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What if your people are not your greatest asset?

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An interview with Rikke Rosenlund Jacobsen founder & CEO of BorrowMyDoggy

Highlights include:

  1. Why your people are NOT your greatest asset.
  2. How an allergy resulted in the creation of BorrowMyDoggy
  3. Why Rikke will sometimes bring a dog into the interview process
  4. How Simon Sinek’s ‘How great leaders inspire action’ TED Talk helped Rikke realise that her personal motivation matched the impact that BorrowMyDoggy has with borrowers and dogs.#

 

 

What is your company’s greatest asset?

Having worked in start-up recruitment for the past 15 years I have asked this question countless times to founders and CEO’s.

Nine out of ten early stage start-up CEOs I ask answer “people.”

However when I ask them, “Which one of your team, if you lost them today, would result in your business closing down today” most admit that their team are all replaceable. They recognize that their company would still be the company even if they were to replace their most exceptional employee(s).

So, if your people are not your company’s greatest asset, then what is?

In start-ups most technology is replaceable and can be built better. Brands can be changed, and everyone, including the CEO, is replaceable. It’s not ideal and this sort of over-haul would be incredibly challenging, time consuming, and extremely costly, but in essence it would still be the same company, even if all these elements were changed out. My point is – if everything and everyone in your company is replaceable, then what truly defines your company? What is the invisible glue that binds the people, technology and brand together?

The answer to that question, in the hyper competitive start-up world, is also a start-up’s greatest asset, its CulturalDNA.

CulturalDNA is the untapped gold mine of competitive advantage – it is the differentiator between a good company and a great company, and more often than not, the key differentiator between success and failure. In the course of writing Built to Last, the authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras found that companies that had been successful for five decades or more, companies like 3M, GE, Wal-Mart, P&G and Walt Disney, had invested in defining, embedding and reinforcing their CulturalDNA, the values, behaviour and motivations that the founder(s) aspired to, at a very early stage of the company’s development and that the culture of the company was a major differentiator in the long-term success of a business. Most of the companies that were built to last were found to be cult-like, without actually being cults.

The importance of developing the right company CulturalDNA is almost universally overlooked in the early stage development of a start-up because it is not obvious how to define it, never mind nurture or develop it (especially for a first time CEO).

Too many start-up CEOs do not invest in their culture.  Defining fundamental values, motivations and behaviours that influence their business is not on their agenda because they are too busy and don’t believe they have the bandwidth to think about it. The problem with not guiding the growth and development of your CulturalDNA, is it develops and grows invisible and organically, whether you like it or not. At some stage, probably when the wheels have started coming off, a CEO will realize that they have no insight into, or leadership over one of the critically important elements of their business. Trying to understand and rebuild your company’s CulturalDNA two or three years down the line is a lot harder than doing it right from the start.

Start-ups invest in recruitment, technology, sales, marketing and operations but the majority of start-ups do not invest enough time or effort in defining, understanding, building and nurturing their CulturalDNA. The creation of a start-up’s CulturalDNA is not a singular event; your company’s CulturalDNA does develop over time. As CEO it is your responsibility to create the right environment for your high performance culture to develop.

By its nature, a start-up is under-funded, under staffed… it’s totally under resourced, and the scarcest resource for a CEO is time. As a start-up CEO you need to organise your company in a way that will help your team achieve greatness without the need for micro-management or much supervision. You need to hire people that you can trust to do their job and take the right decisions. Start-up companies work best when all members of the team share a common vision of the future and operate on the basis of a shared purpose and values. In these companies, members of the team are able to operate with responsible freedom and don’t need supervision. If implemented correctly your CulturalDNA will assist you in building a high-performing team and sustainable business. If, as I believe, it is your greatest untapped asset, then it makes sense to not only understand more about it, but to invest in it.

So, what is your CulturalDNA? How do you define it? What does it consist of? What are the advantages of guiding the growth and development of your CulturalDNA? Where does it come from? Can it be measured? How does it impact the bottom line? How does it impact hiring, firing, promotions, reward structures, performance reviews, communication and learning in your company?

From my interviews from these blogs, executive search experience, advisory work and Seedcamp investor experience I have noticed that the positive effects of investing in CulturalDNA are:

  • consistent and impactful communication
  • improved ability to hire A+ candidates who fit with the company’s culture
  • significantly lower employee churn
  • higher trust factor across the company
  • improved team happiness and satisfaction
  • perhaps most importantly, having everyone pull in the same direction during times of hardship for the company
  • better overall results, higher growth, greater profitability and exit potential than the “average” start-up

By defining your company’s CulturalDNA – its values, behaviours and motivations and embedding them into your company, your team will glue together and feel empowered to live the values and support the company’s vision, mission and purpose at all times because they fundamentally believe in it and therefore live it 100% of the time.

 

 

Cultural DNA in action: interview with Rikke Rosenlund Jacobsen, founder of BorrowMyDoggy

Rikke is the founder and CEO of BorrowMyDoggy, one of the few start-up CEOs who, when I asked what her company’s greatest asset was answered “Our culture.” I sat down with Rikke to understand what she and the BorrowMyDoggy team have done and are doing to codify their CulturalDNA.

