Startup to Scaleup: A personal growth journey

When James and James was started, the founders were 23 years old and the only two employees. A decade later it would be nearer 200 staff, and require very different skills to run it.

Startup to Scaleup: A personal growth journey

When James and James was started, the founders were 23 years old and the only two employees. A decade later it would be nearer 200 staff, and require very different skills to run it.

Entrepreneur and CEO are possibly the vaguest job titles in existence; the skills required to run a business of two people are a world away from running one with a hundred, and yet this is the demand placed on many successful founders. So what happens on that journey, and how do you learn on the job if there’s no one above you? James Hyde explains.

We started James and James Fulfilment with the goal to solve a problem – to make a real-time cloud based fulfilment platform – not with a business plan. On that journey we could never have imagined the changes that would have to happen to our jobs, and the roles that we would eventually end up doing.

As a shoestring startup, initially we did everything ourselves; packing the day’s orders, writing code, building the website, marketing, sales, customer service, even building our plasterboard office and laying the carpet. We did literally everything.

Whilst many people have visions of hugely funded startups, hiring the very best staff and contractors from day one, there is a lot of benefit from doing it yourself in the beginning. Until you achieve product-market-fit (the point you have several paying customers), then you really want to be involved in everything – except maybe laying carpet. Only by doing the work, speaking to clients and understanding what sells can you build a great product.

Once you’ve mastered the doing, and as Engineers we were good at doing, we had to hire other people so we could scale. This broadly involved directing; telling other people exactly what to do, to replicate exactly what we had been doing. Some people call this micro management. It’s a very difficult place for most founders to get out of – it sucks you in and traps you. It’s also a hugely frustrating place to be, because invariably no one ever does it quite like you wanted. Many would wish it was possible to replicate more of themselves, which would alleviate all of their problems!

And so comes the realisation; that what is required is a different tactic. Letting go. The giving of responsibility for outcomes (not jobs) and empowering people to solve their own problems. This comes quicker for some people than others, and for some founders the penny never drops. 

Management is something you generally learn from seeing it being done, or by being managed, and this is where two problems arise for the founder. Many, like us, had no experience of managing and being managed, and as the most senior people in the business there is no one above you to ask for advice. (It’s generally ill advised to tell staff that you don’t know what you’re doing and ask for help from them).

Luckily there are a wealth of books on the topic, some better than others. I’ve also used business coaches, mentors, connected with other founders and sought out advice from others outside of the business. None of those are an alternative for experience however, and so the journey of staff management is a bumpy one that can take a while to perfect.

Many founders are very good at leadership, but struggle with management. People often confuse the two but they are very different. Creating a vision, explaining it with passion and getting others to believe in it often comes easily; managing day-to-day activities, monitoring KPIs, dealing with performance and the invariable personal issues of employees is a different skill altogether.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to hire your leadership team on day one, or to have had senior management experience in a previous job, then the journey from startup to scaleup can be a very difficult one. Learning whilst doing can be emotionally tough, especially when faced with the pressures of business and sitting in a very lonely seat at the top.  Not to mention that this learning and personal development has to happen whilst still running a fast-growing company, with more reports and people to manage every single month.

It has been one hell of a journey and finding the time to grow yourself, whilst also trying to run and grow a business, is definitely one of the biggest challenges for younger founders. 

James Hyde
James Hyde

Share via
Copy link