Being CEO of a start-up with triple-digit growth
Every start-up goes through several life stages. At some point, it stops being a start-up and becomes a “scale-up” company instead. That time has come for Easygenerator. This means my role as a CEO is changing significantly. I am writing this blog post mainly to give myself a moment to reflect on what this means.
We decided to start developing a very easy, web-based eLearning authoring tool in the spring of 2013, and we launched our first paid plan (our minimum viable product) in 2014. Since then, we have experienced revenue growth of at least 100% every year. That has brought us to our current level, where we are ready to enter the scale-up phase.
Leading instead of Managing
Today, Easygenerator is a 30-employee company (divided over four countries), and we are still growing. When we started, I was not only in charge of marketing, sales, and finance but was also the product owner and manager, head of HR, recruitment officer and customer success manager. Additionally, I was also our “evangelist,” writing and speaking about changes in the learning landscape.
At our current stage, we employ specialists for product development, marketing, sales, operations, customer success, and finance. Last year, we started laying the groundwork to enable us to scale up. I started turning over responsibilities to our new people so I could focus completely on setting the direction for Easygenerator, guarding our company’s values and engaging in the L&D space and HR world as an evangelist, or “thought leader,” if you like.
Setting direction and guarding values in a fast-growing company
My natural skillset makes me better suited to lead (to give direction) than to manage (organizing and controlling things). I am glad we have established a team that enables me to focus on leading.
Before, I was in direct contact with everybody. I “lead by example” and was working closely with almost everybody and I had personal, monthly one-on-ones with all employees. I transferred my vision, beliefs, and values to everybody in person.
That has changed now. In 2017, we created a management team (MT). My colleagues from the MT have taken over the direct steering of their teams. That means I no longer work on a daily basis with everyone. We have weekly MT meetings, and I have monthly one-on-ones with my MT members only. As a result, I have to find new ways of ensuring that the company’s values and beliefs remain at the forefront and that we keep moving in the right direction.
In Q4 of 2017, we decided to adopt the “Scaling Up” methodology. This guides us and adds structure to our growth process. When you start scaling up, you must define a one-page strategic plan (OPSP). It needs to contain your purpose, mission, vision and core beliefs. Our purpose, mission, and vision were already established and only needed tweaking, but our core beliefs had never been written down. For me, this meant putting our beliefs in writing and prioritizing them. What are the three most important values that you want your company (and your product and service) to reflect? For us, they are:
- Building trustful relationships
Of course, these terms can be defined in greater detail. To “building trustful relationships,” for example, we added: “Treating prospects, customers and colleagues the way you would like to be treated.” This has turned out to be a very valuable addition. It is a simple line that guides us and helps us make the right decisions.
Leading by example
Although we have grown significantly, we are still a small company. I still interact directly with many of my colleagues, which means I can still lead by example. I still have to make sure that I personally live and act by the rules we have set, but it also means that I will intervene if I see or hear things that I believe are not compliant. I have to guard these core beliefs actively.
We are growing, so we are constantly looking for new colleagues. Getting the right people onboard is important from a business perspective but also from a “cultural” perspective. I need to make sure new employees will share our core values and beliefs. This is why I talk to every candidate. My focus is not on assessing their marketing, sales or development skills, but on checking whether they are a match for our core values and beliefs.
From managing to leading
In day-to-day operations, my role is changing from management to leadership. I am leading instead of managing now. I am only involved in operations when necessary.
Guarding the company’s direction is another main task. I have an idea, a vision of the direction in which our product and company should grow. We are only at the very early stages of that master plan. I have my product manager, who leads the product development as I supply him with new ideas. I am also involved when he needs to set priorities for development. This way, I can assure that the product development will go in the right direction and support our vision. Keeping our eyes on the long-term goals and not settling for short-term results is a big part of that.
Spreading the word
In addition to the aspects mentioned above, we decided that one of my main contributions to the company is spreading the word: to be the evangelist. I used to do a lot of writing and presenting, but, over the last two years, my focus has been on growing the company. Now, one of my main goals is to write and speak about the changes in eLearning and the direction in which we see L&D heading. I will also be writing more personal notes like this one; you will be hearing and seeing a lot more of me.