Over the past few years, you’ve been working your pants off. You finally raised enough money to launch your product. You hired a pretty amazing bunch of people. The numbers are growing steadily, and before you know it, your revenue exceeds one million euros. Suddenly, you’re hit by this ambiguous feeling: you’re not a startup anymore. Now what?
We talked to Jeroen De Wit, CEO and founder of Teamleader, to learn how they achieved their phenomenal growth – and what advice he would have for fellow entrepreneurs and startups.
Teamleader offers a cloud-based solution for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), project management and invoicing. Their main aim and tagline are to help European SMEs ‘Work Smarter’.
In just five years, the company grew from a 3-man business to a future-proof scaleup with 180+ employees and 7,000 customers spread across Europe. With offices in Ghent, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, Milan and Paris, Teamleader now seeks to expand to the Nordics.
Your most important asset: customers
“One of the first lessons we learned at Teamleader, is to put customers first in everything you do. This may seem obvious at first, but it really is the key to long-term, steady growth. Working with over 7,000 customers means we’re in the volume business. So we have to keep investing heavily in customer relationships. But either way, you’re better off getting things right from the start.”
The best way to do so? Keep things simple. “Connect with customers on a personal level, by hosting small events for instance, and seize every opportunity to ask for their feedback. As Steve Jobs once stated, you should get so close to your customers that you can tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”
Hiring the right talent at the right time
A second advice Jeroen would give to other entrepreneurs involves hiring the right people to help you develop your business. “Hiring gifted people is the number one reward for a growing business, but is also the number one area where businesses tend to make mistakes.” You’re ought to get new people on board – lots of them. But how can you steer that team in the right direction, preserve your core values, and not lose your DNA?
“Many founders recruit friends or people in their close environment – which won’t work often. But hiring solely based on skills is not the right path either. ”
“Many founders start recruiting friends or people in their close environment – this strategy won’t work often. You won’t be getting the right expertise, and you risk losing friends.” On the other hand, Jeroen argues strictly hiring based on skills is not the right path either: “In the end, you want employees to get along, and share the same values.”
A few tips to find that balance between the right attitude and skills:
1. Design a hiring process and think about the right questions
“Did this candidate take the time to get to know your product or company? Did he/she watch your product demo? What would they improve? Secondly, if you plan to expand to other countries, go there and learn about the culture. When you hire people in that country, invite them over to HQ first, give them the opportunity to connect with your team and learn about your company culture. In the end, they will be the ones laying the foundations for your company culture in those other countries.”
2. Meet up in person – and take time to get to know a potential recruit
“Meet up and chat with a new hire at least once. Even if you can only talk over a coffee for 5 minutes, trust me on this one: you want to make an effort to get to know the people that will work for you. In return, they’ll appreciate that you take the time to understand who they are and what drives them.”
Funding: the holy grail to startups?
“Don’t wait for that big funding check to propel your company forward. We waited two years to attract the right investors – those who genuinely cared about the future of our business, and not just the bottom line.”
That’s up for debate, according to Teamleader’s CEO. “Many founders consider funding to be their number one goal. Well – it shouldn’t be. With Teamleader, we bootstrapped our way to our Seed Round funding, which we only raised two years later. In those first years, our company was able to grow soundly – which helped us attract the right investors. Investors that genuinely cared about the future of our business, and not just the bottom line.”
Teamleader would go on to raise two more funding rounds: a Series A in May 2015 (€2.5M) and a Series B in November 2016 (€ 10M). “But don’t wait for that big funding check to propel your company forward. You’d be amazed what you can achieve with the right sales and marketing people on board. As you well know, quality trumps quantity most days of the week.”
As a startup, you’re obviously in for a hell of a journey. A journey that comes with ups and downs alike. The key to success? “To carry on, no matter what. Your business is likely to change dramatically over the next 6 months: focus on what matters, and be ready to adapt.”
Read the article in the latest issue of CoFounder magazine.