The start-up culture conundrum
One thing that keeps every founder awake at night is: how are we going to maintain my company’s culture and momentum as the organisation grows? If you Google “How to maintain start-up culture”, you’ll see more than 16m results. Everyone is trying to solve this challenge but, suffice to say, there are no easy solutions.
I remember, in early days of BigChange, how many late nights I spent in the office. Those were heady days: ordering pizza with my team as we burnt the midnight oil and sketched out audacious plans for the future. Now, eight years on, we’re a much bigger entity with almost 250 colleagues. We have managed to maintain our dynamism and commitment to growth, but I know the dangers of complacency.
I recently posted that I was reading Michael Dell’s new book, Play Nice But Win. I just finished it and am so inspired by his drive and absolute determination to make Dell a global success. His work ethic has never wavered – and he started that business when he was just 21. Even during tough times, he just redoubled his efforts and managed to overcome every barrier.
Over the years, I have seen many businesses flounder when they scaled from a small-to-medium-size to a larger entity. This means that I now know the mistakes to avoid. As you grow, you need to make sure you don’t lose your grip on the hiring process. It may be tempting to fill roles fast as gaps appear but every single individual that joins the team must be a) a team player, b) driven and enthusiastic and c) capable of giving 150% when the business needs it.
When you start a business, the combined output of the team is astonishing. It is possible to keep finding those incredible and talented people as the business grows – but you have to take your time and really get to know individuals and, most importantly, promote from within.
The leader must motivate, motivate and motivate some more. As soon as the people at the top lose their focus, the team will too. It’s so important to keep communicating the goals and being transparent about performance. People need to know where the business is going and how they, individually, will contribute to success. I love working with a galvanised team and that feeling of all being on the bus together.
I’m writing this from America, where we are focused on building a business to rival BigChange in Europe. I feel like a start-up founder again, and it’s been so exciting to see our US operations blossom and flourish. Having ambitious plans for this part of the world has lit a fire in the whole team, and I want to keep stoking those flames. BigChange may be growing fast but I want this company to keep its entrepreneurial vigour, whether we are 200 people or 2,000.