During the course of 2016, amidst a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty, Ideas Made effectively doubled in size – with twice as many staff, an 80% increase in revenue and the opening of our new tech centre in Ljubljana, Slovenia. However, despite making great strides forward as a business, it wasn’t without its challenges.
Growing from 8 to 16 people in the course of one calendar year was especially challenging. If you’re looking to hire, be prepared to invest a lot of additional work into recruitment, admin and process. To state the obvious, someone has to do it - and in many cases it falls to the founder or a partner. All this extra work might feel like a distraction from why you started your business in the first place (and even like it is hampering delivering of your product or service), but I’d argue that your team is your product and ultimately the best investment you can make.
The impact that hiring can have on a business should not be underestimated (we’ve given some of our thoughts on this here) – bigger businesses have large HR teams to manage the process for a reason. Finding the right people, at the right time, who are both a fit for the role and for your company’s culture can be tricky. In the last year, we phone-screened and interviewed more than 60 people and looked over 200+ CVs. All of this amounted to a 4% success rate, and it took an average of three weeks to make an offer to our successful applicants. This graph is from a very useful tool called Workable which we use to help us manage the application and hiring process.
In general, you know who the right people are almost immediately. Don’t waste time seeing “maybes” to get your interview patter down or just to get someone to compare to. Meet the people that excite you and if you think they’ll be a fit - hire them, even if the position is not completely ready. If you wait too long, it’s highly likely they’ll have been hired elsewhere by the time you’re ready to bring them on. Try people out and always have a probationary period - often a trial is great for both parties. Derek Sivers founder of CDbaby has a good method for making decisions which applies well to hiring people: “it’s either hell-yeah or no”.
I’m not saying that you’re going to “get worse” as a business when you grow, but it can certainly feel that way at times. I recently listened to Phil Libin, co-founder of Evernote, talk about what he learned from his mentor Jeff Bezos in this podcast on the Tim Ferris show. It’s an inspiring piece in my opinion. One of my key takeaways was “The Rule of 3’s”: every time you triple the size of your business everything breaks – decision making, processes, payroll, etc. You need to be ready for these moments, and ready to think through how to change your processes when they hit. It’ll be different every step of the way (for 10 people, 30 people, 100 people) and your biggest mistake will be thinking you can keep things going as they are.
Legal, human resources, handbooks, desk space, onboarding processes, payroll, taxes, equipment, line management, job descriptions, objective setting, training, communication and team building….there are many more to add to this list. The point is: there’s a lot to re-align when everything breaks, but with that comes a good opportunity to put in place a team and process that makes for a better business. Of course, all this takes time away from the individuals running and managing the business, but the reason you’re hiring is because you have demand to fulfil and the confidence that you’ll continue to sell. As of now, we are mainly a service business and we’re proud to say our growth has predominantly come from word of mouth. To take the next step forward, we’ve prioritised marketing ourselves more. One of the biggest challenges involved in growing a small business or startup (especially in the service industry) is maintaining the time you would like to spend on marketing and new business to support growth as soon as it happens.
On the Entreleadership podcast, Jon Gordon talks about the “telescope” and “microscope” involved in leading a business, which is a great lens to look things through if you’re a CEO or manager. Your telescope focuses on long term vision and your microscope looks at the day-to-day actions you’ll need to accomplish to get there. It’s easy to get caught up in the long term vision and subsequently fail to prepare for small, day-to-day steps. Finding that balance is key. Keep your vision front of mind but know that your attention always needs to be on the now.
I’m a keen tennis player, and throughout the years have had a reasonable amount of coaching. After coaching, I tend to get worse before I get better. That’s how it goes with growing a business as well - you take one step backwards and two steps forward. When you learn new tennis techniques, you’re going to make mistakes until you adapt but eventually, it’ll come naturally to you.
In the end, we achieved a lot in a year’s time including considerable growth, testing out new service offerings, and hiring talented individuals. We even managed to launch our own shopping social network product called Covet and to triple downloads for our visual to-do list app, NINE. We’re starting 2017 with a great team, a busy schedule and some exciting ideas and briefs in the pipeline. We’ve got more hands on deck to help us move forward and this year has even more potential. Who knows? We might be hiring again soon! Keep an eye out.