BP

How did you come up with the idea for BorrowMyDoggy?

RR

I was born into a family of entrepreneurs; my parents are both entrepreneurs so I had the entrepreneurial bug from an early age. My family have always emphasised to me the value of me being the best I can, and trying to make a positive difference. Whether this is through organisational work (Rotary etc), local community work or even linked to causes they believe in (Save the Children etc), making a difference is at the centre of their values, as it is mine. Unfortunately my mother is allergic to dog hair, so we couldn’t justify having a dog as a pet. My grandparents had a farm and I really loved playing with their dog when I went to visit them, so the idea of borrowing a dog was a good fit to my values – I want to make a difference, and this just made sense to me. People, like me, who are unable to own a dog would be able to experience the companionship, happiness, exercise, joy and love that I did with my grandparent’s dog and give the dog the love and attention that all dogs want.

BP

So how did you go about starting the business?

RR

I was encouraged by friends to test out my thesis that people would want to borrow a dog and others would want to share their pets, so I set up a basic website with a landing page and promoted it by hanging up posters in a local park and via social media channels.  85 people signed up and the reasons they had signed up were incredibly compelling and confirmed my suspicions that there was a need in the market. One of our initial members was an older gentleman, based in Cornwall, who was recovering from an operation; therefore he could no longer take his dog for long walks. Another was from a family whose young daughter desperately wanted a dog but was also very scared of them, so the family wanted to make sure that their daughter would be comfortable with a dog before getting one of their own. Reading these members stories really touched me as I could see how we could make a difference to people’s lives by starting BorrowMyDoggy. In the early days of the business we conducted manual matching of the dog and the borrower and this allowed us to get to know the members really well. We were able to understand their needs and wants, which is something we’ve always been very focused on.

 

BP

When did you first start thinking about your CulturalDNA?

RR

When starting BorrowMyDoggy I watched Simon Sinek’s ‘How great leaders inspire action’ TED Talk which focuses on asking ‘why?’ and it helped me to realise that this was all about people and dogs making a positive impact on each others lives, which was the same as my motivation for starting BorrowMyDoggy. Once this was clear, we communicated it to the outside world. Our concept and values resonated well with other people and we started to receive so much wonderful help, and even emails from people who wanted to join our young pup of a company, which they did.

BP

What are the advantages to writing down your company’s values?

RR

It’s actually been quite a challenge writing your company’s values down. Our company values have always been unconsciously understood, but never written down, so when we started doing a re-branding exercise 3 months ago, we thought then would be a good time to discuss them, along with our mission and vision. It has been a team effort to write them down, and going through this process has helped us really clarify what’s important to us and how we are becoming more aligned as a team. The values that we are defining will help guide the decisions we make as a business with our borrowers, dog owners, partners and employees. Our overall aim to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of millions of dogs and people can be achieved by clarifying our values and embedding them into our business.

BP

Where are you in the values definition process?

RR

Our values focus on happiness, innovation, being positive, going above and beyond, teamwork, and making a positive difference. We have created the initial list of values – they aren’t yet set in stone – and we are now in the testing phase to see if they stand up to scrutiny from ourteam. Defining our values and CulturalDNA is an on-going process and it is still too early to say that we have finalised them, but we have the first version on the wall in our ‘kennel’.

BP

Can you give me some examples of your values in action?

RR

One is that we really focus on our customers. Whether that’s valuing their feedback, personally helping them find a match, or just generally answering their questions, we’re there for them. I love to hear our customer service team speak with our community as it is so evident that our team really do care about every person they speak to. I am also very proud of the fact that we consistently have very high customer satisfaction scores within the help team.

Another value is ‘One Pack, One Team’. The team works well together across the company, and we also play together. We’re aware that we all have the same goal in mind, and by all pulling in the same direction; we’ll get there faster. Where relevant, team members include each other in discussions and make each other aware of any new projects under way. The team has come up with pack activities, including water pong Fridays in the office and welcome lunches for new members – it is lovely to see the friendships being formed and that we are helping each other out beyond the time together in the office.

Another of our values is for us to take risks and react fast. We have brainstorm sessions on how we can improve our members’ experience and build the business. A lot of these discussions are based on feedback from our members. As a result, we run a lot of tests across the business – obviously some of them do not work out so it is important we react fast to any of the learnings.

We are a high-growth, entrepreneurial company so we need people who, amongst other attributes, take initiative, get things done, are caring and are not self-absorbed. To get team members who fit in the ‘Pack’ we ask a lot of questions around these attributes and will listen carefully to the types of questions the candidates ask us, too. The questions tell us a lot about what’s important to that person. Sometimes we’ll bring a dog into the meeting room during an interview to see how the candidate reacts – if the candidate doesn’t react positively to the dog’s arrival, reach out to touch the dog or interact with them, they’re definitely not suitable for us. Now that we have a clearer picture on our values, we will be building interview questions that will test whether the candidate’s values match ours or not.

