A couple of weeks ago we had a great Seedcamp Breakfast at Return Path‘s London offices. Matt Blumberg, founder and CEO of the global leader in email deliverability gave us some great insights into how he grew his company to more than 200 employees since the founding date in 1999. His story was especially interesting because Return Path is now active on multiple continents – a very difficult challenge for some of the Seedcamp companies who are spreading to different geographies already early in their development.
Matt took us through his 7 ideas and provided a lot of background and good anecdotes to support his theses:
- Surround yourself with the best and brightest
The first and foremost lesson was to hire the smartest and best people -and you should not be afraid of being less smart than them. As soon as you compromise on the quality of your colleagues and employees, the quality of work will slip – after all, they will be even more afraid of being surpassed by smarter hires. Creating a spirit of excellence is key to ensure long term success.
- Create an environment of trust
Being there for every employee, in good and bad times, creates the kind of trust that can not be bought. Taking risk is important when building trust, but the effort will come back. One excellent example was how Return Path prepared for board meetings: the decks would be sent around to the whole office, so everybody would know what the company had planned. A very open and trusting environment indeed.
- Manage yourself very, very well
An apt description for the issues with self management is what Matt called the “French Fry Problem”: you can always eat one more. The need to manage oneself and call it a day at certain points is important to not burn out and lose sight of the bigger picture.
- Be the consummate host
At Return Path, this means free beers on Fridays for the whole company. Matt would start back in the day to serve everybody a drink, to show his appreciation of work and the team. From another view, building a team is similar effort as throwing a great party: you need the right guests, have fun, and control the black sheep. Being a great host goes a long way to make it a success.
- Be the ultimate enabler
Enabling people to do great is actually quite easy: don’t be a bottle neck to their work! Running great and efficient meetings is one important part of this – keep them short and efficient.
- Let people be people
Creating a great work-life balance is important to ensure long term success – even when it comes to crunch time every now and then. Matt told us how sabbaticals and other benefits would go great lengths to keep employees happy and motivated.
- Create a thankful atmosphere
Not only giving feedback and thank you’s during review time, but saying thanks and giving out personal gifts and small notes are a key part to the culture at Return Path. Peer recognition is important not only to make individuals feel good, but also to motivate and bond inside teams.
We had a lot of discussions and feedback around these ideas, and it was great to hear from a veteran how he handled the issues to build a great company. Many of the Seedcamp companies are now in the process of building out their team – not a trivial effort.