Startups are fast-paced, sometimes hectic places to work. In the early days, everyone wears multiple hats and is expected to lend a hand where needed, leading to close bonds between team members.
But when a startup stars to become successful – and outgrows its all-hands-on-deck philosophy – the founder’s job is to make sure that the company can properly scale to cope with the new reality. It’s a good problem to have, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
So we asked six successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share some of their growing pains and errors – and their advice for others in the same (lucky) boat.
1. Implement A Consistent Recruiting Culture
A big mistake is not implementing a culture adept at consistently recruiting talent for all jobs. One summer, we had to hire 20 teachers within two months. Our HR manager felt pressured to hire fast and didn’t follow our interview process (blame me). We ended up hiring good teachers – but not excellent teachers. The excuses from the HR manager were pressure, time and the rigid interviewing process. The truth is that we hadn’t built a database since our founding, and we wasted time looking for new people when we could have followed up with previously approved, highly qualified candidates. – Derek Capo, Next Step China
2. Let Top-Level Players Focus On Their Strengths
My CFOs and other finance professionals are financial experts and great at what they do. They also have strong client-service skills, but they are not salespeople. Business development is not their forte. When our company started expanding, I attempted to push my top-level players into that biz dev direction. I quickly realized that a growing company will be stronger if you manage your expectations about the strengths and abilities of your top-level team and don’t distract them with responsibilities better handled by someone else. Now, I let my executive team work to their strengths and look for other scalable ways to develop my business. – David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
3. Establish A Cohesive Company Environment
Company culture sets the tone for work ethic, creativity and productivity at a company. When our team was 10 people strong, we regularly took company breaks and played soccer tennis at the park. Whenever we took breaks, we did it as a unit – ensuring that no one felt like they were working harder than anyone else. However, when we grew to 20 people, the company departments started branching off and taking breaks on their own and leaving the office at separate times. It eventually turned into a culture where different departments felt like the other departments weren’t pulling their weight. The company needs to define the work culture from the beginning and encourage team members to build a fun and productive environment. – Jun Loayza, Reputation Hacks
4. Encourage Ownership
As the beauty salon industry is projected to grow, our clientele and our staff grows. Our company culture has to be clearly defined by our top-level players. During our mini-meetings and mid-year or annual reviews, I always ask, “What do you think (about our training, our team, the support you are receiving, etc.)?” We recently had to increase our work hours to accommodate our clients. Instead of making the executive decision to change everyone’s schedule, our top players gave me input on where to add hours. The biggest mistake I made was in hiring new employees without the input of top-level employees. We ended up with employees who refused to be respectful to teammates. Now, I have each employee meet candidates while I interview them to get to know them and ask questions. – Nancy T. Nguyen, Sweet T Salon
5. Offer Opportunities To Lead
Interns test leadership potential and team dynamics. We’re gradually building staff, but the seasonal ebb and flow of interns give the staff an opportunity to lead a variety of personalities. Right now, we have 10 interns, but we’ve had as many as 20 people from every walk of life crammed into every corner of our office, challenging themselves and us in new ways while learning business skills. At this point, my team and I have worked with what feels like every type of individual out there. So even when it came to a direct hire for our Head of Marketing position, we knew that our top contender’s enthusiasm, love of ping pong and positive “team spirit” attitude was a great fit. In turn, he’s been an encouraging and collaborative leader. – Manpreet Singh, Seva Call
6. Create A Culture of Learning
My philosophy is that no matter how good we are at something, we could always be doing something better. Building a company is going to be messy, and mistakes are going to be made. In fact, if mistakes are not being made, I might argue that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. The goal is to make the mistakes in non-critical situations so those mistakes will be avoided in a critical situation. I’m very transparent with our top-level team about where I’ve fallen short and what I’m doing to improve my skills as a CEO. This has helped to create a culture where we’re all learning together, and admitting you made a mistake is okay. – Anderson Schoenrock, ScanDigital