Friday, June 3, 2011

Our business is less about the founders and more about the team from this point

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.


  1. Hi Michael - great post.
    I think it is part of the excitement of running your own business and a critical transition to get right as you ultimately disperse decision making and hand over responsibility (and move to an actual management / strategic role). In the last 18 months we have grown from 2 to a soon to be 8 in total in the Sydney office and I hope to get to 12 by the end of the year all things being equal. It is the simple things like being able to off-load time intensive responsibilities (admin / accounts / the millions of small things you do as owner) to free up more time to focus on continuing to build / hire / change that motivates me... being a business owner is not about simply owning your own job.. but actually managing and running a business....
    re hiring you probably want to consider why you need to interview 43 people to hire 1 or 2... that is a lot of time... thoroughness is one thing (when reviewing CV's) but you probably want to drill down into exactly what you want and be a bit more focused in who you speak with (5 minute phone interviews are a good strategy). You can definitely invest too much time into speaking with everyone as the "perfect" hire really does not exist... the "perfect hire" is just whoever you hire that ultimately gets the job done... shortlist better, interview 3 people for 1 job, then invest the 20 hours you would have spent into extra training for them mate...

  2. Thanks Mike. To clarify, the 43 interviews was across about 15 people. The 4 key hires we ended up making, and those who came close involved 5 or so interviews each which makes up more than half the numbers. I could have clarified that better in my post and agreed that if we were interviewing 43 candidates for 4 roles there would be an issue with our CV reviewing process!