Biggest fuck up?
It is difficult to single just one mistake out. I think the biggest mistake I would have made, and I see many other people repeating all the time, is not making a decision fast enough, meaning nothing gets done! What I mean by this is that we can overly worry about some decisions.
In the digital world we live in today, especially when it comes to marketing, everything is measurable. Far too often, I see people pondering a hypothesis of ‘What would happen if we did XYZ’.
My advice would be to just do it; we are never always going to get everything right, so measure the outcome and change what is obviously not working quickly. I guess the biggest mistakes are, therefore not changing something soon enough when you can see that it’s not working.
Two lightbulb moments occurred. The first was the invention of dotMailer. We initially started out as a web design and development company. We were always very product focused and had built a content management system and an ecommerce platform.
Having built so many websites, marketing them was key. It was obvious that email marketing would be the main driver for many of them. After a long day in the office, the team went for drinks in our local pub (The Treehouse South Croydon). We were busy discussing what would make a great email marketing system, and as the beer flowed, we quickly thrashed out the best way to track and record demonstrable results. It was the very next day we set about building what is now one of the best-known email marketing platforms in the world!
Business-wise, I think the biggest lightbulb moment was deciding to work ‘on the business’ and not ‘in the business’. What I mean by this is that we all often default to doing the work that we enjoy. In fact, many businesses start due to the passion that the founders have in that niche. For me, it was web development, and it was great fun selling in, delivering websites and getting my hands dirty.
The thing that massively changed the business and led to what we’ve built today is when myself and the other co-founders stopped doing this and let others do the work while we focused on developing and delivering growth strategies.
My tip would be to measure progress with process, not people. I’ve advised a number of companies over the years alongside building my own. Far too often, I hear people measuring company success by virtue of the number of people they employ.
When in start-up mode, it is exciting to take on your first team members. However, I caution that you should never get carried away with this. Staff are likely one of your biggest costs. As you scale and you grow into teams, it’s very easy for each team to suggest they need X number of new people to achieve their goals.
However, when you factor in all headcount requests across the entire business and make this visible to all, it soon becomes apparent that the budget doesn’t work. That’s not to say you can’t grow and scale; often, the processes or technologies used by the various teams are outdated and could present opportunities to work smarter and faster with the same headcount.
I recall attending the Deloitte Fast 50 EMEA awards. We were proud to be included in that group with a compound growth rate over 5 years of 600% (which, by the way, is much easier if you are a start-up and your base year is zero).
We were 10 years old at the time, so it was quite an achievement. I soon learnt that compared to the ultimate winner, who was also not a start-up, there was room for improvement as they had grown over 26,000% in the same period!
Having chatted with the owner, it really helped reinforce my belief in process – that process should not make the business too regimented. In the winner’s case, he stated that his staff needed to be flexible and learn to adapt: “Often a process we use at 9 am is outdated by lunchtime and modified by the end of play, ready for tomorrow”. It was this sort of thinking that led to such amazing growth in an orderly, scalable fashion.