Spektrix has been really lucky enough to have grown significantly over the past few years. Since the start of 2015, we’ve more than doubled the team, growing from 30 people to nearly 80 and more than doubled the client base from 120 to nearly 300. Growth is a really good thing, but it does come with a number of challenges which we’ve had to address. So I thought I’d share the lessons we’ve learnt along the way.
Lesson #1. Find the right people
The hardest thing about scaling our business is growing the team without compromising on the calibre of the people we bring into the business. Whether it’s our client facing team who must have worked in the arts sector but have a great understanding of technology, or our engineers who need to be able to solve complex technical problems but also have an affinity for the sector we’re supporting, hiring the right people has been key to our success. Fortunately, we've learnt a lot along the years about recruitment and as a result we're getting pretty good at it. For us, good recruitment is all about spending time on it, aligning the team on what an A-player looks like, and prioritising behaviours and cultural fit as much, if not more, than experience.
Lesson #2. Cultivate your people
The second part of it has been about how we cultivate the people that we have. We have grown our team hugely in the last few years, from thirty to eighty people in under three years, and that can be difficult for the existing team. Roles and responsibilities change, new positions and teams get introduced, and the work dynamic shifts. Our job is to support the team on that journey, providing strong career development opportunities, time for feedback and a culture that fosters accountability and engagement. A number of the team are relatively young in Spektrix years, but it’s as important to support the new newbies on their journey with us as it is to support those who have been with us for years.
Lesson #3. Keep culture, mission and values at the heart of the business
Connecting everyone to our mission has been critical - if people don't know why we exist and how they're contributing to the bigger picture then we can't deliver on our promise. Building on that comes our culture and values. As we’ve grown, it's vital that everyone at Spektrix knows how we think and work, so that they can make decisions in a way that’s aligned with the business. We’ve had to put a lot of time and effort into thinking about how we cultivate this in an authentic, relevant way. It’s not about writing them on the walls or mugs, but instead about embedding them into our everyday lives, talking about them, building them into our recruitment and appraisal process.
Lesson #4. Communication. Communication. Communication.
Communication is key and it gets much harder the bigger you get. When we opened new offices in Manchester and New York in the same month in 2014, we didn't know what a huge challenge it would be every day, simply to make sure that everyone was up to speed on what was happening. It’s a challenge everyday to make sure everyone, irrespective of whether they’re a remote worker or based on the other side of the Atlantic, is up to speed. As a result, never making an assumption that someone knows something, discipline in over-communication and repetition are critical to getting everyone on the same page. I’ve also realised the importance of storytelling. As the team grows, the best way to bed in our culture and to get everyone up to speed with how the business thinks and works, has been to tell them stories of things that have happened at Spektrix over the years.
Lesson #5. Manage expectations externally and internally
Managing expectations is a classic challenge for rapidly growing businesses, and in particular, for technology businesses. It can be tough to not immediately tell our customers when we’re working on exciting things that we know they’ll love, but we prefer to take our time to get things right before we do. When we know people are looking forward to our developments, it’s hard not to shout about them. But technology changes so quickly and much of the development we do is based on a lot of unknowns, which means we’re not 100% sure how the features will turn out in the end or how long they might take. It’s all about finding the balance between taking people on the journey with us and keeping them up to date, while giving them the information that will be most useful and accurate for them.
Lesson #6. Keep connected to the clients
Client experience is the most important thing in our business. So sometimes, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about who our clients are, what they need and what we want their experience of Spektrix to be. As more people join our client facing teams, we want to make sure we keep in touch with our clients regularly as well as feed their thoughts back into the rest of the business. We continue to push ourselves to take the time to understand our clients, both as organisations and as individuals, and make sure we’re valuing every client, small or large, as much as we did those first, early adopting, clients.
Lesson #7. Make processes a thing
With so many people in different locations and time zones, we aren't a small group of people in one room anymore. We needed to start thinking differently about how we work together and that has meant finding processes to provide structure and clarity to our ways of working. Although it’s not always the most fun, administration and documentation are vital to making sure we’re all aligned in how we work.
Lesson #8. Get rid of things
Processes have also had to get cut from the business. We can't hold onto things because that's the way we've always done them so we’ve learned how to let go of things. Some ways of working that were great when we were twenty people just weren't so great when we were fifty people. So we’ve had to be open to change, to letting go of things that we're familiar with and to try new things.
Lesson #9. Failing is OK
Being open to trying new things comes with a risk of failure. We’ve had to get comfortable with trying new initiatives and knowing they might not work out. Of course, we need to understand the risk and impact of projects and new initiatives, as some things we can't afford to fail at, but often we can take the risk. If we can be agile enough to try new things quickly, fail quickly, and iterate quickly, we’re in a good place. Some new things we’ve tried haven’t worked out; recently we tried bi-weekly Research and Development (R&D) time for engineering, but the frequency of it meant they couldn’t get enough momentum. After two months we hadn’t made much progress. That’s okay, we took the failure on the chin, rethought our approach, and tried a different plan of more regular R&D time, and it worked out great.
Lesson #10. Technical debt exists, deal with it
Of course it would be great to pretend we had no technical debt - in other words, bits of the system which could work better than they do - but like every technical company out there, we do. The most important thing is we spend time addressing it; dedicating resource to make sure that every bit of the platform works as efficiently and effectively as it possibly can, improving or replacing bits of that could work better but also pushing ourselves to minimise its creation. We spend more time thinking about our technical architecture than ever.
Lesson #11. Keep the product on the straight and narrow
The product is complex. Ticketing, CRM and fundraising, when combined, are actually quite challenging to get right. Our commitment to multi-tenant software, where all our users are on the same version and is flexible enough to support a broad variety of organisations, makes it really hard to build a scalable, smart solution. It’s easy to feel like we need to add features for a specific client, or to feel like we need to deliver a solution quickly. However, we need to think smart and take our time to take the long view, ensuring we build something that is robust and future proofed, something that will work not just now for the existing client base, but for the long term, for an even bigger, more diverse, higher volume, client base. We never want to compromise the quality of our product for a short term gain, even if that means making some tough decisions.
Lesson #12. Great isn’t good enough
We can always do better, it’s as simple as that. When you're small, you're constantly striving to be better, and to be bigger, but when you're a major player in the market, it's easy to think you've made it, take your foot off the gas and rest on your laurels. Embedding a culture of continual improvement, making sure we remain humble and finding forums to challenge the teams to think about what we can do better are just a couple of the ways we’re pushing ourselves, but we can always do more.
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I could go on with more lessons learned, it feels like the list is endless, but overall I think we’ve come a really long way, and I’m proud of how the team have adapted and scaled with the business. I’m sure we’ll continue to learn new things at each stage of our growth, that will likely mean making some mistakes along the way, but I’m confident about the path we’re on and excited to see where we are in another two years.