How happiness, tech, and listening build an unshakable foundation.
As the CEO of a rapidly growing startup, I am challenged with both the "classic small business" and the wildly unpredictable phases of growth. I feel lucky that much of the original team is still with the company today and dedicated to seeing this go big.
We did a recent round of hiring, which uncovered unique strengths and weaknesses in each department. It's also been a catalyst for a lot of positive change to our product. We want more of that as we add to the roster.
Building the right team is hard work, but it's rewarding. A happy, vocal, and engaged mix of people is the most important cornerstone to what we're doing. Without the team, we'd have neither a product, nor this phenomenal forward movement in the marketplace. They are the backbone of our business.
Day to day, I encourage my team to do what they do best, and to come to me with solutions. It's a listening game. The startup hustle is rigorous and tricky. At this stage, we often wear multiple hats, and the team meets this challenge with inspiring levels of energy. Within our organization, they also have the latitude to contribute and ask questions, which makes us stronger. Decision-making often comes organically through group contributions.
"It's a listening game."
There's something very exciting and scary about reaching a growth threshold where we're expanding in all departments and at all levels. I knew in my gut that we would disrupt this industry, so it makes sense that growth would come. Still, nothing can prepare you for it.
Going forward, I'll do what most CEOs of growing companies must do: hire a "replacement" or second-in-command for aspects of what I do myself!
To date, I've been in the trenches every step of the way: CEO, collaborator, office manager, HR, and public face for the company. It comes down to time; learning to let go of certain projects as I venture out into the funding world. It's about hitting the front lines.
As we scale, we want to maintain the spirit of the team we have today. This brings us back to an important question: "What really creates happiness in our team?" We're still discovering our sweet spot (which I believe is different for every business).
Let me open up a bit and share some personal learns that I believe could translate in any startup, when building a happy team:
1. Objective listening is critical.
Accolades, brainstorms, complaints, and even disorganized discussions have led us to discoveries that helped our business. A pain point for us often opens our eyes to a pain point in our industry at large.
It's important for everyone to feel they've been heard, which is something I strive to get right as a CEO. As a team, we listen thoughtfully to both trusted advisors and competitors. Feedback and dialogue in our marketplace is a free resource for insights. In business, conversation can go a long way.
2. Hire for both a cultural and business fit.
During the hiring process, I have candidates meet the team. Sure, we're thinking about what a new employee can do for our business, but also what it will feel like to work together day-to-day. Startup culture requires not only innovation and smarts, but also a toughness, and the ability to have a sense of humor. Personality can make or break a company.
"Like a good book, it's looking at the same scene from different points of view."
3. Don't be afraid of new things or creativity.
I welcome creativity. Our team is building a product that will improve our marketplace; we have to be brave enough to think big. A unique perspective could unfold the next big idea.
Innovation is also collaborative. Like a good book, it's looking at the same scene from different points of view. We have a great cast of characters. The story of our company would be far less interesting if we limited it to just one person's view.
4. Let people be amazing at what they are amazing at.
Macromanagement is a great tool to have in your CEO toolkit. It's something I'm working on. I figure, I hired these amazing people because of their talents-let's see what happens if I give them the opportunity to manage their own projects, and lead. For the most part this approach is working well.
"Tech startups live and die by improving on what already is, simplifying the complex, expanding on the simple, connecting what's unconnected."
5. The startup tech industry thrives on bold innovation and solid execution.
What's the saying? "There's nothing new under the sun." Tech startups live and die by improving on what already is, simplifying the complex, expanding on the simple, connecting what's unconnected. This is what our team does best, and it's been beautiful to watch it unfold.
6. There's a time and a place for organization.
At the start, there's a need for free-flowing ideas and possibility. Structure will follow the results.
Sometimes it's important to just test, try, and deliver an idea. Then, see how it sticks.
As illustrated at the top of this list, the conversation is where the innovation lives. For example, we just sunsetted a product that we put a great deal of time into, after assessing valuable feedback. It wasn't a fit for where our business model is now headed, but we couldn't have planned that. Internally and externally, adaptability is more valuable to us than a rigid structure. So far, so good.
7. Life-work balance keeps human beings sane.
Beyond salary or benefits, there are the subtle reasons why a team stays together. A team needs to feel optimism about the company's future, and feel rewarded for long hours or all-hands-on-deck efforts.
Achieving balance is also about discovering each employee's unique working style and letting a little of the outside world in. We have an eclectic mix, and everyone has a personal recipe for productivity.
Startup life can be stressful. Offering an unlimited vacation policy was a risk I decided to take, and so far, there's been little to no abuse of that system.
I can say this from personal experience, as the person who came straight back to work after only a two-week maternity leave. My husband jokes that I was still sending emails from the hospital! I've since taken a "real" vacation, and had some wonderful quality time with family. On my return, the business was still running, and the team had even moved us into our new offices!
On a scale of one to ten, I'd say we're about a nine for happiness. Perhaps our new office will bump that up to ten (we were getting a bit crowded). I feel respected as a CEO, and do my best to show my reciprocation to the team. Every day, I keep in mind that happiness is a proactive thing, and it's a matter of attitude.