BP

Which company in your career had the best culture?

RR

I joined Hard Rock Café in Madrid as one of my first jobs and I still remember the values the company vividly: take time to be kind, teamwork, double-check it & love all, and serve all. It was an incredible environment to work in and the fact that I still remember the values tells you how effectively they embedded them in the company.

Would you marry someone after spending just 8 hours with them?

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An interview with Rob O’Donovan, founder & CEO of CharlieHR

Would you marry someone if you didn’t know what his or her values were? Some people do, and that usually ends in pain, tears and loathing. In some cases the magic does happen sooner, but the majority of sane people will take the necessary time to work out if their values match up with the person who is the subject of their affections. This process can take weeks, months and in some cases many years and involves dates, long walks, deep conversations into the small hours and, hopefully for everyone concerned, lots of sex.  The advantage that we have as individuals is we have lived at least 20 years in and with ourselves, so we have the time to develop a reasonably good idea of our values and what makes us tick.

 

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that start-up founding teams see more of one another than the average married couple do and a start-up can at times be way more intense and stressful than a marriage. In the case of an average start-up (if there is such a thing) two of the founders may have known one another for a few years, but the rest of the team have probably been together for a matter of months. The team hasn’t spent 20+ years together as a unit, so they can’t consciously know what their values are. Their true values are hidden below the surface, invisible and active on a subconscious level, and not enough time has passed for those values to surface and really gel with the rest of the team.

Matters are made worse during the process of hiring a new team member because the hiring team only spends 1 or 2 hours each interviewing the candidate. Some invite the candidate to dinner or to join the team for a drink, but at the end of the day, it’s still another 4 or 5 hours added to the total amount of time spent together.

Would you be able to make a decision to marry someone after spending just 8 hours with that person?

It seems insane but the interviewing team and the candidate both need to be able to make a marriage-like commitment after spending less than a day together! How does a start-up company mitigate this risk? The simple answer is through values based interviewing. Your values are the key to successful interviewing because, if you understand what they are you can build them into your candidate interview process.

As an example, here is a part of the assessment that Zappos gives all candidates to make sure they are a good fit for just one of the company’s ten core values. The interviewer doesn’t just accept the first level answer to these questions. They ask clarifying questions to really get into the layers of the onion. The Zappos interviewers rate the candidates from 1 – 5 against each of the questions asked and average the values score for each candidate.

 

Value: Build a positive team and family spirit

 

Rationale: The applicant values team and individual accomplishments with equal importance.

  • Question 1:“Do you feel you are a better individual contributor or a better team player? Which do you prefer?”
  • Question 2:“When was a time you “took one for the team” even though it wasn’t your responsibility?”

 

Rationale: The applicant understands the concept of team and a greater good.

  • Question 1:“When was a time you were thrown work that you were not prepared for? What was the situation? How did you feel about it?”

 

Rationale: The applicant encourages a positive team spirit.

  • Question 1: “Do you ever socialize with people from work outside the office? What do you think about people that do?”
  • Question 2:“How do you encourage teamwork at the office?”
  • Question 3:“What’s the biggest challenge you faced working in a team environment? How did you handle it?”
  • Question 4:“What co-worker behaviours drive you crazy? How do you handle it when someone is doing it?”

 

Rationale: The applicant encourages others to take initiative.

  • Question 1:“Give me an example of a time you were working with a team/group and one member was not participating/pulling their weight. What did you do?”

 

To get further insight into what a start-up founder needs to do to define their CulturalDNA and hire successfully against their values, I interviewed Rob O’ Donovan, founder & CEO of CharlieHR (the free HR platform for small businesses). Rob hit the nail on the head when he said, “At the end of the day everything comes down to people. With great people in your team you can do anything. Our aim is to hire brilliant people whose values are aligned and glued together by our culture. It sounds simple, but it’s not.”

 

 

BP

What got you thinking actively about your values and culture?

RO’D

We felt that we had developed something quite special with our culture and it was important to actually get it down on paper so that we could understand, nurture and develop it further.  The values that we had developed organically needed to be brought to the surface and made more tangible.

BP

How difficult was the process to define your values?

RO’D

We found the values definition process relatively easy to do. I think this was because we did the values exercise before we needed to, before the team had gotten too big and the wrong values had crept into the business. As a leadership team we realized that we needed to ensure that we created the right framework to scale the business, specifically with hiring the right people who are able to fit into our culture. We were lucky in that at the time things were going well and we didn’t have an issue that needed solving.

We see the values of a business like a map; it really helps to look at the map before you start your journey so that you don’t head off in the wrong direction. We were early enough to not yet have travelled down the wrong path with bad hiring decisions.

BP

How did you go about creating your list of values?

