Learnings from hiring and scaling a SaaS team
It has taken us years to get where we are today. I guess there is no such thing as an overnight success. Even less so for a bootstrapped SaaS project as marketgoo. However, after a long time surviving the ups and downs of the market, we got to a point where our steady growth brought a sudden spike and a promising future.
At the same time, 2018 was also a tough year in regards to our team configuration. We had a dysfunctional balance between business and operations, some of us were trying to do more stuff than we were able to and also we were leaving some blind spots uncovered. That’s when we decided to re-invest the new growth in solidifying our structure.
From there, we have almost doubled our size. New team members and also bringing in more core collaborators. Hiring key profiles and growing this much has made us face many challenges so I’d like to share some learnings here:
1. Define the culture in culture-fit
“Hire someone you want to work with, not someone you want to go out with”.
Generally speaking this is quite obvious. Always hire filtering people who shares values with the existing team. Culture is more important than company and people who do not align are a threat to the rest of the team. Yet we faced some situations where we were not understanding well what culture alignment really meant. Was it getting along with candidates? Was it sharing our dream on being remote and free?
I remember taking the initiative to ask our Culture team: “Hey, I need to understand how can I check culture-fit because this is not working always”. Then Wences, Larissa and Jaime excelled to develop (with help and participation of the entire company) our core values and later formulating a core values speech.
This exercise has been working fantastically as a checklist both ways. We are very tough in looking for appropriate matches but also are super transparent with candidates. Sure we are remote, we go on retreats or whatever shiny stuff, but we communicate what we are and what you should expect. Defining the details of our culture has proved to be an excellent milestone when bringing more people successfully into the team.
2. Leverage on hiring professionals
I’m so proud of what we have accomplished and yet sometimes I feel like we are just getting started. Three and a half years afterwards I also feel humbler than ever to admit the spaces where I’m not capable of assuring the result needed. Furthermore, we have recently been lacking the time resources to invest in complex processes, and hiring is maybe the most important one among these.
A recent example has been relying on the experience of Salva and Danny from Mendesaltaren to hire a top-notch Product Designer. I’m not an expert in Product Design, UX nor UI so I saw quickly the benefits on partnering with them for finding an absolutely key role in our team (although this was one of the toughest processes I have lived in my professional career). Happily, Oscar Otero joined marketgoo and two months later we are seeing great opportunities working together.
3. Invest in seniority.
It will depend on your project stage and your current team configuration but we learnt in the past the challenges of non senior profiles: time to provide value, time needed to enter the project pace, autonomy capabilities, handholding, strategic thinking, etc.
And this not a claim to not trust junior profiles whatsoever. Au contraire, some of us arrived as juniors and have grown thanks to the trust and resources the project has offered us. Another approach though, is to leverage senior collaborators for specific projects to keep a lean structure.
BUT given our company stage, future projects and arising opportunities required seniority. So when we were clear on our blindspots and the lack of leadership in some important teams/spaces, we defined those key roles and asked ourselves: Can we afford hiring experienced roles? Fortunately yes and in the beginning of 2019 we were thrilled to have Yaye Cáceres, Head of Growth; Sebastian Krüger, Head of Partnerships; Oscar Otero, Product Designer and Daniel Ordax, Back-end Developer, with us ❤
4. Define a clear onboarding process
I’m not sure if we’ll get to excel enough here, to be honest. So much complexity and changes around to master it. These are at least some compulsory points in our experience you need to address sooner than later:
- Define an onboarding checklist for you and the candidate. Preparations before the starting day and preparations on starting week. Document it for future candidates and and ask them for feedback on their own onboarding process within the company. Include stuff such as access to tools, other member 1&1s or buying hardware. An example: one of us had to wait for a week to his new computer to arrive due to some reasons that might have been avoided.
- Define a face to face onboarding time for a remote member. I know for some cross country or even international remote teams this can be difficult. We are trying to be flexible as much as we can but try to set up some time (minimum two weeks) for remote members to be in our Madrid office. We believe it’s important to have onsite dedicated sessions on different aspects not related to the role and provide a bird’s eye view on the project to later be more productive when working remotely.
- Define and set up role goals. I mean, this is management 101. Yet we have failed here in some cases not communicating expectations properly. This has led to uncertainty on responsibilities, goals and what’s the north star. Now we define the role before hiring and include goals, workflow, stakeholders, tasks and examples of projects in the roadmap. This is helpful when hiring but absolutely necessary to guide the new member.
- Plan regular 1&1s to work on role’s evolution. Onboarding a new team member can last from 6 months to 1 year so it’s key to provide feedback fast and regularly. We have experienced misguidance on whether someone is evolving correctly and lack of honest feedback to improve what’s not working with anticipation. But also 1&1s should never stop and are a great tool for all the team.
5. Have determination to do what’s best for the project
Traction’s concept “Right people in right seats” is quite revealing. When having defined the core values and the culture-fit, it’s clearer who is the right people for the project. Another challenge for us was to define the structure and configuration of teams and responsibilities, the right seats. Closing the gap between both is the final step.
In our history we’ve had examples of right people who were not occupying the right seats. It takes courage to raise your hand and say you are not providing the needed value in a certain space and propose actions. We should be proud for that.
On the other hand, time can lead to cases where there isn’t the right people any more. Here can happen two things when approaching the situation and trying to find ways to solve it for good, either it works or it requires a change, what’s often best for both sides. In that case, don’t hesitate, follow the culture and decide what’s best for the project and the rest of the team.
6. We are not a family.
It’s easy to fall in the trap of calling yourself a family. We have done it, I have praised it. You see it everyday in the industry. Interestingly, I believe this is a really good state of mind for a team to consider itself. But it gets tricky when tough times come. When the balance of right people in right seats is damaged.
This is a business. We hold a precious project and a fantastic potential outcome. Not being tough puts it at risk. Also, we have worked hard, new members should earn it too. We are kind and generous but shouldn’t hesitate when things don’t work out. We have to be humble enough to understand we are not irreplaceable.
Now we see ourselves as coworkers, not a family. True that we have a special bonding outside marketgoo, some of the people in this team are very important in my life. Also one of our core values speaks for “Good vibes and a positive attitude. We’re here for the fun!”.
But marketgoo is not a family. The people behind it, well that’s another story 🙂
Understanding it puts us in a different position to approach our challenges better prepared and with higher chances to overcome them.
Hope you liked this and find it useful. We’ll keep sharing learnings so feel free to tell me what you think or propose a topic.
To see what this is all about take a look to our post talking about why culture is more important than a company.
I’ll see you around!