In the early days of start-up life – when numbers are few and ideas plenty – it’s easy to maintain a vibrant and exciting culture. Everyone feels part of the creative and collaborative journey. Yet, when businesses start to taste success – securing hot new talent, expanding commercial and reputational influence – they can risk complacency and loss of their start-up magic.
The bigger your business gets, the greater the chance of unnecessary bureaucracy creeping in and the business becoming disconnected from its people. Whilst your original team might be passionate about the company – what about employee 20, 50, or 100? As you grow, you need to think about the processes and structures essential to your continued success and innovation.
So how do you avoid these changes when scaling the business without killing your start-up spirit?
Empower your employees
A flat culture empowers employees and highlights a clear growth pathway within your company. It also stimulates an atmosphere of openness and transparency that accelerates decision-making and company growth faster than a rigid hierarchy does. This creates the type of environment that people enjoy and feel engaged in when working. This links closely to retaining talent. Really listen to how your employees want to work and don’t become overly corporate. People join start-ups for the energy, agility and creativity – so make sure it’s clear to your staff that you respect how, where and when they work best. Unsurprisingly, as the company grows, this becomes more complex. In an organisation full of big personalities, some of the best ideas might come from the less vocal, but they go unheard for fear that they aren’t good enough.
One way of getting around this universal office truth is an anonymous central inbox that encourages all kinds of feedback: from suggesting items for social activities to a new feature on the company website. By making it an inclusive initiative, ingenuity can arise from across the entire team, rather than simply management. Ultimately, all ideas should be heard, regardless of whether they’re immediately put into practice. After all, nothing kills start-up spirit faster than prioritising senior management egos over honest employee input.
Value your team
Making employee number 99 feel as valued as employee number three is a challenge, but it’s up to you to put the effort in to learn names and to get to know staff as individuals. Something as simple as mixing up your office-seating plan to allow teams to get to know senior executives is an easy way to begin and also improve the flat structure you’re trying to create. Indeed, encouraging a culture of hot-desking every day means that your employees bond across the board and integrate. This will also help foster the closeness of staff when the business first started and was made of only a few individuals.
Moreover, don’t limit this to the office walls; extra-curricular activities that allow people to let loose and socialise are just as important. Take the time to get to know who your employees are away from their desks to cultivate an atmosphere of trust and common ground.
What’s your compass?
Finally, one of the biggest challenges of scaling a start-up and keeping the innovative spirit alive is keeping aligned on the company vision and having a ‘North Star’ that everyone works towards. Constantly reminding your team of the company vision, helping them to understand how their work is shaping and changing the business, and improving its outcome is critical to this. Essentially, it helps employees understand what their market is doing, how your business is reshaping that market and what skills and attributes are needed to drive the company forwards. You can have as many processes in place as you want, but without everyone’s beliefs and mindsets mapped to the same goals, these are futile.
However, it takes considerable effort to ensure an organisation lives and breathes a founder’s vision day to day. It requires constant communication on the direction of the company – its mission, strategy and values – to ensure every employee understands where the company is heading, and how it’s going to get there.
Indeed, ensuring that your vision remains a touchstone throughout each iteration of your growth is paramount to preserving start-up culture. Regular company meetings with stakeholders to keep everyone updated on new investment, company growth and customer success stories will preserve the company’s identity as it evolves.
By building your business on core principles – openness, transparency and innovation – you can keep the start-up spirit alive as your company doubles and triples in size.
About the author: Sebastian Lewis is the CEO and Founder of Mettrr Technologies and one of the first entrepreneurs in the UK to online crowdfund his business. He continues to be a pioneer in the industry today. Prior to founding Mettrr Technologies, he was an equity derivatives trader in London – following school. He never attended university.
Mettrr was born back in 2012, when Sebastian was asked to build a website for his father’s wall and floor tiling company. He wanted it quickly, for a fair price and, most importantly, he didn’t want to build it himself. At that moment Sebastian spotted a gap in the market. So, he embarked on a mission to solve the big problem among small business owners and their need to get online: “How do you get all my design ideas, contact information and content on a site that’s quick, cheap, but most importantly, all done for me?”
Five years on, Mettrr is the company behind the market leading artificial intelligence software that uses a DIFM (Do It For Me) platform to build websites for small business owners in minutes. It was one of the first businesses in the UK to secure capital through crowdfunding on Crowdcube which took the business out of Lewis’s bedroom into a new office with a 30-strong team.