What our portfolio is proud of and what they struggle with…

 

Want an insight into what’s going on inside our portfolio?  

We hosted our recent CEO dinner and Siobhan asked the great question to each of the 10 attendees: what are you recently most proud of and what are you most challenged by right now?

Conveniently, and entirely without design, every single challenge could be categorised as either a Talent & People one or a Go To Market (GTM) one. Having our People & Culture lead, Anouk, and GTM lead, Siobhan, at the dinner was useful, to say the least! I didn’t have to say much. Just tapped in 4 digits at the end to make sure we were welcome back at the Six Storeys in the future.

The GTM challenges that sparked most conversation were around how to deal with a global Enterprise Customer extending a pilot despite the results of the pilot far exceeding expectations set. Advice ranged from “just turn them off” to suggesting a lower fidelity service until they pay to finding other startups that have sold into the same department to learn from their experience. Ultimately broad advice was to talk to the project lead as off the record as possible to find out if he even knows the cause of the delay and to find their way up the chain to the cause of the delay.  

At a talk hosted by Draper Esprit in San Mateo a few weeks ago (we were invited as they are an L in the fund), their GTM advisor talked to this specific point – ensuring that when starting a pilot you and the client are crystal clear on exactly what will happen depending on what outcome you achieve, so this kind of situation is less likely.  Annoying thing is, our portfolio company did this, but guess who holds more cards…

On the People side, I shoehorned two typical scaling issues in – how to best manage comms across multiple offices and larger teams after a big funding round when to date you’ve been tight knit and in a single office. Professor Robin Dunbar came up with Dunbar’s Number of 150, the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.” A problem successfully scaling startups everywhere have to grapple with.

Charlie Osmond, CEO of Triptease swears by Slack, Zoom and Google Docs. “For Singapore from NYC, Slack is great as I am often at home on Slack at 8.30pm and Singapore is waking up 8.30am. If they see me online they can jump on a video call instantly, no friction…We also hold a weekly meeting the UK and USA dial in and Singapore watch the video together in the morning.”

James Hind, CEO of Carwow, had similar thoughts:  “Getting decent conference call/video software, made a big difference. We use Gsuite hardware, not crazy expense, works well – https://gsuite.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/products/hangouts-meet-hardware/

Paul Coggins, CEO of Adludio, with two offices in each of the US, Europe and Asia, raised a word of caution: “written communication is often more detrimental that positive, as things get lost in cross country meaning… The one thing that does work is face to face communication. Last year we flew some of our APAC office over for the Xmas party. If we could afford it, I’d do twice a year at least. Failing that weekly zoom meetings are a must.”

One of our CEOs has also closed a Series A recently and is professionalising the HR side of the business and was fretting over how to best deal with salary reviews for the first time. Anouk gave strong advise on ensuring that the pay philosophy, principles and process was clear to the team and that senior managers should be empowered within the process. Anouk is working with the CEO and his team to make sure this process runs smoothly and fairly and is engaging for all.

Another three are in the typical bind of being able to sell but not having the team to deliver, either because they don’t have the money (they are in the middle of their fund-raise) or have just raised and can’t find the talent quick enough. It is a candidate driven market right now. The best talent is in high demand and building a reputation as a great employer takes time. How you sell your vision, your mission and what your company is all about is critical. But hard!

This represents under half our portfolio so not comprehensive, but given 100% of the challenges revolve around GTM and Talent, we are very very pleased to have Anouk and Siobhan on our team. Prof Noam Wasserman, another speaker at the Draper Esprit conference, reminded us that 66% of the causes of high potential (i.e. funded) startup failure is down to people. The next biggest cause, GTM.  Double confirmation. The real excitement though was that when one CEO called out their challenge – there were 15 other CEOs giving insight alongside Anouk & Siobhan. That’s the real power of the ecosystem. Combining expert input with those who have been through it before.  Having a voice to express a challenge where others nod and say – “Yes – we get you. Here’s one approach we used to deal with the issue”

You may be waiting for the list of proud achievements. Here they are:

  • Great GTM iteration process working fast
  • Small team getting stuck into problems they weren’t hired to do in order to meet client needs
  • User growth
  • Great results from a pilot – 6x expectations in terms of metrics
  • Building a factory by negotiating payments spread over 6 years
  • Carwow now a bigger YouTube channel that TopGear – world’s largest
  • Team managing a resignation process without any input from CEO who was off grid
  • Closing an investment round
  • Using a very lean engineering team to deliver to a massive customer
  • Having an idea in Jan, getting funding in July and customers in Nov

In the challenging role of CEO, building a global company from it’s startup origins, there will be many issues along the way, the balance is to celebrating the wins on regular basis and those are many and varied. Being part of that journey with you – it’s why we love our job.

 

adrian
Adrian Lloyd
Partner
Half Swiss. China obsession at Oxford. Tech obsession at Stanford GSB. Strategy consulting to Venture Capital. Tennis, skiing, Cresta riding. 4 young children, a boxer. Fabulous artist wife, Print-maker.

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