When my cofounders and I started our second company, PayFit, we knew that we wanted to build fast, and we did just that. Since launching in mid-2016, we’ve ballooned from five people to 250. We have team members all over the world, with almost €20 million of VC investment behind us.
But alongside super-fast growth comes super-intense hiring. We’ve seen this firsthand. We’ve had to ask ourselves the following questions–how you can maintain cohesion, productivity, and happiness in workplaces where change happens so quickly?
We’ve had to figure out the answer to those questions as we go, and in the process, we learned a thing or two about building a killer team. Here are the lessons I learned:
It’s essential to look beyond the resume
I can’t stress how important it is to hire people for their values, rather than how good they look on paper. This isn’t something you can quantify in your interview process. For me, the four most important things to look for in candidates are humility, care, excellence, and passion. The job may go to the person who hasn’t got the textbook qualifications, but has the right attitude.
Before he joined Payfit, our lead on automating taxes across our French customer base was a manager in a restaurant. He did that for 15 years before looking for his next challenge. We were willing to give him a clean start because his skills (and potential for transferring those skills) were evident.
Founders need to enable their teams to change, too. We once hired a hydraulic systems engineer who had a methodological and quick mind. He swiftly became one of our best payroll experts. Then he learned how to code, and put that skill into practice by building our product. He was a genuine polymath and wanted to learn, and we reaped tremendous value as a company by giving him opportunities to stretch.
If you hire individuals that embody the right mind-set for your business, you can leave them to replicate the process across all aspects of your organizations. Hiring employees who are hungry to learn and contribute will get you much further than zeroing in on candidates who have the right pedigree.
Be prepared to fire people when necessary
If you’re building a fast-growth company, you need to acknowledge that your company’s needs will evolve very very quickly. That means that an employee who excelled in managing a team of five might not be the best person to lead a team of 20.
You need to set a risk tolerance for firing people: What are you willing to lose to get what you need? Defining an error rate at the outset can help contain it. A business that is firing 40-60% of new hires is doing something wrong, and that business will lose time and momentum.
You also have to be prepared to get things wrong. We once hired a product manager. His background was great, but the culture fit wasn’t. We believed that he was the right risk to take, and would be that standout success story. As it happens, he was not. He couldn’t deliver, and both sides became frustrated.
The thing to remember in these cases is that the individual in question may well feel the same way you do. Both he and I were on the same page in acknowledging that hiring him had been a poor decision, but we chose to deal with it in a tactful and caring way.
Don’t sacrifice happiness for growth
In our metrics-obsessed culture, it’s easy to prioritize growth above all else. But remember, you can’t build a successful company with unhappy employees, so that needs to be an equal priority for you in addition to growth. If a high-growth company prioritizes reaching targets at all costs, you’ll start to hire the wrong people, treat them poorly, and teach the wrong practices. That might result in mediocre work, which leads to not-so-desirable results, and probably won’t help your bottom line.
Make sure that you choose investors that understand you
Find venture capital investors who understand all of the above. Make your targets and values very clear to current and potential investors. If company culture is crucial to you, you need to look for the right long-term partner, rather than those who could give you the most money immediately.
The right investors can elevate your company, while the wrong investors can break it. Yes, finding the right partner can take time, but you’ll see the payoff in the long run.
Don’t focus on how “sexy” your company is
The Instagram era has given rise to the perception that entrepreneurship is “sexy.” In reality, building a business is a difficult process, and some of the most successful companies are not in industries that are “sexy.” At PayFit, we’ve disrupted the payroll industry. It is the mortar between every single business brick in the world, but most people don’t think about it at all.
Bear in mind that there are only a handful of people in the world who have (or have the resources) to work on something that they’re profoundly passionate about. Most people want to be part of building something they know is having a positive impact on others’ lives. They want a supportive, comfortable working environment with sound management and people around them. Those are the things that matter to them, and passion will grow from there.
Understand that you have to hold the same position and continuously learn new things at the same time
As a founder, building a killer team around you means doing two things at once: holding the same position, while taking on a new job every few weeks. As the organization grows, your role and responsibilities will change. But you still need to be there to communicate a clear and consistent vision.
For me, this means telling the entire team what is going on–including when it’s clear that someone is no longer a fit for the company. This isn’t easy to do, but the alternative is turning your head the other way and waiting for employees to quit, which can take a long time and significantly hinder progress in your business. Of course, throughout this process, the CEO or founder needs remain mindful that the process is far tougher for the person leaving the company–so use your language carefully, and treat them fairly.
Ultimately, the crux of effective team-building is to make sure that everyone is genuinely a part of the team at all times. And if being transparent and vulnerable as a leader is a part of achieving that, then you should take that risk.
Firmin Zocchetto is the CEO of PayFit–a SaaS company in the HR industry that employs over 200 people in France and the U.K. Firmin was also recently included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe cohort for 2019.