Building a Business on Core Beliefs
In this second installment of my blog series around building a business from the ground up, I cover one of the most important aspects following your purpose: your core beliefs. It is these beliefs that will determine how you will make decisions and what leadership qualities you will look for when you expand.
“Business models should be constructed so that they reinforce your core identity. Somebody once said that you can only trust people who think, say, and do the same thing. By the same token, I think you can only trust companies that are thinking, saying, and doing the same thing. That’s the consistency that you need.”
Satya Nadella’s statement here is much easier said than done, but in order for your company to have the same ethos with 1,000 employees as when it had 3, you must try to follow this philosophy.
We built Cloudreach on a set of core beliefs (thinking) which were not always outspoken (saying), however continued to lead the way throughout the past 10 years (doing).
Break with Convention
We started a new business in a new industry: cloud systems integration. Because this was a new frontier, we had the opportunity to break with conventional IT industry practices; from recruitment approaches to marketing to naming of conventional teams and roles, we broke convention every step of the way.
In his excellent book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Hairi talks about the fact that, if it wasn’t for a handful of people in the Middle East deciding to break with convention to create an agriculture-based society, the world would still have been dominated by groups of hunter-gatherers roaming the planet.
Imagine a group of hunters stalking past a newly-built house and seeing a farmer slave away to grow crops, herd animals (wild animals, as no domestic animals existed at that time of course) and tend to the daily chores. They would have thought the farmer was crazy: all you needed to do was to walk to the next forest, kill a deer and have food for a week!
These early farmers were willing to break convention because they believed in the possibilities of crops and farming. They believed in a new way forward that was ultimately more efficient and scalable. They persevered and clearly succeeded, since there are no hunter-gatherers around any more (except for sport) and homo sapiens have developed ever-better systems of farming to feed the world.
Practice What You Preach
Throughout my career, it has been a pet peeve of mine that companies would be willing to sell solutions which they themselves don’t use. This completely undermines their credibility and the value of their product. Being a cloud integration company, we set out to adopt and run Cloudreach only using cloud solutions, which meant never owning a server. Our cloud-based partner systems run the gamut, from SaaS (xero.com for accounting, Google Apps (now G-Suite) for collaboration and email, Harvest for time tracking, Salesforce for CRM) to hosting applications in AWS, and our open-source telephony platform (Asterisk) which connects back to the traditional telephone networks. All calls to and from Cloudreach since early 2010 have been routed through AWS (and lately also Azure). How about that!
No Room for Numpties
This might sound a bit harsh, perhaps, but with a small and fast growing company, there is simply no room for people who cannot contribute in a tangible way. This is honestly more than just being smart, though. You also must be driven, respectful, attentive, open to learning, and, even more importantly, sharing what you’ve learned. That’s how you grow the whole team - no room for hoarders. These were some of the key qualities we looked for when we started and continue to value in new team members.
Succeed Through Merit
Most companies talk about it, but have difficulty following through, often due to size. When you are just starting out, you don’t always have the option to hire the very best, but large companies are just as guilty of non-meretricious personnel decisions. It all starts with the desire and attitude your leadership communicates. Priority should be given to hardworking, smart, driven people who actively and positively contribute to the culture and common good of the business. This merit system, if relentlessly adhered to, allows you to hire and promote those that will carry out your vision, whether you have one office, or are expanding globally. There are probably those reading this blog who will point out that we didn’t always adhere to this. Leading and growing people is the most important and complex element of building and running a business. No one will ever get it 100% right!
Last but certainly not least: your company values. Despite this term, these are not the company’s values; they are the values of the people in the company. Values are there for one thing and one thing only: to be the cultural lodestar. With the wrong concept of values, employees will be lost at sea.
In the case of Cloudreach we wanted to use our company values to drive our business forward and to guide our decision making on difficult and high-impact issues. By the Spring of 2011, we had around a dozen employees and we asked them a simple question: who are we and what do we want to stand for? Through a one day workshop we created a number of principles and values which we thought should guide us. The leadership then distilled these down to a set of four values.
Respect the individual and individuality
Promote personal growth
Be easy to work with
Be one step ahead
These statements are simple, yet powerful. They define how we interact with each other and how we value ourselves. These values have underpinned our recruiting, culture building, and the development of our talent pipeline. Moreover, they have determined our external relationships as well. By creating simple, repeatable concepts amongst each other, it’s quite easy to treat your customers and partners the same way.
Building a company from nothing is incredibly hard, but having a guide makes it easier. The guide here is your beliefs and values. These must be short and memorable, so that they can be digested and imbued easily within each new employee. Only then can they think, say and do the same thing and ultimately drive the company to the success you envisioned.