Taskeater has recently crossed 500 employees, which is beyond what I could have ever imagined in the early days. What a journey it’s been!
In case you missed it, I wrote about the experience of building the company to the first 200 employees in an earlier blog post, however now I want to share some of my reflections on scaling up from there, and what we have learned along the way when building Taskeater.
When we hit around 50 employees, I read about the importance of being able to make the switch from being focused on building your service to focusing on building a company which in turn will deliver that service. This transition is critical for companies and can slow you down if you are not able to make it. In the early days of a startup everything is about product/service-market fit, meaning that all efforts are put towards building a service that customers want and you can deliver consistently. You also need to move fast to find that fit, or otherwise you will run out of resources. Concretely this meant that internally every decision was made by asking what I wanted to do, there was no long-term planning, and little effort was put into optimization of processes. This meant for example that we often spent time on things that maybe did not fuel growth, however I realised that the only thing we could control was how many hours we put in and that the more hours we worked, the more the business would grow. Optimization would come later once we figured out what worked and what didn’t.
Once we hit 50 employees it was clear that the founder-centric model of decision making was not sustainable and we had to start transitioning towards an organisation that could outlive any individual, especially me. Today at 500 employees I’m proud to say that if I got hit by a bus the company would continue to grow just as it has been doing, because we have successfully made that transition. Taskeater today is filled with professionals who are focused on independent decision making whether it comes to running their own teams or delivering work to their client.
You read about it all the time, but let me repeat it once again: you need an amazing team around you if you are going to scale a company. And with an amazing team, you need to have senior managers who strongly believe that everyone brings complimentary skills to the table.
Hiring senior managers is one of the toughest aspects of building a company, however, at the same time it is one of the most important things to focus on. The main conclusion I have arrived at when considering bringing someone on board is to ask yourself if they truly share the same values as you. Are you both in this to build a sustainable organisation or after a quick buck by wanting to exit the business in a few years? Are you both willing to sacrifice everything else in order to work long hours or is work-life balance a priority for sustainability? Do you both feel passionate about the company and truly excited to continue building it? Do you both see the company simply as a means for everyone to advance their own individual careers, or do you both care about seeing the company and the community around it prosper? Do you both trust each other?
I’ve learned that trusting your gut after having conversations with potential future hires is one of the best ways to go, and trying to be honest with yourself about whether you really believe someone is right for the job, or if you are hiring under pressure and just want to fill the role. Finally, if you’re values are aligned, try to also align your incentives so that everyone is focusing on the same goals and can feel that “if we all work together, work hard and the company grows, then we will all benefit together.”
Our industry has the word “process” even in its name (Business Process Outsourcing), and so building processes for our clients is just as important as building internal processes. When scaling up it becomes obvious when processes start to break when they hit capacity, and it will happen to every organisation. Some of the process challenges we have faced during rapid growth have included running out of desks for new employees, getting everyone’s key cards issued on time, and fitting everyone’s performance reviews into a manager’s busy schedule. Processes hitting their maximum capacity is not necessarily an issue, however what defines your organisation’s process maturity is how quickly can you react to replace outdated processes to address the new scale of the business. The optimal state is that processes are replaced proactively before they meet capacity, but even if you can’t quite get there, you should strive to have people ready with the right mentality to aggressively implement new processes to support further growth.
Technology continues to disrupt industries at a growing pace and companies not willing to embrace change tend to suffer. To me the prospect of having to innovate seemed daunting before, however I have seen that companies can build in a process of innovation, which is something we have done over the past 12 months. This begins with having people interested in figuring out how to improve existing services with the adoption of technology that is hitting the market. The beauty is that you don’t always need to be the one building new tools from scratch however you need to be aware of new relevant technology and be ready to adopt them as they become available. We often ask ourselves why would we put resources into building a tool of our own when other companies are spending tens of millions to build something way better which we can simply procure, usually at a good rate due to our higher volumes.
We are transitioning from being a traditional BPO company to becoming a technology-enabled services provider which uses both technology and human input to deliver the best possible process flow for our clients. The prospects of this are no longer daunting, but instead exciting due to the advantage we have of having embraced innovation in our organisation and, as they say, being willing to disrupt ourselves.
The next 500
There is a lot more I would love to write about (for example instilling corporate values, not getting distracted, dealing with growing bureaucracy, bouncing back from mistakes, etc) however I felt the areas mentioned above were particularly critical to get right in our journey. The next time I write a similar blog will probably be when we hit the 1000 employee mark, however, as I alluded to before, we are less focused on headcount now as we were before and more focused on service innovation through technology. I am in the camp that believes that technology will not leave masses of people unemployed, but instead that the combination of human input and technology can support the growth of both. I therefore hope to report back in the not-so-distant future that the introduction of technology has fueled our business further, helped us scale faster and helped us create even more jobs globally. In the meantime, I want to thank all our current and past employees for helping us build the company, and to all our clients who have trusted us to help them scale up their processes.