A UK Start Up — the insider view
I normally blog when I’m really frustrated. Not because I want to use this blog as some form of soapbox. Not because I want to let off steam. I’d rather do both of those in person where the audience can see and feel my passion.
I blog when I’m frustrated because that’s when my thoughts are clearest. Just before we get going, frustration is not a bad thing. Whether you’re 3 years old and screaming because you can’t articulate your wishes in a way which will make your parents comply, or whether you’re nearly 46.
My first blog got lots of attention. Loads of ‘I feel your pain man’ and some less positive comments. A week after I wrote it, I received an unsolicited LinkedIn message from a San Francisco based team we all believe we know. We believe we know them because we use their ‘thing’ all over the world. We use it and forget we are using it because it’s that interwoven with our life. And I say ‘team’ because the head honcho wrote it, but we know the the head honcho speaks for everyone at her (yes, her!) place. Her words are the words of everyone because she’s built an organisation which created an amazing product by valuing people to the extent that 33% of that organisation is owned by employees. Not the board, not her SLT. Everyone but them. I’m going to write more about ‘her place’ at the end of this blog.
The message said;
‘Keep being frustrated’
I didn’t even think about what to put in my reply. In less than 10 seconds, I typed a few words and pushed send. Then cringed when I realised my reply was, quite frankly, rude;
‘What? I don’t understand’
‘You’ve* designed and built a product from that frustration. Keep your frustration alive. Don’t let it die’
*You’ve = your organisation. She’s not big on 1 person taking all the credit
We swapped a few messages since then. Almost all 1 liners. All snappy and to the point. All meaningful in some way.
So back to today and current life. 15 years ago, I loved today. It was a significant day for a relatively young, UK based guy trying to work out how to land the ‘job’ of his dreams by working out just which Company he wanted to work for.
I used to pour over every word in a pivotal, annual publication which details (and sometimes guesses) the net worth of the richest people and families in the UK. It talks about their homes, their lifestyle, the number of divorces, various levels of addiction and their Companies. The Companies who dominate the market by squeezing out competition and avoiding innovation. The Companies who love low overheads and high margins. The Companies to whom CSR is a tick box, who have publicly traded shares and hide employee satisfaction rates.
The Companies I felt I must target to realise my worth and finally land that dream job.
And this publication? The Sunday Times Rich List.
And today, it’s published again.
Don’t get me wrong. In 15 years some things have changed. There are some great stories out there and organisations like these guys are pushing for Companies to change.
However, there is a long, long, long way to go.
The day that people buy stuff, organise their lives and enjoy themselves has fundamentally changed in 15 years. The way we work has changed. Our expectations and beliefs have changed.
The technology which used to chain us to a desk is gone. The way we used to measure productivity is dead. The winning Organisations have moved to Agile design in every way from the way their people think to the way they design and build software to the way their customers and users are the most central part of their focus.
So major change in everything right? No. No change in the way we view employees. Disagree? Let me call my first witness.
The Sunday Times Rich List. Please take the stand and be sworn in. (I know, I’m watching too much of Suits).
I’m not going to go back to school and do complex analysis here. The truth is that I don’t need to. I’ll let journalists do that. The wealth of the majority has been built by individuals who own companies who keep that wealth to themselves. The wealth is kept to themselves in stock and stock options. In incredible salaries, bonuses and perks.
What about the challengers? The block chainers and Big Data munchers (like us — yboo.co.uk) who have achieved amazing things with tiny teams pushing Agile to the limit? They’re different. And they probably won’t ever make the Rich List.
Do you know why? Because they don’t want to.
yboo is a scale up. We’ve launched and we’re doing ok. We are pushing Agile to the limit in every single way and we’ve got more products coming out in the next 90 days.
We share some things in common with other UK scale ups;
1. Our customers/users come first
2. Our people are next. They all own significant equity and have a voice which is heard and understood
3. Our Founders set the direction and tone and control risk
4. Our organisation will always solve real problems
They don’t want to make the Rich List because point 1 is enabled by point 2, and point 2 means more than making a list.
Diametrically opposed to the lists and Companies of today.
Am I a radical? No. The 1- 4 list (above) was written on the back of a meeting agenda in a group discussion with 30 other scale ups. An uplifting discussion which focussed on listening to your heart and what your heart tells you. A discussion which confirmed that becoming a zillionaire is not P1 for everyone. A discussion which I found easy to chair as the room was filled with respect.
And what about profit? Yep, we all need profit. We all need to make a return for investors. We all need to invest in significant R and D to enable point 4. 1–4 is the path to making profit. It’s the path to growth.
It’s the path to obtaining the very best from you and your teams. It’s the path to genuine fulfilment at work. It’s the path to being new and being Agile and flying your whole team, partners and kids out to Ibiza every year. It might be the path to get on a List but it’s probably not.
And finally, ‘her place’. Let me know if you manage to work out where this is;
- The lowest paid employee is a technical support analyst. That person is part time and earns $28,800 basic plus standard bonuses of 20% based on company performance
- With a 3 year tenure, this person has been allocated shares which have a current (Friday) value of $127,318.00
- This person is part time because ‘her place’ is paying for training at a net cost of $32,000 a year
The organisations revenues grew by $22M last quarter.
The organisation is 3 years old.
The organisation has a flexible working policy. It’s deliverables focussed. It knows where it’s going and how to get there. It doesn’t have any of the following;
- A holiday entitlement. You choose when you want/need leave and just take it
- A 9–5 culture
- Forms to fill in
It does have;
- A huge desire to engage with Customers via video chat and in person
- A ‘no email after 6pm’ culture
- Vibrancy and equality running right through it
1–4 is the way forward. Watch yboo grow and see the proof.