In his second article in his Start Up Series, London Sock Company’s co-founder Dave Pickard shares thoughts on creating the perfect team for the dream.
We recently had to let some team members go. It’s undoubtedly one of the toughest things you have to do running your own business, and for lots of reasons, it feels absolutely terrible.
However, once you start hiring a team, it becomes as much about them as it is about you. Sure you founded this thing, but they’re the ones coming into the office every day to help you realise your ambition. And the sad reality is, sometimes it doesn’t work out. You feel like you’ve failed them, as much as the other way around, but you know it’s the only decision you can make.
In one case in particular they were bright and super keen. But their personality and approach lent itself to a more structured role and environment. We tried hard to adapt to each other but we are just too small to be able to change some aspects of our business.
In the start up environment there are no hiding places and crucially, your runway is short – you need to find the quickest path for everyone to succeed.
As we’ve grown, our experiences have led us to look for ways we could avoid the same mistakes and scenarios happening again. By questioning our team culture, our hiring process – our intuition even – we have learned some valuable lessons.
When to hire
Going back three years earlier, I remember making those first hires was a tough step to make. The transition from two founders doing everything, to building a team who could help and lead for and with us, was probably something we should have begun sooner. It’s not always obvious when this needs to happen though. All we had known in the early stages was simply getting things done ourselves on a shoestring budget.
When we did start to realise it was the right time, we were still nervous about the responsibility of our first proper hire. Not only was it a big overhead for us, but a huge career change for them, asking them to switch from a very successful and secure career path to work on something far more risky.
In the end, securing more investment helped nudge us along. And it was the best thing we ever did. If you want to supercharge your business growth, building a team is genuinely one of the most important things you can do. So my advice would be to start as early as you can, and probably earlier than you think you need to.
The culture fit
I’d never have imagined worrying about culture before we started London Sock Company. I naively thought – or perhaps didn’t even consider – that start ups were much more simple than corporates in that respect. But we’ve realised it’s actually incredibly important. We want everyone who works with us to come to work feeling like they have autonomy to make decisions, that there’s mutual trust, we can all learn from mistakes, take the initiative, and overall, feel part of the journey. The reality is that can be exciting for some, and terrifying for others. It is crucial to identify these traits in new hires, as well as enhance them for the existing team.
Hire the best
This sounds simple enough but is rarely straightforward. One tried-and-tested method we swear by has been to hire by recommendation. Take our tech team for example. Will (our first hire and now CEO), had talked many times about the best technology person he had ever worked with during his entire technology career. When we managed to hire them, he then recommended the best person he had ever worked with, and so on. Third iteration along and we now have one of the best tech trios imaginable. Zero recruiters required. And when someone in your team who is already thriving in the culture thinks a former colleague will also do likewise, it is likely they will be a good fit and considerably de-risks your hire.
Punch above your weight
At a start up, you aren’t just hiring to fill a job. You are hiring to build a strong company. Your team will add to your strengths … and set your limits – so hire with the future in mind. And go for people you actually think you might not be able to get. You’d be surprised how the energy, diversity and excitement of a start up holds significant appeal. As the company grows, people’s roles will evolve and the best people will evolve with it and only get better.
We are now a strong team of 20 and it is so exciting to see how far we’ve come, where we are going – and how quickly we’re getting there. The only reason I’m able to sit on my train home with spare brain capacity to even think about writing this blog at all, is thanks to our growing and talented marketing team.
Have any questions about starting your own business or are wondering about a specific aspect of becoming (and being) an entrepreneur? I’d love to hear from you.
Dave Pickard co-founded LSC with Ryan Palmer in 2013. He is living the dream / surviving the chaos and learning every single day. Any questions? Get in touch.