RO’D

We don’t believe that the values that you expect from a decent human being should be included in our company’s values – words like trust, integrity and loyalty for example. Trust is binary, you are trustworthy or you aren’t, and trustworthiness is not something to be proud of for our team, as it’s something we expect from one another. A company’s values must be something that the team can aspire to rather than putting some words up on a wall that are supposed to remind you and your team to be decent human beings. Enron had the word integrity famously displayed in their lobby as one of their values. Our leadership team got together and created a list of values that we recognized were demonstrated in the business. We then asked the rest of the team to rank the top 5 values and from there the leadership team got together again and defined them into the four core values of our business: Passionate, Ambitious, Curious and Together. Our PACT is the commitment that the team makes to one another.

The values discovery process is easier if you and the team are on the same page already, which is often the case in an early stage company with a relatively small team like ours. It does take time though and it’s important to not expect the values to fall into place over night. The values really need to resonate with the team so that they remember them and can live by them. Creating the PACT acronym helped a lot with that.

BP

How difficult was it embedding the values into the business?

RO’D

It is an on-going challenge to ensure that we integrate the values and live them on a daily basis. We sounded like a record on repeat a lot of the time, as we really laboured them and repeated them ad nauseum. Apart from the repetition we realised that we needed to associate values with our daily behaviour. In other words what does it mean to live up to our PACT values every day? You have to associate the values with behaviour otherwise it all becomes too nebulous.

BP

What do you focus on during the hiring process?

RO’D

We work hard to find candidates with the right skills and experience, and a good match for our PACT values, digging into how the candidate demonstrates Passion, Ambition, Curiosity and working Together with others. When you hire people with similar values, you bring people into the team who already resonate with the culture and that means they have the behaviours and attitudes that drive results.


BP

How do you communicate your values to new employees?

RO’D

A new joiner is partnered with a buddy from the team and it’s the buddy’s responsibility to make sure that the new joiner gets up to speed quickly, is integrating well, having a good time and understands what PACT stands for and how to live by it. Every new joiner has to do a PACTivity presentation in the first month after joining. The presentation should describe how they relate to PACT. It could be one or all four of the letters that they use to describe how passionate they are or what they are curious about. It’s a great way to get them to associate PACT with their own values, get a sense from them, of how they live the PACT values in their own lives and to introduce them to the team. The PACTivity presentation is a powerful way to show the new joiner how much we care for and live our values and immediately builds a bond between the new joiner and the team.

BP

How important is the social element at Charlie?

RO’D

We have a young team with ages ranging from 21-29. A lot of the team members have joined us fresh out of university, so they are still learning what work is like. We’ve created an environment where people can work hard, demonstrate achievement, have a lot of fun and build lasting friendships. We get together regularly for team drinks and hold a social event at the end of every month. Because we are all curious we encourage our team to learn a new skill or do something outside of work. We encourage our team to go out and meet new and interesting people to learn from, and thereby broaden their mindset. One of our team has just started taking a course on circus skills, which should be amazing. She will meet interesting new people, learn new skills that she will hopefully be able to bring that back and share with the Charlie team.

 

 

 

BP

What other processes have you put in place to embed PACT into the business?

RO’D

We have monthly 1-2-1 sessions, where each team member meets with their team leader to discuss how they have lived PACT that month, they are essentially assessed against our PACT values. It’s not a typical review or appraisal session where we assess against bonuses or anything like that, it’s more an opportunity to sit down with their team leader and discuss any range of things, which could include areas where they are delivering on PACT or areas they need to work. It reinforces and reminds the team that we all share the same values, that we are proud of them and must work hard to uphold them. The 1-2-1 session is structured to be an open session so that the team member can also talk about how things are going, any frustrations they might have, and if they want to discuss anything from their personal life, that’s great too. The team member leads it, so it’s up to them how they make the most of the session.

The 1-2-1 sessions allow for open and honest communication. An example of the advantage of this is when we have had resignations in the past. We haven’t had many but the resignations that have happened weren’t a surprise because the team member informed his team leader during one of the 1-2-1 meetings, normally a couple of months in advance that they were unsure if this was the right place for them. If the employee isn’t happy with something she will inform her team leader  and if she is thinking of leaving for a reason that can be changed then we will work on it internally to see if we can change the situation. If that’s unsuccessful then we tend to mutually agree that it’s best for them to move on and  we make an effort to help them find another job if they haven’t got one already. We hire great people and we hope may come back in 3 years time with a whole new range of skills.

As a company we are aiming for radical candour, where our communication is candid, honest and straight to the point. We have a meeting every Monday called Focus and Feedback. It’s like a normal standup with a twist. Each member of the team starts off by discussing what they will be focusing on for the coming week. The second part of the standup is based around feedback and open communication. In advance of the meeting, Every team member has to go to someone they worked with that past week and ask for feedback from that person, which they then have to share with the company at the weekly standup. New joiners struggle with this process at first but it really is very useful. It builds an environment of honesty where people can talk openly about something they are struggling with. If you ask for feedback people feel more comfortable giving it and this builds emotional resilience in the team. The feedback that I received and had to communicate to the team at our recent standup is that when I am very busy working to a deadline I can be unapproachable, trying to get as much done as possible and the team don’t feel comfortable to approach me for help or advice when I am that busy. It happened most recently before my vacation and it’s something that I will need to work on.

