Hiring, Growing, and Managing Startup Teams
A great idea is not enough to build a great business. The recipe for success has four ingredients. Firstly, you need an exciting product or service that people are willing to pay for. Secondly, you need a business model that will generate recurring revenue. Thirdly, you need to attract the capital required to get started then increase cadence.
Is that it? No. There is one more.
You need to build an organisation that can deliver on the business plan.
Most founders are instinctively drawn to the first 3. Great product, sound business, solid backing. But when it comes to the hyper-growth phase, these founders are too often found out. Their needs suddenly shift & they find they don’t have the right people or the right structure to take the company to the next level. They are left not knowing how to motivate their team, & not knowing what to do.
Anne Caron, an expert in people strategy at hyper-growth businesses, encourages founders to think of building a team much like raising a child. They will seem unpredictable & their needs will constantly be changing but your single most important task is to build trust. A team that trusts you is a team that listens to you, learns from you & comes to you when they have a problem. But trust does not come overnight. You have to work at it from day one & never take it for granted.
The Baby Phase: <30 Employees
Things are chaotic but uncomplicated. This is the easiest phase of growth. Everyone knows everyone. Priorities are understood. Lines of communication are always open. Things just work themselves out.
In the future, you will look back on this period & smile. These will become ‘The Good Old Days’.
During this period staying lean & flexible is important — less is more. Don’t rush to develop processes in response to a problem. If someone keeps coming in late, address it one on one, don’t punish everyone with demotivating rules on working hours.
But don’t get complacent. This won’t last. Now is your opportunity to invest your management time in codifying your Mission, Vision, Culture & Values. These intangibles might seem an indulgence now but when you move into the next phase of growth you will be thankful for your efforts.
What do we do
Who do we do it for
How do we do it
Where do we go
What future are we contributing to building
CULTURE & VALUE
Who are we
What type of leaders are we
Which type of people will thrive in our environment
Sweat these hard & make sure you are all aligned. This should be why you & your team turn up to work every day. Why you go the extra mile, stay the extra hour, make the extra call. In the end, the sales guy who wants to change the world will likely be more valuable than the one whose highest aspiration is a lead.
The Childhood Phase: 30–75 Employees
Hitting 30 employees often coincides with your first big fundraise. Now your number one goal suddenly becomes to get more clients, more quickly. To achieve everything you were doing before…but at scale.
You need to begin introducing more processes to ensure that the business can run efficiently & that the customer experience is protected, even as the operation grows. However, this is not a reason to add more steps. Less is still more.
This means hiring more people & more people means greater complexity. Everything that used to feel simple will feel hard. There will be unfamiliar faces & the conflicts that were resolved naturally before can too often go unresolved.
Hiring good quality people is crucial at this stage.
During the Childhood Phase try to stay involved in the hiring process because remember that your first 100 employees will define the next 500.
The Pre-Adolescent Phase: 75+ Employees
How cautious & considered you planned your expansion to be, this hypergrowth phase will sneak up on you fast.
Recruiting & onboarding people at this stage is a full time job & not one you should take on yourself. The time for ‘Hire fast fire fast is over’ — now you have to get it right. Bringing on board a recruitment specialist will save you a huge amount of time & money. Many founders try to merge HR & recruitment. This is an error. They are both vital functions with different skill sets so should be kept separate.
When it comes to people everything takes time. It can be frustrating. Dealing with people can feel like a distraction. But, even in a tech company, success is a function of people. People who are motivated, clear on their role & committed to each other.
If you hope to take your business into a bright future then being a reactive leader is not enough. You need to anticipate where the challenges might lie & then prepare, from today, for how you will meet them.
Anne Caron is the leading People Strategy Expert specialised in supporting fast-growing startups and building performing & scalable organisations. In her 10 years’ experience at Google, she worked closely with founders to articulate the company culture, build the HR function & design the performance management framework. She also built several Talent Teams in EMEA & APAC & optimised global HR Operations processes for scale.