Earlier this month we partnered with PwC for the inaugural Seedcamp COO/CFO summit, bringing together leading voices in the COO and CFO community from our portfolio. Speakers included Will Herman (COO @ MyRecovery) talking about his journey at Hassle.com, Phill Burton (COO @ Bloom & Wild) on how to negotiate with suppliers, Pleo and Ben Gateley (Co-founder and COO of CharlieHR.)
In this blog post, Ben from CharlieHR shares tangible tips for COOs to implement into their businesses.
1. Kill Your Ego
One of the biggest things that gets in the way of founders getting on and doing what is right for the business is ego. I’m not for a second suggesting that anyone can be completely ego free, but I do think that a COO who strives to temper theirs is better equipped to execute in their role.
The fact is, there are a lot of tasks that come under your responsibility that might not be that…sexy. They might not put you in the limelight. You might not get any credit for them. But once you’ve established that they’re best for your business, you’ve got to put your ego to one side and crack on regardless.
2. Get Together
Bringing people together from across the business has always been important to us. Whether that means at the beginning of the week for a kick off, or at the end of the week for a beer or two, spending time together as a group is vital.
We’ve noticed that introducing food into these situations from time to time can be super valuable. There’s something symbolic about it, and it tends to lead to much better conversation and discussion. Break some bread!
Away from regular time together as a business, it’s also important to step out from the day to day and look at the bigger picture. We’ve found that getting away from the office for half a day at least once a quarter is the right rhythm for us. Just make sure to plan well and use that time wisely.
3. Know Your Team
Knowing the people you get to work with each and every day is a vital part of being able to support them in achieving their true potential. For me this includes having an understanding of who they are both at work and at home. We talk about their family, and their relationships. However, it can take time for your team to want to share and be open with you. Here are a few ways we’ve worked on this…
On our last away day we asked everyone in the team to prepare a pecha kucha presentation, on the subject of “who am I”. A bit of life history can go along way in understanding the present.
Take the time to ask. It sounds simple, but when was the last time you asked about someone’s partner, parent or sibling?
Consider running “monthlies”. This is an hour each month where every team member gets to sit down with their team leader. Importantly, they guide the conversation. We focus as much as possible on the person, how they’re finding things and what might be bothering them. It’s not about us…it’s about them!
4. Always Be Hiring
I don’t believe that hiring is something you should ever stop or start. Great people are the lifeblood of any business. Devoting time to continuing your search for the best of the best should be a priority for every COO.
This safeguards against having to make a rushed hire and bringing someone on board that you’re just not passionate about. That’s never going to pay off long term.
It also makes you a whole load more flexible as a business. You’ve got a constant stream of great talent walking through the door each week. If a role doesn’t exist at that time, make a note of them because you never know what you might need in the future.
Where possible, focus as hard as you can on building a diverse team. It’s our duty to constantly strive to be more diverse.
5. Table It
Hard conversations are hard, but they’re harder if you avoid them. I’ve always found that getting out in front of the difficult conversations makes them a whole lot easier.
Compensation is one such example of that. We attempt to be open and upfront with everyone on the team about what compensation looks like now, and when and how it might change based on various business goals. Ensuring that everyone in the business is subject to the same framework or process when it comes to compensation setting helps to make negotiation a thing of the past. We’ve found being clear that we don’t negotiate on compensation makes for much clearer conversations.
6. Get The Beers
I’m a big believer that culture starts small, so it’s important that senior members of the business lead by example. One of the biggest reasons that culture fails is when leadership think they’re above it.
This includes everything from being the one on a Friday to offer everyone a beer, to doing a coffee run. When was the last time you bought someone on your team a coffee? These small acts of kindness are what get noticed, not whether you have a ping pong table in the office.
Culturally it’s important to set a standard on these behaviours. From our early days, we’ve always had a policy against eating at desks. I’ve never liked the idea that someone is so busy they can’t take a lunch break. More importantly, lunch is such an important time to sit and chat to people you might not necessarily work together with on a daily basis.
7. Do It Right
As you start to scale out the business, ensuring everyone has a similar experience is important. Everyone remembers their first and last day at a company. Get this right, and they feel set up to succeed.
For us, it’s all about the little things. We make sure the new team member has had the chance to meet everyone before day one. Ensure someone is able to liaise with them at a local coffee shop so they don’t have to walk into the office alone. This is the difference between a day you’ll remember and one you’ll want to forget fast.
We’ve tried to improve upon some of the admin experience with our Onboarding feature on CharlieHR; making it easy, quick and clear to understand.
Creating a culture of feedback within the business is one of the most impactful things we’ve done in the last twelve months. It’s opened up dialogue, and helped to ensure senior members remain accountable. It’s driven us all to be better.
You can read how we view feedback here, but ensuring that it is regular (every Monday for us), transparent (it is shared openly and documented so others can see) and actionable are the cornerstones of an effective feedback culture.
