The start of a new year, with a masterclass from David Smalley, one of our most sought after EIRs.
David began by explaining about the accidental software company, Litmus which he founded with 2 friends, and how he now spends time consulting and mentoring startups.
He explained how Litmus now has 160 employees with offices in San Francisco, Boston and London with annual turnover between £25 and 50 million.
David also explained how 40% of the employees are remote workers, and how they started life as a web testing tool, before launching into email testing in 2007, upon then moving their office to Boston, USA.
In 2010 they reviewed the business and moved to an email focus instead of a web testing tool, before launching an email design conference in 2013.
David explained that when roles were handed out he took on the role of COO and had 3 key focuses:
- The Team
- The Strategy
- The Truth
He would listen to people, broker agreements and get back to the truth of the matter.
As David didn’t live in the US he was able to do a lot of reviewing, as when he was in the US he was a fresh pair of eyes.
It’s a big topic at the moment and David’s thought is either do it or don’t do it, a half baked attempt doesn’t work. If people are dialling in there is a need to support the remote person.
He gave the example that in a video call there is always someone left out of the chat at the beginning and end, the pleasantries and the social element of a meeting. Therefore, if one person was dialling in, they had everyone go back to their desks and dial in, so it didn’t leave anyone out.
Davids key points on strategy were:
- What have you got?
- How do you beat the competition?
- Acknowledge what you’re bad at.
David stated himself that he was bad at deadlines, numbers and budgets, and whilst these were key things he couldn’t avoid, he simply understood his weaknesses and worked around these, looking at how he could change things, or use something to help him, and learning by example.
What they did well
Upon reflection David summarises the success into 4 key themes:
- Productising a service
- Lean startup approach
- Building a great team
You have to see your service as a product, this lets you look at costings, and means you can easily sell the benefits.
The need to gain a customers reaction for a product first, and look at the minimum viable product to test a product before fully committing.
Don’t build a complicated business, as the biggest overhead is the staff. Be smart about who you hire. Design an interview process which works for you, to test what you want out of a potential employee.
You need a welcoming environment to work in, it can’t be toxic or it will turn staff off immediately.
Run the business, as a business you want to work in, and don’t be afraid to try something.
To innovate, you need to remove blame, encourage each other, help each other, share ideas, engage in the product and don’t be afraid to challenge, and most importantly, a little optimism helps.
What they didn’t do well
Looking back on what they didn’t do well. David’s answer is planning for the future.
The success as a start up was because they were 3 good friends who trusted each other, but you need to have a vision and know what that is, so you understand your “what’s next.”
David’s answer is to let the CEO do their job, and the board should let the CEO manage the short-term, as the long-term is for the board.
This was a key area for David and with so many remote workers the culture was changed to support this, especially as the remote workers, were working different hours, but the key was consistency for him.
If someone worked 4pm until 11pm you had to know that they would do this consistently, so you knew when you could get hold of them, but if they worked 4pm to 11pm one day and 1pm to 7pm the next day you don’t know their availability.
Remote working is good if you find out what people are doing, and you can see it, such as the use of tracking software, cloud working etc.
David’s answer was that if you are a software developer, you need to understand the market which you are developing software for. Meaning talk to the end users, listen to them and use their advice.
David said the key benefits for staff include:
- Being well paid
- Managers being honest with them
- Owning their own work
- A good holiday package
- Having a good progression root, to allow them to develop their skills and knowledge in either a technical or management aspect.
The key leadership secrets from David are:
- Keep a flat style of management if possible, especially when you’re small
- Keep people informed
- Update people on a regular basis
- Live the example