This blog post was originally posted to StartupSmart.
I was talking through Shoes of Prey's strategy with a good friend Chris Chan the other day and he made the following observation:
"From where you are now, the success of Shoes of Prey is less about the founders and more about your team."
This is an excellent insight and not one that had fully formed in my mind until Chris said it. We're now a team of 14 in our Australian and China offices and we're 22 if you count our partner offices in Japan, Russia and the Netherlands. Mike, Jodie and I are 3 people and we're becoming a smaller percentage of the overall team as we grow. In our first 6 months if something went wrong we could change what we were working on and handle it. If we wanted to boost sales we could develop a new marketing idea, execute and watch as it tripled our sales. As we grow larger doing the same thing just isn't possible for 3 people. Tripling our sales now requires all of us in Sydney and our partner offices to develop ideas and execute them well. If there's a manufacturing issue the scale likely means it will require all hands on deck from our team in China to resolve it.
Chris made the point that moving from a reliance on the founders to the broader team is where so many small/medium businesses fail. If the founders retain the attitude that they can solve and do everything they'll not only burn themselves out, but they simply won't be able to do it and the business will flounder.
Fortunately I think we've been making the right moves as we make this transition. It's an easy thing to say, but I really am being honest when I say we have an amazing team. Susie has gone far above and beyond the call of duty since she joined us in December. She's taken the customer service reigns and any of our customers will (and unprompted often do) attest to what great service she provides. In addition to this she's doing some fantastic marketing work with Jodie which should bear fruit for us soon (more on that to come in a future post). Jonaye who recently started with us has taken to her customer service wonderperson role with incredible enthusiasm and has picked things up very quickly.
Our 3 software engineering students Mel, Bel and Charles have already proven that being a student is no barrier to writing and implementing brilliant code. We literally hired 3 of UNSW's best students and they're proving to us just why that's the case. Our team in China, Qun, Penny, Holly, Jophie, James and most recently Ken couldn't be doing a better job of managing our orders and shipping our shoes. Their attention to detail in ensuring we always ship the right pair of shoes to the right customer, with the right photograph and letter, and the speed and efficiency in which they do their work is extraordinary. They're also 6 of the nicest, must enjoyable people to spend time with as I've experienced over the last few months.
Retaining such a great team is not easy, we've had Vanessa and Carmen both leave our business recently, however we're making the right moves in regards to retention. Our management and bonus systems will help ensure we're rewarding people appropriately for their work. Our stock options plan will mean employees can share in the success of our business financially. We provide free lunch in our Sydney office, free lunch and dinner in our China office and snacks in both offices. And we've recently moved into new offices in both Sydney and China - both of which we've spent a lot more money on than normal to ensure they're productive, fun and enjoyable work environments.
Our existing team have all been spending a lot more time on hiring recently. In March alone we did 43 approximately 30min interviews between us, not to mention all the reviewing of CVs and co-ordinating interview times that goes along with this. A thorough hiring process, while it can be difficult at the time, is critical given the people we hire will have such a large impact on our business from here on.
How have you seen businesses go about this transition? I'd love to hear examples of it happening both successfully and unsuccessfully.