9. Security IS Sexy
I’m surprised how little attention businesses today pay to their security. Specifically, the risk of everything that’s part of their digital footprint. Whether that be information on team members, suppliers or data you’re storing on behalf of users, it needs to be taken seriously at every level. It’s the one thing that could end your business tomorrow.
We’ve had the awesome support of the guys at Tresor Security in helping us prepare for our ISO 27001 accreditation (the global gold standard of cyber security). Not all businesses need invest the time and money in going quite this far. In fact, 80% of data breaches can be mitigated against with some seriously simple changes in behaviour…
..all of which are covered off in Cyber Essentials. Simple things like ensuring everyone is using a good password manager (my recommendation is1Password) to share and store passwords, and ensuring everyone is regularly updating their OSX on their work computers. It’s not hard, but it’s worth it.
10. Look After You
Most of the above relates to things you should be doing for others. While I am a huge fan of being a selfless leader (read more here), I am conscious that more than ever it’s important to look after yourself. It can be hugely emotionally and physically tiring to be constantly thinking about others. Ensuring you have people you can talk to and who can support you is vital to ensure you avoid burning yourself out.
So while you’re looking after others, make sure that someone is there to look after you!
We asked the awesome team at Unlease, a Seedcamp-backed company challenging the existing rental market, to share some insight into their ‘Pineapple Today’ campaign. Sending pineapples to educate people about subletting? We wanted to learn more about how subverting expectations could work not just in creating a viral campaign but as a cost-effective acquisition driver.
At Unlease we saw that the traditional rental market wasn’t keeping up with the growing demand for a more flexible way of living, so we created a peer-to-peer marketplace for sublets. We chose a pineapple (traditionally a symbol of warmth, welcoming and the home) as our logo because we felt that the warm hospitality of our Unlease community has come to define us as a company.
The London tech scene is saturated with start-ups trying to make an impact on their customers. We decided to do things differently and take a fresh angle on marketing; we created Pineapple Today (www.unlease.io/pineappletoday).
Pineapple Today is an online system where you can send a friend a pineapple, because nothing else says ‘I care about you’ or brighten someone’s day like a pineapple… Hand delivered directly to their desk with a hand written note, we wanted to get Londoners to send pineapples and spread the warm message that the pineapple symbolically holds. We wanted to make London feel a little bit smaller and friendlier. We created the hashtag ‘smallerworld’ to remind people of the message behind the campaign, and our message behind Unlease.
We knew Pineapple Today was quirky enough to gain significant attention. If 1 pineapple was sent to someone in an office with 40 people, that was 40 more people who knew about Unlease. By delivering the pineapples only to offices, we were breaking conventional marketing norms by entering spaces traditionally untouched by brands other than their own: London offices. The ‘send a pineapple to a friend’ aspect ensured natural virality, especially with everyone Instagram-ing and Tweeting their pineapple photographs.
From Goldman Sachs to Deliveroo to Google, we utilised the novelty of the exotic (and photographic) fruit, as well as the communal aspect of London’s open plan offices. The campaign made a very physical impression on potential customers, and we saw phenomenal viral growth within hours.
Through Pineapple Today, we’ve mostly targeted Londoners between the ages of 22 and 35. The natural virality of Pineapple Today has meant that our growth has been largely contained within our target market.
The demographic we’ve been reaching is largely comprised of renters and those who are most mobile. These are people who will go abroad for a few months, for work or travel, as well as people who face rental friction and need to get out of their 12-month contracts.
Pineapple Today has helped increase awareness of Unlease to a market which is already a crucial part of our community.
We launched round two of Pineapple Today on the 12th of September and this time round we’ve started charging £3.95 per pineapple.
In the next week we will have covered all of the fixed costs of running Pineapple Today (cyclist bags, t-shirts, tags etc.). Everything from this point will be profit.
When we ran Pineapple Today in mid July we received 10,000 orders in a few hours.
In 10 days we delivered our entire stock of 3,000 pineapples.
Here’s a map which shows where we delivered these 3,000 pineapples to: https://www.unlease.io/blog/unlease-pineapple-today/.
The July campaign saw a total of 405 conversions in 10 days.
Zero marketing spend = 1000% increase in traffic
Since re-launching, we’ve spent almost no money on marketing. We’ve seen a 1000% increase in traffic coming to Unlease, the majority of which are new users.
So far we’ve received around 1500 orders, running out of our pineapple stock in the first couple of days.
We’ve seen our community of pineapple-ers grow and grow and the response on social media has been phenomenal (search #smallerworld to check it out!). One of our pineapple-ers even asked a friend to be his best man through a pineapple!
Unlease has been further defined by Pineapple Today. It has captured our desire to bring hospitality, friendship and warmth to the cities that we launch in and the #smallerworld message is now more than ever a core part of our mission, our community and our culture.
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