Stories & insights
Stryve Founder's Fireside Series: Scaling from 1 to 500 people
This edition of the fireside series shines the spotlight on how leaders can scale their teams from 1 to 500 people and, with the help of guest speaker Ian Wason, highlight some of the pitfalls on that journey and how to get around them.
2021 has been a big year for recruitment, with the acceleration into digital spaces spurring a renewed drive to find talented individuals that can help companies make this transformation smoothly.
Things are also ramping up at Stryve as founder Ed Chamberlain has scoured for expertise and insights on how to combat these challenges for all companies, but especially start-ups, seeking to expand in 2022.
This edition of our Founder’s fireside series shines the spotlight on how leaders can scale their teams from 1 to 500 people and, with the help of guest speaker Ian Wason, highlight some of the pitfalls on that journey and how to get around them.
Ian is a globally successful entrepreneur and a trailblazer in South Africa’s debt and credit market. He has over two decades of experience in the finance sector and is the founder of Intelligent Debt Management.
Choosing your early key hires
In the very early stages of growing your business the questions of who to hire and when can be really difficult to answer. Resources are at their lowest, especially if you’re struggling for outside funding, and time is in short supply as well.
First let’s draw a distinction between two kinds of key hires: operational and strategic.
Operational hires are the nuts and bolts of the business and how to keep your business running once you’ve got it off the ground. Admin, logistics, and early revenue all feature heavily here as what you’re trying to do is make sure that less of your energy is spent on day-to-day tasks so that it can be redirected to high-value decision-making.
Next, you need to be securing the revenue to realise these actions and to open up future expansion. In Ian’s case, the second hire was a salesperson but, as Ian states, a salesperson with empathy and an open bedside manner when it came to advice is crucial, hard sales alone is not enough at this stage.
Obviously, as a new company you’re unlikely to have your pick of the litter when it comes to talent, so it’s really important to have a clear idea of the characteristics and soft skills that you value most. That way, if your hires require coaching, you have objectives already laid out.
Once you have a steady income stream and are ready to expand, think big and hire fast. Assuming you’re not drowning in investment capital, networking will be a big part of your hiring and awareness strategy - it’s fairly low cost and every new team member increases the reach of your network.
It’s around now that you want to be considering strategic hires, these are more future-focused than operational hires and will show their investment over time.
For example, Ian brought in an ex-McKinsey consultant for what he described as an ‘eye-watering’ amount of money but the returns in terms of insight and experience more than justified the expense.
Next start thinking about the staff you already have. Around the time his tenth employee came in, Ian developed an accounting department, and the gains were twofold. First it freed him from overseeing financial details and second it ensured that they would be handled efficiently and shield the company from the potential fallout of mismanagement.
Scaling quickly once you’re off the ground
As your team climbs higher into the double digits, the pressure of ongoing recruitment will begin to mount, and you’ll want to bring in a dedicated HR department.
A good rule of thumb is that as soon as a part of the business begins to consume more of your time than macro-decisions, it’s time to find someone to delegate it to.
This is now a much easier process than it was in Ian’s day thanks to applicant tracking systems like Stryve that can help streamline and automate much of the recruitment process.
At around the 60 staff mark, Ian began developing his HR department, this meant that the business could start staging recruitment in a group setting and oversee multiple new hires simultaneously - leading to rapid growth over the next two years.
In just eighteen months Ian was able to move from 150 to 350 employees. The challenge with rapid hiring and training is that you might experience high turnover in your first few months without people having worked for you long enough to deliver the benefits of that training.
Excessive turnover will quickly bleed your budget and so now is when retention should become a priority for you. Investing in employee experience, facilities, and company culture early will save you thousands in training and lost productivity later down the line.
How to choose and plan your exit strategy
Ian described a conference he attended where Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer described his regrets at having missed out on being a father and husband in pursuit of business.
That was Ian’s catalyst but the decision of when to get out is individual, the big question is, does this business still serve your purpose, does it give you meaning?
If the answer is no, then you should start seeking buyers and if the growth potential of the business is still high, then aim for private equity as this will be relatively easy with a proven product and more favourable to you personally on your ‘second exit’.
Key insights for starting and growing a business to 500
1. Preferably, start it as young as possible to ensure you can give it priority over your time and resources, before you have a family or partner to think about.
2. Don’t overanalyse, just try things and if they don’t work then move on. Ian started around fifteen businesses but only the two or three big wins that came out of that process got any recognition.
3. Make and value incremental progress, if you make one positive change per day for a full year, you’re guaranteed to be in a much better place than you started.
Saving the best for last, Ian closed out the discussion by highlighting some of the many reasons for his endorsement and investment in Stryve.
When asked by Ed what his motivation was, Ian quipped ‘Jealousy I suppose’ but continued to explain that Stryve represented an essential resource that he’d never had access to in the dog days of early expansion:
“Having Stryve at the business from day one would have made the recruitment process a million times easier. I could’ve recruited better staff, not made the mistakes I made, and done it all a lot quicker.
It would have taken an enormous burden off my plate for the first five years of the business and off of everybody else’s plate for the next ten years. I wish it had been around a long time ago.”
You can catch up on the full webinar on YouTube now.
Stryve’s ability to accelerate the hiring journey while maintaining open lines of communication between disparate teams and applicants, all under GDPR protection, offers a valve to release the pressures on new entrepreneurs and allows them the freedom to focus on the big picture.
If you would like to know more about Stryve or to have a demo of our revolutionary talent management system, just click here.