How to keep your culture while scaling your start-up

How to keep your culture while scaling your start-up

I’m currently working with the CEO of a start-up that’s on the brink of global expansion.

I was intrigued to find out about the company’s beginnings and background, before getting to work.

The business is based on founder and CEO Ben Nolan’s vision of enabling start up bands, musicians and creative performers to get access to high quality but low-cost merchandising. The solution Ben saw to this was to produce merchandised products on demand. This would enable up and coming artists to satisfy their (hopefully) burgeoning fan-base’s appetite for branded products, without facing the financial risk of ordering inventory that may not sell.

From these beginnings, the organisation has pivoted to become a much broader proposition, by partnering with leading brands and online retailers to reach a mass market. The breadth of the company’s offering is what lies behind their name – Evode – a reduction of the words ‘everything on demand’. The concept is working; this is a UK-based business that’s about to go global.

Portrait Ben Nolan
Ben Nolan

Evode are setting up in-house operations in the US and China, to compliment an outsourcing arrangement in Japan. They have a good business model, a strong network and funding. They also have a team, in the words of the CEO, Ben, they “can be truly proud of.” In fact, Ben attributes his organisation’s success to three things – the tenacity he learned in his early career of cold-calling sales; the lessons he learned from his previous start-ups and the strength of the core team. He explained how Evode was created from pivoting the original concept, but keeping some of the team together: “a business that has a good strong team…doesn’t have to fall flat because the business model didn’t work.”

We’re taking a more forensic look at the Evode culture: how it was created; what it embodies and what’s great about it, so we can decide how to retain the best of that culture while they scale.

One of the main challenges they’ve faced is the importance of choosing the right people to join the team. Ben realised that growing the team requires careful consideration and described how his initial recruitment process failed to deliver the right results. He started again with a process that reflected the outcome he wanted. He took a more personal approach to screening applicants, using informal telephone interviews and looking for ‘life skills’ rather than a list of outputs delivered in previous roles.

Although this approach absorbed at least 300 working hours for Ben alone, his recruitment drive has seen the organisation grow successfully from 7 to 22 employees. Ben describes his current team as “an absolutely incredible bunch.”

Having grown his UK team, Ben is now consciously considering how to maintain the energetic start-up culture he feels is critical to his business success. He places great value on getting to know each of his employees individually. As Evode has grown, he’s taken time to have a one to one discussion with all employees, every month. His reason for this – he understands that each person has individual motives and ambitions that should be respected and, wherever possible, supported and encouraged by their workplace objectives and their leadership team.

Start-up culture scaling workplace culture

As Evode is poised to grow globally, two key challenges we’re considering are how to maintain the start-up culture Ben values so deeply and how to replicate that culture in new global locations. Ben is aware he’ll have to be mindful of the societal and workplace norms of the countries he sets up in, so the challenge is not just about replicating the best of their own culture, but blending it sensitively with the prevailing cultures of the territories they expand into.

 Ben is planning to involve his team as much as possible in the benefits of globalisation. His view is that the exchange of skills and know-how will be more effective if there’s more personal contact across the organisation. He’s also aware it will open up development opportunities and he wants his team to have the confidence to take them. He assures them they have “the support to grow; the ability to go one step further knowing the business will back you to do that”, and he’s talking to his people about whether the chance to live and work abroad fits with their personal goals.

I love to hear a business leader like Ben talk with sincerity about the importance of people. His deep respect for individual perspectives and contributions is certainly a huge component of his winning formula. This proves the advice most professionals in people-related roles share: be clear about your purpose and conscious of your culture; listen to your people; galvanize them behind a vision that compels them to develop their capabilities and direct their energy into the achievement of their organisation’s aims.

If you want to learn more about how to maintain your start-up culture while you scale, contact us for a free 15 minute consultation and discover how we can help you.


This blog was first published on 23 October 2017.

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