It’s been a while! I have been busy getting Vistalworks - my startup number 5 - off the ground and I know you know how all consuming that job is. But we’re 9 months in, the first version of the technology is live, I have an amazing team - and you’re questions keep coming (as do mine!) So it felt like the right time to record another 10 Entrepreneur Agony Aunt episodes, the first of 2019, starting with this one.
Building successful teams, and attracting, rewarding and retaining talent is the most requested topic on this podcast - even more so than funding - and in this episode we explore hiring interns and your first junior staff.
My guest is Joy Lewis, CEO of Adopt An Intern. AAI has just placed their 1500th candidate into paid work and in Scotland is the go-to choice for startups making their first hires. Supporting startups and socially-driven organisations to find the right candidates is in their DNA - I use them for my junior hires and I can’t recommend them and the talent they have helped us find highly enough.
Joy Lewis founded Adopt An Intern in 2009 and ran it as a programme within the Centre for Scottish Public Policy until 2012 when she it spun out to become a not-for-profit company. Since then AAI has widened their message of inclusive employment beyond internships to permanent positions and various social impact projects, including breaking down barriers for disabled graduates, women returners and Scotland’s growing minority ethnic population, promoting equality of opportunity in the UK job market.
In the episode we discuss:
- How to think about and prepare for your first hires
- What a good brief of candidate requirements looks like
- Why pay matters and what fair looks like in a cash strapped startup
- What does diversity and equality of opportunity mean, how do you create it, and why does diversity matter so much in a startup?
- Interviewing inexperienced staff, when you’re not necessarily that experienced yourself
- What next once you've found your intern/hire if you've never managed people before
- Tips to help more experienced founders build productive teams
Alison Grieve, founder and CEO of G-Hold - a multi-purpose ergonomic handhold that can be placed onto any type of tablet or reader - sells her product worldwide through partners like Microsoft Surface, Amazon, Apple and Home Shopping Network. Having successfully cracked delivering sales volume, unit profitability, international IP protection, managing a complex export business and moving back to onshore manufacturing, she joins me to advise a founder looking for advice on how to internationalise their startup business and sales channels.
Building a successful startup and product or service is all about execution, but execution shouldn't be blind. This episode looks at the research and validation questions to ask, customer feedback at the product development stage, how to prioritise features and ideas in or out of scope, and what 'good enough' looks like at the early stage. Guest Stephen Budd has an unusual mix of research, data analytics, and product management skills and has brought software products to market in multiple countries, and led the product management of solutions that have been named eCommerce Innovation of the Year and Best New Product. His customer and market validation work for private and public sector clients has ensured some truly terrible product ideas have gone back to the drawing board, saving heartache and money for all involved, and has helped refine ideas with an inkling of potential into solutions with a robust market opportunity and clear value proposition.
Organic farmer and premium food brand producer Endrina Maxwell is one of the most opportunistic and inspiring entrepreneurs to join me on the podcast yet. She explains how she has maximized value and competitive advantage at every stage of the food production process, from innovative fish farming to organic seed, feed and manure production - and in her latest venture the NutriSecret range of healthy, chemical-free food products and cooking oil. We cover brand, differentiation, pricing, benefits not features and how to effectively diversify to reduce risk and pursue market opportunities. She shares her personal tips on finding purpose, focus, and how she uses goals and planning to drive her onward.
Entrepreneur Dr James McIlroy is founder & CEO of EnteroBiotix, an award-winning and rapidly expanding biotechnology company that he started while at medical school. EnteroBiotix is focused on a whole new field of science and medicine, using the body’s own microorganisms to prevent and treat debilitating infections and diseases. James joins me to discuss practicalities of managing an incredibly busy workload, how he learned to delegate and focus on high yield outcomes - and why he has decided that now is the time to step back as CEO and bring someone in to help him scale the business, while he continues his medical training.
This episode I’m talking about quitting. And I’m talking to myself, because when you have a job, have a company, have investors, have staff - there are some things you just can’t say out loud without major consequences. “I quit” is one of them. So based on my own experiences, and the many conversations had with other founders & CEOs feeling trapped in their startups, here's the if, when, why and how of quitting in your startup.... Quitting your role, quitting the company, exiting a market, project or product - and winding up your startup completely.
