty much everyone in some capacity, so it’s given me an opportunity to watch everyone work together to get something (significant) done. I think we’d all agree that we’ve learn’t some important lessons about collaboration and teamwork, and we’ve also learn’t what you can accomplish with a small team of determined people who all work together.
So thank you
Onwards and upwards,
And this is what they put together:
Lookin’ for the day
Hard as it seems
This ain’t no damn dream
Gotta know what I mean
It’s team against team
Catch the light beam
So I pray
I pray everyday
- Public Enemy
So the week has been working out really well. Margin numbers are good, revenue numbers are good, we’re cranking out tech stuff, improving everything across our entire stack, and I’m starting to feel we’re getting on top of our growth curve. We’ve had one or two difficult discussions over the week so far, but that’s all in the course of business.
So I’m up at 6 to crank through email from 6:30 to 8:30, so that I can go do breakfast with Dees who is changing the mobile world one Firefox OS handset at a time, I get to enjoy a super awesome Chai at Dishoom, the tube back to work is fast, the sun is shining for the first time in 9 months, we’re hitting nice weekly KPI’s, and we’re on top of what we need to do as a team.
And then I walk through the office door and one of our carriers has dropped a bombshell (we can’t deliver to customers), our merchant provider has terminated our trading account (if you’re not in e-commerce that means we can’t process credit card transactions online), and a technology supplier just doesn’t get what they’re doing to us (I’ve promised not to reveal more, although I fear I soon will). In about 30 mins of each other. This is on top of a tough few months of pushing things uphill every day.
The rest of the day is firefighting.
So everyone starts firefighting their corners, after 45 mins of progress we do our morning huddle in the reception area to report back, we have a plan and options.
As the day progresses we understand problems, make calls, find alternatives, get to the bottom of issues, find solutions, deploy code, and generally sort shit out. By close of play we’ve gotten through one problem and are solving the other. The last one is not done yet, but latest email at 18:45 or so says it is. More importantly, we’ve got 3 backup solutions to the merchant problem and revenue is back on again. No one shouted. No one did anything stupid. We just worked through the problems.
25 odd phone calls (everyone).
2 Angry Gareth (*) appearances.
1 Code deployment.
I thought we were through the day, and I could go back to the tech team roadmap and revenue meeting. I get another email from the tech supplier, which almost sends me into the kind of catatonic rage I’ve resisted earlier in the day. I take the blue pill, and work through the email. They just don’t get it, but they’re on borrowed time anyways so I try my best to be civil and just join the dots for them.
I’ve assigned two tasks, done two other phone calls which are useful, cleared some email during the day, seen my cousin (cut lunch short ‘cos of the above), and done two useful meetings. I feel like I’ve got a full day’s work ahead of me, and it’s 19:29.
Just another day in paradise
* Lately, the Angry Gareth in me comes out when I need to go to bat for my team. Sometimes someone just needs to get angry and shout at people / suppliers / whoever, to get them to actually do things they are paid to do. I don’t like it, but have found that a conscious instillation of the fear of the Almighty into someone does something polar to that person. They either hate you and get the job done, or they fear you and get the job done. But they get the job done. All other attempts at being nice have failed, so this remains the last port of call in situations. I never knew this person existed until a few months ago.