Lessons in Scaling a #TechForGood Start-Up
The path to success is a meandering one.
Social Nature has never been the beer-swigging, foosball-playing kind of start-up. Even from the get-go, 8 months from launching nationally in Canada, we said ‘well that was fun but the CDN dollar kinda sucks, so time to go big or go home — bring on the USA market’. From there it’s been a win big, fail fast whirlwind. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Except that’s not how you build a team or cultivate a mission-focused, heart-centered culture. We knew we wanted this, but the chips were stacked against us. We were three chicks in a shared workspace, living under a rock as far as most of our prospects were concerned. To say we were an afterthought would be an overstatement. So we hit the road, spent thousands of dollars we didn’t have, and attended every trade show and event that we came across. We closed a decent amount of business, unlocking funds to start hiring.
I thought candidates would be as excited as we were about Social Nature. What was there not to love? We were a mission-focused start-up with a solid foundation to work from that was offering equity to all who joined. I was excited to get in touch with my network to see who was interested but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. The response I got from most was that it sounded cool, but “my pipeline is full and my OTE is huge — thanks, but no thanks”. I was stumped. As students, we were overflowing with entrepreneurial spirit, but once we moved out of our parent’s abode and the bills piled up, it was as if the lights had dimmed.
So we had to go back to the drawing board and unpack what it was that made our small but tiny team succeed, and how we could build from there. Annalea, Social Nature’s CEO, and I were chatting about this very thing over drinks recently and decided that the common thread throughout, and for anyone to succeed in a start-up is resilience. You cannot break, for nothing or no one. Sure, you can have a bad day, but you cannot stop chipping away at your goals. That coupled with a few other drivers helps — I’m a big adrenaline junkie, and there’s nothing more invigorating than winning big, and failing fast. There’s not enough wine or hours in a day to stop Annalea and me from wanting to pack and unpack potential solutions to our ever-changing challenges at Social Nature. So yes, alcohol helps too.
But how were we going to translate this to a wider team, and scale quickly? We knew we needed to take pause, slow down for others, and better articulate the vision. What had become second nature to us, wasn’t tangible enough for our new colleagues to sink their teeth into, which we did slowly start to onboard. This is just it, you can have all the might you want in your founding team, but it falls flat quickly when you increase your team size from two to 10 and beyond.
What I realized is that my ‘why’ and yours can be different, but you have to have a ‘why’, and it can’t be a paycheque. Not at a start-up. If you want cash, there are much easier ways to get it. Not only did we have to convey our ‘why’ better, we needed to find others who were anchored this way. Otherwise, it was just too much bloody work.
Our north star became our 5 guiding principles, ones that we collectively agreed to hire and fire on: Make it happen; Focus on impact; Be customer-obsessed; Keep It Real; Embrace our shared destiny, and Craft is key.
We now have mindfulness breaks throughout the day, together and apart. At least half of our weekly meets today are based around personal goals and highlights, not just KPIs. We have monthly mental and physical health challenges, such as 10K steps a day, daily gratitude, and weekly virtual coffee challenges.
But what has been the most dramatic change for me is that, in the beginning, I had to be larger than life and take on 10 people’s roles. But now I need to take a step back and create space for others to succeed. I need to honor the fact that I was able to climb the corporate ladder fairly easily, but that’s not everyone’s experience. I’ve observed so many of my peers fiercely defend their positions of power, but I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to make the mistake of snatching that ladder out from behind me. I’m going to hold space for everyone because I can and I am able. This is my new guiding principle.
Written by Ashlie Winson-Jones, Founding Member and CPG Growth Strategist at Social Nature, a Discovery Platform that Helps Consumers Make the Switch to Better Products.