The other day, we overheard a story about a young startup packing products into boxes for their biggest order yet on the floor of the founder’s freezing garage. A few hours later, their back and knees were aching and the founder turned to his employee and said: “You know what we really need?” The employee answered: “Yes! Tables, a heater and more hands to help.” The founder was incredulous: “No, silly, we need knee pads!”
When you first start out in business - survival, not scale, is often front of mind. You’re right up against it on a daily basis, thinking about how to fight the biggest, most threatening fires ‘now’ while planning for ‘tomorrow’ takes a backseat due to necessity.
Yet it’s well known that achieving BIG goals tomorrow starts with putting in place small habits today. Business growth doesn’t just happen; it’s planned for, fought for and hard won.
Cat Young, Operations Manager at GD1, has been involved in GD1’s growth from nascent fund to raising one of the largest injections of capital into the NZ tech ecosystem of 2021. She’s a firm believer that a ‘forward mindset’ should be central to every decision you make when it comes to systems, processes, procedures and hiring - even when only just starting out.
She shares some practical tips around how to move on from a ‘survivalist’ mentality.
Not just plasters; but future-proofing as well!
Wearing multiple hats is part and parcel of what it means to be the owner of a brand-new business. Your staff numbers might be growing; but you’re not quite ready to hire an HR professional, so ‘tag, you’re it’. Your pipeline is growing and you’d love a dedicated professional to follow up with prospects but you don’t quite have the budget to hire a full-time BD manager, so ‘tag, you’re it’.
But while an ability to be a ‘sticky plaster’ across multiple functions fixes time and resource constraints in the short term; it’s crucial to remember that you won’t always be where you are now. When you do have more time; and when you do have more resources, you don’t want to spend them on undoing - or repairing - what was done inefficiently in the past.
Cat recommends allocating just a little more time than you usually would to properly think through decisions relating to ‘how things are done’, with the goal of either future-proofing them; ensuring smoother passage when the same thing crops up again; or at the very least, helping to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Failing to use a password protector when you have just two staff seems innocuous. An email hack wouldn’t be a huge risk because you don’t have any enterprise clients. But fast forward a few months and imagine that same hack happening and reaching an important client who you have been talking to about confidential financial processes or transactions. A strong foundation is a springboard for growth; whereas a lack of business fundamentals can easily cause slip-ups when it matters most in future.
“Plugging holes is effective in the short term, but the leaks don’t just go away. Taking time to fix them or even to identify why they happened in the first place will get you a lot closer to where you want to be in future,” says Cat.
Stop looking down; start looking up…
While there are always near-term needs in any business - things that require you to ‘drop everything’ at the drop of a hat - it’s crucial to ensure that these don’t overwhelm your ability to look up from the day-to-day.
“I once had a senior manager instruct me that I needed to be 100% focussed on something urgent that had come up. I replied that although they would get 100% of my energy and effort, I was always going to retain 20% of my focus on preventing these types of ‘urgent surprises’ from happening again. This is a mindset shift and an important one,” explains Cat.
As you look ahead, - are you thinking about where you want to be in future, how to get there and what you might need? What challenges might be in the way? And what decisions will get you there faster? Are you honing your radar for opportunities? Are you sharpening your appetite for risk?
“This is the difference between working in as opposed to working on your business. The former is necessary; but the later is too and shouldn't be an optional extra,” explains Cat.
Don’t leave the important things to chance…
People are the lifeblood of any business’ success both now and into the future; yet when it comes to culture, this is often left to chance, taking a backseat to operations. Because culture is such a key enabler of strategy, taking active and early steps to ensure you’re investing in yours is not only a smart move, but a strategic one too.
At GD1, the first and most important step in our approach to culture has always been, quite literally, to hire for it. We help companies to ‘believe bigger’, so we seek out people who believe in the power of transformative ideas. We believe that VC is enhanced by diverse perspectives; so we hire diverse people. We believe the best ideas come from unconventional thinkers; so we hire those willing to colour outside of the lines. When it comes to an ability to identify, encourage and maximise the potential in others, we look for leaders who recognise strengths and allow staff to work to them. We place strong emphasis on adding value; so we hire people willing to work for our portfolio companies as though they were their own company.
“Your values and your culture bear thinking about from day dot as they set the tone for hiring and inspiring your people. ‘Start as you mean to continue’ is a key piece of advice. It doesn’t happen by chance, but by design. Once we have the right people on board, we don’t stop there. We will always prioritise and keep on prioritising culture - every voice and every idea is welcomed,” advises Cat.
Knee pads will only get you so far. Enhancing your focus on future-proofing the foundations of your business; calving out time to think strategically about the future; and setting up a culture that will support that future are three things founders can work on today to improve their chances of success tomorrow.