BP

How do you view your culture, is it fixed in stone?

RO’D

We are protective of our culture and believe that our PACT represents our core values. At the same time we are open minded and flexible and will if necessary adapt our culture to changes in the business or the environment. Culture is incredibly fragile. As a leadership team we pay attention because if we don’t we could lose that specialness quickly. We are paranoid about retaining our culture and one concern is that as the team gets bigger we will dilute or weaken our culture. To me our culture is the answer that someone gives at the pub when asked the question “How are things going at work?” We would hope people replied with something along the lines of is “It’s really tough, but I am learning so much and loving it” and as a team we aim to create that environment.

BP

What have you been reading recently?

RO’D

I have been reading the Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

 

 

 

About CharlieHR

CharlieHR is the free HR platform for small businesses that automates the administrative headaches of running a company so you can focus on building real value. Charlie is one of five businesses that Rob and the team have developed out of The Eleven, a startup studio, which he co-founded with Ben Gateley.

http://www.startuphierarchyofneeds.com/

Maslow Revisited – The Start-up Hierarchy of Needs

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I met up with Alicia Navarro, the co-founder & CEO of Skimlinks to speak with her about the unique culture that her company Skimlinks has built.

Skimlinks is the leading affiliate marketing platform for online publishers to convert their existing links into affiliate marketing links. The company was founded in 2006, has raised $25m in funding, and is the dominant player in the space.

As the interview progressed I realized that Alicia and the Skimlinks team have built a CulturalDNA (the company’s values, motivations and behaviours) that matches well with the Start-up Hierarchy of Needs model that I have been thinking about for some time. The Start-up Hierarchy of Needs is my twist on Abraham Maslow’s brilliant work on human motivation that he published over 60 years ago. This post is broken up into two parts: the first part contains my interview with Alicia, and the second gives a brief overview of Maslow’s Hierarchy and maps Alicia’s answers onto the Start-up Hierarchy of Needs.

Part I – The Interview

Brett Putter

How did you develop the Skimlinks CulturalDNA?

Alicia Navarro

From the very beginning of the business I believed that building a strong culture was important for Skimlinks. Culture is something that I have been finely tuned to and have a natural affinity for developing. In the early days our culture developed organically; we didn’t actually turn it into a formal program until a few years into the business, when it all started to come together around the #skimlove hashtag. At first it was a little tongue in cheek, we started to have fun by prefacing words with “skim” like “skimtern” in place of intern, “skimball” in place of football, etc. We would also celebrate a new customer win on Yammer and via email with the  #skimlove hashtag.  Then my co-founder Joe came up with the idea of putting #skimlove in neon lights in the kitchen, when we moved into our first dedicated office space. #Skimlove has developed into the core of our CulturalDNA, where #skimlove describes and highlights the fun, the camaraderie, and the love for the company and the Skimlinks family. #Skimlove is about the way we treat our customers, our team members, how we celebrate technology and company achievements, and how we try to make every day challenging and fulfilling.

I have always wanted any office we occupied to be a high calibre environment which is inspiring and where people want to spend time. We didn’t have a lot of spare cash when we moved into our first office space, but we found inexpensive ways to decorate the office and make it personal, like Joe’s neon sign. We have moved into new offices since then and have deliberately designed aspects into the office in order for it to feel more like home. We have the kitchen in the center of our open plan office, and we deliberately placed the toaster in the middle of the kitchen so the smell of toast – a smell of home and safety and happiness – infuses the office. This may seem like a small detail but they all add up to form our #skimlove CulturalDNA:

  • Sparkle – Skimlinkers have a sparkle in their eye; we are unique, quirky and playful

  • Kick ass – Skimlinkers are talented, smart, capable, and we are great at what we do

  • Inventive – Skimlinkers are solution minded and work well together to solve tricky issues

  • Master of our domain – Skimlinkers are the CEO of their domain, we are accountable and delivery focused

  • Likeable – Skimlinkers are charming, fun and interesting people who love to deliver for our customers and celebrate success

  • Open-minded – Skimlinkers are open-minded, welcoming of difference and diversity, and can be cheeky too

  • Vocal – Skimlinkers are feisty, have an opinion and are confident to share it

  • Entrepreneurial – Skimlinkers are aspiring entrepreneurs

BP

How has your culture changed over the years?

AN

The needs of a business change as the business grows. The Skimlinks’s culture has always been very inviting, inclusive, innovative, hacker-like, compassionate and human. Our culture has developed over the years and it has adapted to the different stages of development of the business. In the early stages of a start-up you need to be able to multi-task and do what needs to be done, so our work culture has been about flexibility, rolling up your sleeves and doing whatever is needed to get the job done. We have now grown to over 80 staff and are focusing our efforts on accountability, execution and delivery. Our values haven’t changed but our focus has. During the early years we had to be flexible in our roles and responsibilities, but we are now growing into a business that requires more structure where individuals focus more on their specific roles, execute their function and deliver against targets. It is important at this stage to balance the core values of the Skimlinks family, which we have built over the past 8 years, with the requirements of a business that is growing rapidly, has offices in the UK and the US, and requires more structure. It is critical that our team gets this right as Skimlinks grows and scales new heights.