CEO, Chairman and NXD Kenny Fraser advises a solo founder having an existential crisis about what their role as CEO should be, urges entrepreneurs not to neglect their own personal and professional development - and advises a founder to forget everything they've heard about sales and commissions, in order to ensure their team remains aligned to common goals and a shared compensation structure. Great insights on people, teams, incentives and the growth mindset.
In a very frank monologue episode, Vicky urges entrepreneurs to pay themselves more and dives into the when, what and how to plan for a salary and the things people don't tell you about startup founders personal finances (or lack of them). Clearly, on a roll, and without pausing for breath, Vicky also covers financing your startup in desperate times, what worked and didn't work for her as her company faced running out of money, and what to do and not to do when there are only a few weeks of cash left in the bank.
As businesses grow, they hit key inflection points that mean the old tactics don't work anymore. The interplay of people, structures and process have to be updated as a startup develops and so you have to change how you and your people operate within your company. Mark gives very practical advice on how to recognize and survive these inflection points that increase frustration and reduce productivity. He explains how devolving decision making, growing your own people, encouraging them to look outside for inspiration and setting an expectation of world-class excellence maximizes the chances of surviving the organizational challenges that come with growth.
The how, why and what you need to know about flexible and remote working with Dana Denis Smith. After realising her first business could not scale, Dana founded Obelisk Support to keep City lawyers, especially mothers, working flexibly around their personal commitments and to provide clients with quality legal support solution onshore. She now manages 1500 remote working lawyers, with over 1 million hours of capacity, and was named by The Times as one of UK's Top 50 Employers for Women and Outstanding Innovator by Legal Week for getting alternate ways of working accepted. "I don't care to be a sexy business owner, I want a sustainable business for the long-term".
Back by popular demand, Mark Logan joins me to talk about why founders block their company's success if they don't learn how to manage their idea flow and communication processes. We explore how product market fit is necessary, but not sufficient, the MVP trap, how to surface bad news internally and why so many startups are in the process of failing slowly. Mark is former Skyscanner COO and IOD Director of the Year.
How do you iterate your way to product market fit without scaring your investors? And what are the best practices as your company grows to multiple locations, or your team is spread across several sites? Tom Adeyoola, CEO and Founder of fashion technology company Metail, has grown his startup to over 100 people, raised $20million in strategic investment and had offices in both London and Cambridge from day one. He joins Vicky Brock to share the very deliberate people management processes he has evolved to develop his teams and combat any feeling of us and them. He also talks about how Metail looked beyond domestic markets and use the concept of 10x improvements to ensure that the products they bring to market are positioned in a way that will deliver sufficiently disruptive change.
Sales expert, author and entrepreneur Jim Sterne talks about how to land your first four sales, pricing those early sales, and how to hire and compensate sales professionals. He also advises founders on how to avoid the pressure to give away your time and expertise for free. He urges: "if someone ever tells you as a founder to hire a sales-person, listen to them - sales comes first. Sales is a skill that can be mastered over time, but that takes talent and experience - and of course - experience costs money!"
Founder of tourism companies spanning two continents and working with entrepreneurs in Malawi and the UK, Kate Webb of Orbis Expeditions advises a founder wanting to build a business with social purpose in developing regions. In this fascinating discussion, Kate shares her learnings from over a decade of entrepreneurship in Africa, and why she so strongly believes in pursuing business and economic development, instead of charitable aid.
Retail technologist Cathy McCabe talks about finding good technical hires for your startup. She believes you need high-performance individuals who can wear different hats. Hungry, ambitious generalists who want to learn and do different roles - but with that comes the challenge of high maintenance.
As a former retail CIO turned tech startup CEO, she also advises how technology entrepreneurs can better sell to large retailers and brands. “Constantly be looking at the pipeline and how you’re growing the business - you have to focus relentlessly on your product. You can’t just hand the solution over and move on. You have to really help them adapt to make sure that what your solution is promising is actually delivered and continues to deliver.”