Six start-ups on creating a winning team 

Kevin Buller talks to six promising companies about how they go about building and maintaining a strong team in their business.

When you ask any successful start-up what factors have contributed to their success, one of the responses that comes up time and time again is the strength of their team. Savvy entrepreneurs know that when it comes to creating and sustaining a lucrative business, you can’t do it alone. You need a team of people around you who specialise in the skills you need to grow your business, and who share the same vision for your ventures future. But how do you create a winning team?

In order to discover how successful UK start-ups have risen to the challenge of recruitment and employee retention, we have approached a number of founders of these businesses in order to get their insights on how they attract and retain talent.

Avin Rabheru, founder of professional home cleaning services company Housekeep

When starting a business, building the right team is without doubt the single most important factor in your success. Using your network is the best place to start. When we started Housekeep, we sought out the best people we knew to discuss the business with and some of those people ended up joining full time. Having a talented, close team makes a huge difference in the early days of the business, allowing you to make quick, smart business decisions and to grow fast. In those early days you want people who think and behave like business owners, and they should be rewarded as such too.

Luke Lang, co-founder of equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube

Crowdcube’s team has more than doubled in the last 12 months and our ability to attract and retain top talent is a real cornerstone of our ongoing success. I think the key to creating a winning team is the ability to nurture and develop home-grown talent, whilst continuing our strategy to attract experienced team members from blue chip companies such as Google, eBay, KPMG and Goldman Sachs. When Darren Westlake and I launched Crowdcube in 2011, it was one of the world’s first equity crowdfunding platforms. Our market leader position, along with our continued drive to remain innovative, has been a real asset for attracting talent.

Andrew Thelfall, managing director of web-based CRM company Malinko

Our team is currently comprised of 7 people and every one of those individuals are incredibly important to the success of the business. In organisations who have hundreds or even thousands of employees it’s hard to pinpoint instances where an individual isn’t pulling their weight, but as our team is small we would all feel the repercussions if an individual wasn’t bringing value to the business. When it came to the creation of our team, the majority of people we have hired have come through personal networks. Each person we hire is asked to take a personality test so that we can see how well they will integrate with our existing employees, it is important for both the team and the new starter that they can work well together in the future.

Bertie Stephens, CEO of e-commerce site Flubit

Over the past year, we’ve gone from a company of 25 to a company of 70 that entailed countless rounds of interviews, recruiters, inductions, appraisals, changes to the structure of the company and actually establishing a hierarchy that would take us forward (then re-doing that structure over and over again) as well as moving to new, larger offices. We know that talented people want to be rewarded and feel valued, so creating a culture that they want to be part of is key.

These type of people don’t simply work for a pay cheque at the end of every month; they’ve studied, practised, learnt, developed and honed their skills as much as they have been able to and have a real passion for what they do. At Flubit, we know that without our team, we are nothing; the people behind the technology, the brand and the strategy is what has got us to where we are today. As we spend a great deal of our time at work, our working environment, our peers and our daily work needs to fulfil us in order to make us want to do it. We’ve invested greatly in attracting and retaining talent in a city like London which hosts some of the world’s biggest and best companies to work for.

Logan Naidu, founder and CEO of recruitment consultancy Dartmouth Partners

My biggest piece of advice would be to hire people with pedigree. If you get a racehorse, let it run. High performers have the ability to work out what needs to be done and they do it. No matter what size your business is, keep the bar high. We owe our growth and success to our fantastic team. There is a lot of competition for talent in the current market, but you should never take shortcuts or change your policies when it comes to recruitment. Define who you are and what, want to achieve and never compromise.

John Peebles, CEO of software developer Administrate

We build software as a service that’s used by companies or departments to run their entire operations so the stakes are high – we can save our customers huge amounts of time, but we could also cripple their business if we don’t get it right. For us, getting it right starts with hiring the best people we can, training them as much as we can, letting them make mistakes and learn from them, and putting people in the right positions to make a huge positive impact. 

We focus a lot on our company culture, making sure we’re fostering a positive environment that’s prepping people for success. We provide the right tools, and a lot of freedom within the context of achieving our goals, and as a group we’re all clued in to how we’re doing because we’re very transparent with company metrics. If you come to work at Administrate, we promise you’ll have hard problems to solve alongside really smart, high performing team members. Oh, and we’ll pay you some money. That’s usually enough to get the right people interested!

Take on board the experiences and insights from these startups who have learned how to create a winning team by doing just that.

Kevin Buller is chief executive of Lucas Blake

Further reading on building a team:

Growth in start-ups slows year-on-year

The ‘start-up revolution’ is losing pace, with the number of new businesses slowing over the past five years, research finds.

A study by business information site Company Check shows the growth in numbers of new businesses being incorporated each year slowed from 13.4 per cent year-on-year from 2010-11 to 4.9 per cent between 2013-14.

A week after George Osborne’s Budget announcement to cut corporation tax to 18 per cent was tempered by the introduction of a £9 national living wage by 2020, figures show new business numbers levelling off.

Start-up numbers consistently grew throughout the last parliament, with 2.5 million new incorporations registered between 2010-2014. However the rate of this growth has slowed every year.

Around 56,000 more businesses were incorporated in 2011 than 2010 but the uplift from 2014 to 2013 was 27,571.

Alastair Campbell, founder of Company Check says, ‘At first glance the story is a positive one; Britain gets back to work and does it for itself, setting up millions of new companies across hundreds of industries and specialities after a prolonged and painful recession.

‘However, behind the clear good news a note of caution should be struck. The pace of growth in start-ups has slowed significantly – by more than two thirds from 2010 to 2014.’

The ‘glass half full’ view is that more start-ups are surviving and thriving than were previously, leaving less cause for new businesses to be setup in the first place, adds Campbell.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, start-ups now turn over £1.6 trillion each year.

Company Check research shows that seven of the top ten areas for start-up growth between 2010-2014, measured by constituency boundaries, were in London, with the remainder in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester.

The constituency with the largest single increase in incorporations over the same period was Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, which saw a 332 per cent rise. Vauxhall in London and Bolsover in Derbyshire both also saw growth of more than 300 per cent in four years.

Jonathan Sumner

Jon Sumner

Jonathan was the Director of Digital & Social Media at Bonhill Group plc until 2020 before moving on to become Chief Digital Officer at GRC World Forums.

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