We sit down and review our strategy and values every six months. If we feel that we need to update or adapt any of the values, we do. For example we have adapted the M in #skimlove, which represents “Master of our Domain” to include the concept of accountability as this is a core business focus for us.

BP

What have you done to define the values for Skimlinks?

AN

We ask ourselves questions that help demonstrate what #Skimlove means to us.

– What are the values that you are proud of?

–  What makes us different from the competition?

– Why are we succeeding now?

– What values make us unique?

– Why do our customers choose to work with us?

– Why do you love coming to work?

BP

How do you use the #Skimlove values across the company?

AN

We really try to live our values every day across the company. We use the culture and values as a framework for candidate evaluation during interviews and in employee performance reviews. When hiring we are looking for a match with the company’s culture and values. We have had to evolve and tweak what the values emphasise, as the company is growing and transitioning to an environment where accountability, delivery and speed of execution are critical to our continued success. We have added accountability, delivery and speed of execution into our candidate evaluation and employee performance reviews. Having a defined set of values allows us to show prospective candidates what is important to us, why we are different and why they should work with us.

BP

How do you ensure that your CulturalDNA is nurtured and maintained?

AN

We have a Skimlinks Cultural Ambassadors Committee of 10 staff who are our cultural representatives. The committee members are proud to be ambassadors; most have been with the company for a long time and are trusted and respected by the team. We meet every couple of months to discuss any issues that have come up that the committee members may have noticed, and to brainstorm ideas for maintaining and strengthening our CulturalDNA. The committee’s role is to help build a great company with a great culture and they are my eyes and ears on the ground.

BP

How do you approach employee remuneration and benefits/perks?

AN

We pay market rates and contribute to health care, life insurance and a pension. We don’t include a perk or benefit unless it develops or will have a positive impact on our culture. We have recently developed a new rewards program for long tenured employees where the employee gets an extra day of leave or a sabbatical. We allow our people to move internally from one department to another and develop skills in different areas. We have recently created a personal development plan for each employee. We try to emphasize having fun, health and communal good. We hold team lunches and regular hackathons, we do summer and winter parties and have a beer and wine fridge for drinks after work. We hold speaking events and talks; we have a meditation room and a ping pong table. We host lots of events, which is also deliberate. By hosting events and driving the conversation we are fulfilling our mandate as the leader in our field.

 BP

How does Skimlinks make a difference in the community?

AN

We hold a number of charity and fund raising events. We are just about to launch a football tournament to raise money for charity, which fits in with our focus on health, community and having fun.

BP

What do you do to improve your skills as a CEO and guardian of the company’s CulturalDNA?

AN

I don’t read business books or biographies; I rather spend my spare time reading fiction. Being a people-focused CEO is all about being able to understand what motivates your team and being able to communicate my message effectively. Reading fiction gives me ideas on how to communicate a message effectively, create a story, enhance the company folklore, build a narrative and create emotional connections.

BP

How much time do you spend working on CulturalDNA?

AN

I spend about 50% of my time on our people and our culture.

 

Part II – The Start-up Hierarchy of Needs

 

Abraham Maslow was a twentieth century psychologist with an IQ of 195 who proposed a theory of human motivation known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”, which was published  in the Psychological Review in 1943. The hierarchy is a set of principles to better understand what motivates human beings. Maslow wrote “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualisation… It refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything one is capable of becoming.” What Maslow is saying here is that all humans have a ‘higher potential’ nature, we all want to be able to self-actualise, to explore and utilise our talents, to fulfill our potential and achieve excellence in what we do, and thereby achieve an optimal state of being.

 

 

Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid for human development. On the bottom rung of the pyramid you find the base physiological needs, for water, food and sleep. As those needs are met we are able to move up the pyramid to the second rung of the pyramid of higher needs for safety, the next level up is for social belonging, then esteem and finally self-actualisation where we are able to apply ourselves to being creative, courageous, open to learn, flexible, able to make mistakes, and humble. As humans we don’t progress up the pyramid to the next level if the needs of the level we are on are not met.

Maslow’s psychological theory was created to understand what fundamentally motivates human beings and I have been thinking about and exploring how Maslow’s hierarchy could be applied to fit the growth and development needs of a start-up.

The 5 levels of the Start-up Hierarchy of Needs:

 

 

 

1. Basic needs

The first level of start-up needs is the basic “subsistence” needs for someone to be comfortable at work. A salary that covers their basic cost of living, job security and a place to work (home or office) with business essentials, such as internet, computer, mobile phone etc. Employees can’t focus on achieving or aiming for their higher needs when they are worrying about whether their salary and rent will be paid. Peter Drucker, the renowned management consultant and author said that money alone doesn’t motivate, however dissatisfaction with money grossly demotivates.

