50% annual growth: How did we do that? This is the original draft that was published at http://www.netcentric.biz/blog/2016/08/50--annual-growth--how-did-we-do-that-.html
I joined Netcentric when there were 12 people in the Barcelona office. Back then, the expansion plans called my attention. The market was vibrant and Elian and Dominik convinced me that Adobe had a great vision for AEM (back then called CQ). They wanted to grow to around 50 people in one year. Today (after three years) we are a team of 250 people in four cities and continue with the same goal of growing and keeping the startup spirit. Adobe has expanded AEM to become the keystone of the Adobe Marketing Cloud and the demand for the product keeps growing. In this atmosphere, growing is just a side effect of the market.
However, growing at a 50% pace during the last three years was not easy. You may wonder, How do you structure the company to be able to respond to change? How do you attract and keep talent? What kind of skills are necessary? And how do you develop them? If you are interested in finding out, keep on reading.
There are different types of entrepreneurship visions. There is one kind of entrepreneurs who focus on a local market, small team, and limited growth. They want to continue doing what they love. Probably their main driver to start a business is their need for independence. These guys hate having a boss and their contribution to the overall job market ranges between 15 to 40 people.
On the other hand, there is a very small set of entrepreneurs who aim high and big. These guys create companies that represent a disproportionately large contribution to net job creation. They are fans of Larry Page and Jeff Bezzos. John Haltiwanger and other researchers call them “high-growth” firms (companies that are adding jobs at a rate of more than 25% percent a year). These are the companies with huge impact in the economy and in innovation. As Andy Groove summarized in a 2010 essay about job creation:
Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.
Scaling is not easy. To make it right you need to invest in things that are not needed at the present but that become crucial in the future. You have to assume risks and shoot for the sky. You need to trust the people you recently hired and give new responsibilities to everyone (yes, everyone). The people you hire have to be motivated to take on new challenges and work under chaos. People and the company mature by the necessity of getting things done. And of course, you have to be successful in growing and delivering to your clients.
By the way, a great part of the “you” mentioned in the last paragraph, is meant for Netcentric’s board. The board members have been critical in scaling the company by using one key motivation: trust. They trusted us with recruiting, training, building technological infrastructure, rewarding programs, and everything that would take too long for approval. Why hire smart people if you have to tell them what to do, right?
That was another key factor: if you want to increase motivation, hire motivated people. There is no easy way around that. “Recruiting is the most important activity that I do everyday”. I agree with Eric Schmidt. Recruiting is key. I have to admit that we are elitist. Our hiring process is not easy. We have at least three rounds of interviews. We work on problem assignments and have a hiring committee. The selection criteria is strict and explained to everybody who participates on hiring. This approach based on having a sound system for hiring motivated people has definitely been one of the key successes of scaling.
As an employee, I have many challenges and fears and, luckily, the former surpass the latter. The people whom I work with are eager to take on new responsibilities. There are opportunities for trying new roles in the company, like front end, business analyst, project manager, and system engineering abound. I can create my internship in any of those areas even if I am not part of that discipline group. People proactively create new career pathways, propose new ways of doing things, and are key in pointing out deficiencies.
To help the company grow, coaching becomes a day to day activity. Coaches help others in their professional growth via quarterly, half-year, and yearly appraisals. There are roles such as coaches, buddies, and advocates. Coaches help career development. Advocates support needs and collect overall feedback received. The buddy program helps with the onboarding. And the process of onboarding was revamped to reduce the learning curve by introducing newcomers to how the company operates and review the different careers.
None of this was easy to achieve. None of the processes was set up from the beginning. Many mistakes were made. However, we follow an iterative approach. Our feedback loop is very short and when something does not work, it stands out immediately. People are very active in voicing concerns, in getting involved, in feeling part of the company. And that makes a difference.
I look back and do not regret my career change after working for the status quo. Netcentric continues to become more exciting every day. The fast pace and capacity to deliver our business goals is a key driver and magnet. And yes, besides all that, there is free coffee. Send me an email to email@example.com if you would like to check it out.