Scaling a business is not an easy ride. Founders are faced with challenges from all angles, from ramping up their infrastructure and processes so that they’re able to double their team headcount, to building a product or service that works across multiple markets, to worrying about company culture and values which can easily get diluted as a startup scales.
But the process can be made easier with some guidance and advice from those who have been through it already. That’s why we’re starting our Scaleup Series, where we’ll be interviewing our brilliant founders and C-suite members, and discovering what they’ve learnt so far on their journey from idea, to pre-seed, to seed, to Series A.
Kicking off our series is Tom Watson, Co-Founder and CTO of HubbleHQ. Tom speaks about his experience scaling the tech team, and he shares some excellent advice on how to find the right investors, how to maintain a good relationship between co-founders and more:
Prefer to read rather than watch? No problem – here’s all you need to know:
How was the idea of HubbleHQ born:
Tom: The idea of HubbleHQ was born out of Entrepreneur First, where my co-founder and I met. Tushar had the idea of starting a business similar to AirBnB but for commercial space. Off the back of that, we spoke to startup founders in our network and we discovered that these founders were struggling with finding an office space.
How did you go about scaling the tech team?
Tom: When scaling the tech team, I think about the people, the process and the technology. And for each of those factors, I make sure that we’re not prematurely optimising or scaling them. It’s very easy to think about what the perfect process might be when we’re one hundred people, but that’s not necessarily correct for right now.
The other thing when it comes to scaling is hiring the right people. In the early days, we used to employ people in our network but now we have to cast our net a lot wider in order to find great people.
How would you describe your management style? And has this changed as your team has gotten bigger?
Tom: I would describe my management style as fairly relaxed. I hire people that are better than me and then I get out of their way so they can do their job, and give them as much autonomy as possible. In the early days that worked really well, and it works pretty well now, too – but the thing I’ve had to adapt as we’ve grown and scaled is that extra element of leadership and motivation for my team, so they can really drive towards their goals and understand the vision and direction we’re going in as a company.
How do you know an investor is a good match for your business?
Tom: When looking for an investor, look at their thesis and portfolio. Investors will have a thesis and particular industries that they are interested in, and probably think there is a lot of innovation to be had there. So, you can view whether your business is a good match.
What is your best piece of advice for young startups looking for investment?
Tom: Looking for investment is a game of lines and not dots. You have to build relationships with investors early on in the process and not just start talking to them when you need money. Investors will want to join you on your journey rather than just give you money. So, you need to put the work in now to start developing those relationships, ask them what you should be thinking about as you build your business and then when you are ready to raise money, you can go back to them and pitch.
What’s the key to a good relationship between founders?
Tom: The key to a good relationship between founders is open communication, so making sure that you’re always talking. I think that one of the things that happens a lot, especially as you grow, is that you become more and more siloed and specialised in your role.
It’s also important to give each other constructive criticism and feedback. But equally stay humble and remember that you’re both learning as you go, so you have to forgive each other for your mistakes and keep pushing each other to get better and better.
How do you manage your time/workload/stress levels as a co-founder and CTO?
Tom: I manage my stress levels as a co-founder and CTO by making sure that the business is not my whole identity. I think that’s really important for a founder, especially as you grow and scale. Otherwise what happens is you devote your entire life to the business, which often causes burnout and leads to you worrying about the risk of ‘what if this fails’.
I make sure I spend a lot of time on myself by having downtime and hobbies that make me more than just a business. And in the long run, that in itself gives back to the business because I’m happier, healthier, and more productive.
What advice would you give to a startup entrepreneur taking their first steps?
Tom: The advice I’d give to startup entrepreneurs is to always listen to your customers. It might sound obvious but it’s so important that you get continual feedback and talk to customers about your business. You will always get opinions and ideas about your business from advisors, investors, friends and family but the most important feedback comes from your customers. And you need to make sure that when you have conflicting feedback, you’re always thinking from first principles about what you believe rather than just listening to what others think you should do.