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You had the idea. You worked the 80-hour weeks. You built the prototypes, beta versions and test cases. Now, you have employees. You have product lines. You may even have multiple locations. You’ve made it.
When we started Datto, we made prototypes with a glue gun and LEGO blocks. Now, we have more than 600 employees in offices around the world. How do I make sure we continue to stay ahead of the competition?
We’ve all read advice columns that give the secrets to success — create a culture, don’t stop innovating, keep employees engaged, stay nimble, remember what got you here — but don’t reveal any actual actions you can take. In this piece are four actions I’m taking now to make sure we stay on top.
When going from one small office to many employees, the culture that made your startup great will change. But, you need to make sure certain core values don’t get lost.
As an executive, it’s easy for other things to dilute your time. But, if you’re going to foster a culture, you have to make time to be part of it and be its ambassador. For me, this means traveling regularly to each office. It also involves bringing as many employees as possible to our headquarters, so they can see how we work up close and have more opportunities to spontaneously collaborate.
Traveling to different offices also helps ensure each has its own culture. It’s only natural that our Sydney office differs from our Toronto office. Each office has its own style and feel — the Boston office is decorated with a Tom Brady wall decal, and its conference rooms are named after northeast disasters (like the 1919 Great Boston Molasses Flood or Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox), while our U.K. office is designed with a beer garden — but every employee shares the same set of values around what we do.
I’ve found that it really helps to be as transparent and open about the business as possible. So, once a month we do a town-hall-style company meeting where I take anonymous questions and answer every single one.
Do I always have the answer the employees want? No. Do I always have the answer I want? No. But considering these questions gives me insight into what we can do better and how we can keep people passionate and innovative.
This transparency extends to partners, as well. When we’re developing new products or features, we actively seek feedback from our partners on what’s working, what’s not and what they really want to see. We get this feedback in many different ways — regular meetings, our dedicated partner portal and surveys just to name a few.
Speaking of passion, one of my great fears is that our employees might lose the passion they have for their work. In addition to keeping team members informed, another thing that has helped us is tangibly letting employees know we appreciate them. This can take many forms — even something simple like buying lunch for everyone on Fridays. We make sure we organize things for team members to do together outside of the office. In fact, we have an event planner on staff, so nobody feels added pressure to plan these events. For example, when the newest Star Wars movie came out, we rented out a theater for Datto employees to see the midnight showing.
You remember when you were just starting out. You mocked up a prototype — or developed part of your app or designed that first logo — and it just wasn’t working. You threw it out, right?
Of course, you learned from the experience and took parts of the project to help you continue to tweak things and eventually succeed. But, the point is, if something just wasn’t working, you weren’t afraid to start over. At Datto, we have a heavy bias toward doing and trying to solve, rather than talking about and thinking about executing (and we’re always researching and measuring results, of course).
So, we start a number of things that we don’t finish. And that’s OK. We know we’re never finished innovating. That process has led us to many breakthroughs. I’d rather have action, even if we make mistakes along the way.
As they say in the sports world: Getting to the top is the easy part, staying on top is hard. We entrepreneurs may take umbrage with the first part. But we can all agree with the second: Staying ahead of the competition is insanely difficult. Taking these four actions should help in your quest to stay on top.
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