Like most start-ups Skimlinks, during the early stages of the business, paid below average salaries with stock option upside for the people who believed in the company and the opportunity. The company is now able to pay market related salaries combined with a stock option plan. Skimlinks offers health care, life insurance and pension contribution.

2. Business continuity

If your team members are concerned about job security, you will not get the most out of them. Instead of applying themselves to the challenges at hand they will have one eye on the job market, watching job boards, applying to jobs and meeting with recruiters. Job security means that the business is profitable, has raised an A/B/C/D round of funding or is able to raise another funding round relatively easily.

Skimlinks is generating significant revenues, has raised $25m in total funding and in the most recent round the company raised $16m.

3. Environment & social engagement

Actions, thoughts and feelings are shaped by our surroundings and this is one of the reasons why successful companies like Google, Facebook and Skimlinks invest in their office environments. Not all companies have the budget that Google has to offer perks like nap pods, onsite laundry, massages and free food and shuttles, but it is possible to offer perks that don’t cost the company very much, add value or make their lives easier (See below for a list of perks offered by London based start-ups). As human beings we don’t want to disappoint our friends, so it makes sense to create an environment that fosters the building of friendships and a feeling of acceptance and belonging within the “family”. After work drinks, cultural events, sharing of stories and eating lunch together are a few of the ways you can create an environment where friendships develop. Deep social engagement is developed through creating and observing rituals, traditions, and the retelling of stories of ‘company heroes’. The company can build deep connections with the team by celebrating achievement and honouring length of service and loyalty. Alicia has designed the Skimlinks offices to feel like home. The company has always been an inviting, inclusive, understanding and human place to work. Skimlinks encourages employee interaction through team lunches, hackathons, summer and winter parties.

Skimlinks develops deep social engagement by rewarding and recognising employees for long tenure. They have weekly “Skim ‘n Tell” sessions on Friday evenings where anyone can share a story of what they achieved or experienced in the week, as a means of sharing emotional ties around success, or creating emotional connections to our customers.

 

 

 

4. Personal Growth

A business can’t grow and develop unless the people inside the business grow and develop as well. So the third level of the Start-up Pyramid is focused on the personal development of your employees. How are the individuals in the team going to grow, learn and develop? Have you asked your team members what they want to learn, study or experience? Do you know what their personal development requirements are? Nobody likes to be stuck in a job where they aren’t growing or learning. If you create an environment where they are able to learn, grow, and gain recognition for their achievements, they will increase their self respect and self esteem, which will in turn benefit your business. In order for your company to grow it will need to take on new challenges and these new challenges are the opportunities that your team are looking for to learn from and develop.

Skimlinks offers training programs to the team and has allowed employees to move across into different departments if they want to learn a new set of skills. The company promotes healthy living and has recently formalised a personal development plan for each of their staff members.

 

5. Self-actualisation & making a difference

To achieve the fourth level of the start-up hierarchy of needs your team must not only be able to progress up the pyramid, but must also be able to master the levels by taking advantage of the opportunities you design and make available to them. Level 4 is all about the individuals in your teams’ ability to realise their full potential. The people you hire will want to make an impact, create a legacy and do something that makes a difference outside of themselves and the company. It helps tremendously if your employees feel that they are making a difference in the world based on being a part of the future that your company is defining. Alicia is focused on building a company and a culture that encourages external community involvement and giving back to the wider community.

Skimlinks invites people into the office talks to give talks on publishing industry, data science, and leadership, and arranges and hosts industry speaking events to position the company as the leader in its field. The team voted on a company charity, and now hosts regular fund-raising initiatives for the chosen charity.

 

 

It is the CEO and senior leadership team’s role to create a comfortable work environment of purpose, freedom and creativity, where work is meaningful, and excellence can be achieved; an environment where qualities like creativity, integrity, courage, trust, optimism, continuous learning and teamwork flourish, so that their team members can progress up the Start-up Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. 

People join companies not to conform but to become more individual – to self actualise. Alicia and her Skimlinks team are creating an environment where any of her team members are able to self actualise. This is a powerful message when attracting new A+ team members. Candidates are bombarded with 1000s of job opportunities that all look the same and Skimlinks are in the enviable situation of being able to differentiate themselves and attract the best candidates in the market, that match their CulturalDNA.  

Skimlinks are in the enviable situation of being able to differentiate themselves and attract the best candidates in the market, that match their CulturalDNA. 

