Neil Sweeney has lots of opinions about how to run a company, especially a newer, smaller one.
Embrace inherent chaos. Accept your position, wherever you are in the marketplace. Understand that your product will change over time, and help it happen. And several others – but one in particular that is perhaps the most important.
Sweeney, founder and CEO of beacon network company Freckle IoT, says that it’s about putting the right people in the right places.
“There is nothing that can upset a startup more than getting the wrong people in place,” Sweeney says. “You can get the wrong people in places in bigger companies because there are so many other people around. But having a ruthless fixation on how you structure your team I think is an absolutely critical place for any business to start. You need everyone operating at 100%.”
One slow-moving employee can sometimes become a catalyst for a company-wide bottleneck, he says.
“Screening employees, making sure to get those right people in place, I think is maybe one of the most important things you can do in a business,” Sweeney says.
Finding those right people can be difficult, of course, but being clear about what they’re getting into is also important — transparency is a favorite quality of many leaders. In practice, communicating decisions throughout a company, especially through fast growth spurts, can contribute to what chaos already exists.
Freckle IoT currently hosts about 30 employees, is doubling its top-line growth quarter-over-quarter, and is still more or less small enough that communication throughout the company could be done with everyone in one room.
But Sweeney has founded other companies, and says he has no aspirations in running a 200-plus person company again.
Heading toward the other end of the size spectrum, mobile shopping app Ibotta also touts transparency – it’s one of their core values. Ibotta will likely have nearly 500 employees by the end of 2017, Alison Meadows, vice president of HR tells Street Fight in an email. Ibotta works to treat everyone as stakeholders, she writes.
“That’s exactly what we are as employees,” Meadows says. “By virtue of that, our commitment to transparency means that decision-making happening at all levels, even at the C-level, is communicated openly throughout the organization.”
Ibotta has experienced a huge growth spurt in its few years of existence, and Meadows says that leadership worked hard in the beginning to make sure company values were positioned correctly to be allowed growth along with everything else that was growing.
“To do that, the senior leadership team at Ibotta deliberated over a handful of key behaviors that any new hire and current team member should exhibit in order to succeed here,” Meadows says. “In the end, after several rounds of feedback from leaders across the company, we settled on the following: 1) wins as a team, 2) invests in personal growth, 3) proposes creative solutions, and 4) adapts well to change.”
These behaviors help reinforce Ibotta’s core values as a whole, in turn helping the company grow responsibly and retain top talent, Meadows says. But it’s not the same for every company, and these might not work as well for another company as they have for Ibotta.
“Core values and key behaviors are certainly bespoke to individual companies, so I would encourage other business leaders to do their due diligence in uncovering what resonates inside their own cultures,” Meadows says. “One of our key behaviors here at Ibotta is adapting well to change. I’ll single out that one as translatable to any high-growth company scaling from a startup. Our founder, Bryan Leach, once described entrepreneurship as a journey of constant reinvention. No truer words [are] spoken here at Ibotta, where change is a constant.”
That sentiment was echoed by Freckle IoT’s Sweeney, who warned that any employee who joins with a passion for the product or service offered initially will be profoundly disappointed.
“The product is constantly evolving, constantly in beta,” he says. “The product that exists today and the product that will exist in six months will be fundamentally different.”
More important is a central belief in solving the problem, he says. And know that you’ll never get a break.
“You will have a mental breakdown at some point,” he says. “I say that kind of joking, but whether it’s at three weeks, three months, three years – you will have a breakdown. You’re going 150 miles an hour and there is no break. There’s no break. Having people who really commit to what you’re doing is so important.”
Sweeney says he is known around the Freckle IoT office for two mantras he repeats often.
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says. “That’s the first one. You’re always going to be uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable you’re not working. If you’re comfortable you’re clearly not pushing hard enough.”
The second mantra is that “there’s no such thing as a blind spot if you’re moving faster than everyone else.”
“Hit the gas,” Sweeney says. “Go faster than everyone else. Then you don’t have to spend a bunch of time figuring out how to offset things other companies are doing, because they’re having to do that for you. And, if you go fast, it makes people uncomfortable.”