Theo Rokos is the Co-Founder of Greenjobinterview and Vice President of Business Development with Williams & Sewell.
When You Start a Company
One of the most enjoyable things after starting a company (assuming your not a total egomaniac) is the ability to look back and recognize the mistakes you made, all the money you could have saved, and all the lives involved in your decision to create a business. If you are a founder of a startup, work for a startup, or have invested in a startup – I encourage you to learn from some of the challenges I faced and the mistakes I made.
One of the most exciting things about a fast-growing company is that “Oh no, we have too much work” moment. It is one of those two-way feelings. On one hand, there is the excitement of the growing top number. And on the other? The terrifying feeling that you need help. Having worked for large corporations before becoming an entrepreneur, I was taught to hire as fast as possible to keep up with the growth. The responsibility, at these firms, was to the shareholders. When the growth stops, you would have to let people go. This was a terrible thing – I hated this part of the business. It was not personal; the company was simply not churning out enough profit to sustain whatever headcount model had been put in place.
With a startup, the experience is far different. When I managed people at large organizations, I put my employees first. I learned that if they knew I generally was part of the team and cared for their success, it would make my team fulfilled and happy; that’s the kind of organization I wanted to work for.
With a startup, your employees become like a close family. You are more like a team of navy seals than a huge army – the bond is much tighter. When you have to let people go, it’s likely that you can’t make payroll because of a bad month, bad quarter, or lost customer. When these cuts need to be made, it is personal. There is a deeper bond and it’s a terrible place in which to be. Also, the ripple effect is much larger in a startup. People know that you’re not a huge organization and the welfare of the business weighs on everyone’s mind.
My Job and Responsibilities Shifted
When I stepped down as CEO and moved to the Board of my company, I wanted to focus on these issues and be involved in contract employment – it was important to be strategic about hiring. To be clear, headcount and growth needed to match projected revenue/profit, as well as the work it would involve to get there, but also to keep employee count from growing too quickly to avoid the potential for layoffs. The two areas I want to focus on were HR and recruiting.
Human resources is an interesting thing for startups and small, but fast-growing companies. The cost and plan for HR was rarely discussed in the early stages of the startups with which I have been affiliated. HR was piecemealed by the leadership team. Two things went wrong. The first, and most obvious: we did not set things up correctly; this led to more work and increased costs down the road. It’s amazing how many things we had to create, recreate, and terminate once we moved to the next level. This all could have been avoided for the minimal cost of a part-time HR consultant.
The second piece? Recruiting, which we handled internally, was also a mistake. On the outside, it might not look that way. We had a handful of people who knew recruiting, at an expert level. The problem was not recognizing the amount of productivity and time this process would take away from our “real” jobs. Every hour spent sourcing candidates was an hour we were not on the phone with our customers.
A contract recruiter would have allowed for two things: focus on customer growth and provided a second set of qualified eyes. It is quite possible when evaluating talent that you might not be able to see the forest for the trees. It could also be possible that you hire someone you like, instead of someone you need. This happened quite a bit to me in technology. In hindsight, I would have brought a contract recruiter in. A startup or growing company has many ups and downs in hiring, which a permanent-hire recruiter may either end up twiddling their thumbs or getting laid off due to lack of work.
I implore you to look at contract recruiting and HR in these early-growth stages.
I was lucky enough to have eventually partnered with Williams & Sewell while running my company. They are experts at filling these growth gaps for small and large companies, alike. If you consistently run into these issues, I would love the opportunity to discuss them with you.
VP – Business Development, Williams & Sewell