 

Examples of inexpensive start-up perks you will find at other London startup companies like Printastic, StreetBees, Runway East, Space Ape Games, 23snaps and Duel:

 – We have an unlimited training budget. Every person who wants to get training needs to find the course and write a business case for is (a little P&L) and if it’s justified, we will pay for it

– If anyone throws a party in their place and invite colleagues, we pay for the drinks. (This was inspired by Palantir who pays £20/person if more than 5 employees do something together – no matter what it is) We have loads of foreigners in the team who haven’t got a chance to make friends in London so this helps to get them integrated into the social life more

– We do Wednesday lunches and Friday drinks with the full team

– Taking everyone to a company holiday every summer for 4 days

– Meditation coach

– Private healthcare

– Free/half price gym membership at Virgin and many others (which in Moorgate is £50 off a month, paying it back in itsefl)

– A free cinema ticket at vue/cineworld & a free starbucks every week

– 40% off BA flights to Europe a few times a year

– A free health assessment and health check up once a year

– Unlimited holiday

– Flexible hours

– Home working

– Regular paid for trips to the pub

– Cycle to work scheme

– Season travel ticket loan

– Childcare vouchers

– Duvet days

– Free breakfast cereal / fruit

– Office Book budget

– Board game nights

– Guest speakers

– Great coffee

www.startuphierarchyofneeds.com

 

5 Things We Learned from Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey

Stack Overflow recently released the results of their 2016 Developer Survey. Over 56000 developers answered the call, sharing where they live, work, what they build, and who they are. We thought that we’d share a few key takeaways we found from this survey.

1 Developers tend to be young

Unsurprisingly, as computer programming as a mainstream pursuit is still a relatively recent phenomenon, the average programmer who responded to the survey is 29.6 years old, with the median age being 27. In all, 59.1% of respondees were aged under 30.

2 Developers have different priorities from their jobs

Perhaps as a consequence of the first point, being largely of the millennial generation, developers have different priorities than might traditionally be expected. Whilst salary comes out on top as the top priority, with 62% of respondents giving it as a reason to take a job, the next few answers on the list are more revealing. In second is work-life balance, followed by company culture, quality colleagues and flexible work hours. Far lower down the list are company stage, job title, company size and industry, with none of these given as a priority by more than 9.1% of respondents. This shows that traditional anxieties about status and stability are far less important for developers. Perhaps this a consequence of the high demand for developers meaning that they know they can find a new job with relative ease.

3 Developers are not fixed in their jobs

Once again perhaps a consequence of point 1, a combined 78% of developers surveyed are interested in hearing about new job opportunities. Whilst only 14.8% are actively looking for work, 63% would be open to new opportunities. This is a chance for employers, who know that if they can provide an interesting opportunity then the majority of developers can be prized from their current roles.

4 Development is still a male-dominated industry

92.8% of respondents to the survey classified themselves as male, with 5.8% identifying as women. 1.5% were either other, or preferred not to say. Stack Overflow did give the caveat that according to Quantcast 12% of Stack Overflow’s readers are women, and that countries where there is an increased chance of women being developers are underrepresented on the survey. Nevertheless, it does seem that development is still male-dominated.

5 Developers love to learn

69.1% of developers who responded to the survey are at least partly self-taught, which fits with the fairly individualistic insights we’ve found above. In other industries, you would perhaps expect to see on the job training as the main way of learning, but the nature of developers is to constantly expand their programming knowledge and to do it under their own steam.

http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2016#developer-profile

Mobile Internet Exits hit $100B – But is this the end of growth in this sector?

The latest analysis from Digi-Capital shows that Mobile internet exits hit $101B in 2015, which is fantastic news for the industry. However, looking back on our last analysis of Digi-Capital’s Mobile Internet statistics from q4 2015, it is clear that, while there is still plenty of life and money in the industry, the unprecedented growth that we were seeing before is no longer prevalent, with consolidation, and the odd failure, being the order of the day.

This is not to say that there is an impending bubble. In fact, this could be a good thing. When valuations are skyrocketing, it can be disconcerting, as it can seem like people are hopping on a bandwagon, rather than valuing companies at levels that more truly reflect their worth. In the latest analysis, there is reference to four mobile unicorns that have fallen below the $1B valuation mark, showing that some companies were indeed overvalued, and are now struggling to justify that valuation. Despite that caveat, however, the report also states that 102 mobile unicorns added $130m value in the fourth quarter of 2015, making the combined value over $1T for the first time.

Digi-Capital-Mobile-Internet-Deals-2015-1024x576

One interesting difference between the two reports, is the different sectors of mobile internet that saw Exits. While both saw a large spread of different areas, the main sectors in the year up to q4 2015 were messaging, games, and Social networking (with messaging given a large boost from Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp), with the three sectors making up almost 2/3rds of exits. The latest figures show that mCommerce (just 1% in the previous figures we analysed) and Travel/transport (1.3%) made up almost half of exits. This perhaps shows that the Messaging, Games and Social Networking spaces are saturated at the top end, whilst there is still seen to be room for growth in mCommerce and travel. Part of this might be due to the broad nature of mCommerce, which differs from Social Networking or Messaging as there are countless different uses for mCommerce, whereas people will only use a certain amount of messaging or Social Networking.

 

Digi capital investment returns 2 Digi-Capital-Mobile-Internet-Stocks-LTM-to-Q4-20152-1024x576

The mobile internet stock index of 92 publicly listed companies shown in the Digi-Capital report shows that it was broadly flat in 2015, with navigation companies growing by 48% and Entertainment shrinking by 31% being the biggest variables. Overall, value was down 0.5% over the year, which again tallies with our analysis that it has been a year of consolidation rather than massive growth. It will be fascinating to see how 2016 turns out.

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