Companies come in from all industries and backgrounds, but all have the same goal: growth. Growth of product, customer base, funding, and ultimately, of success.
Our LanternCRM team has grown organically. The hiring and onboarding process is one that Alex took on thoughtfully from the very beginning. Once Alex and David launched Lantern after their time in Longhorn Startup at the University of Texas, David took a step back and Alex worked as sole entrepreneur for eight months, with part-time help from David for four months after that. In January 2014, David returned to LanternCRM full-time.
Lantern as a One-Man Show
In the eight months working for himself, Alex saw benefits and disadvantages. As a one-man team, there was no overhead; Alex could work from wherever he was at the time and did not have to pay for office space. Additionally, he found everything to be streamlined. He was the only person working on Lantern, so he always knew what was going on. If a customer had an issue he knew about it immediately. He was building and selling the product while raising money. His all-encompassing role really gave him the opportunity to be present on all aspects of the product and company.
Conversely, Alex began to feel strains during his time as a solopreneur. He wasn’t a stranger to the feeling that when he was sleeping or decided to take some time off, nothing was getting done because no one else was working. As the customer base was building up, he was also working to raise money and meet with potential investors. Complications arose as he was trying to take those meetings because it took time away from building out the product and adding new features. Alex soon realized there were only 24 hours in the day and he only had so much bandwith he could dedicate to Lantern as one person.
During this time, customer service and marketing suffered. Alex knew he had to raise money in order to continue the growth of the company, so that is where he put his time. At the same time, he knew he had to continue to build out the product, so customer service and marketing fell short. Alex’s passions didn’t lay in those fields, so without a clear starting point he focused on what he knew.
The Defining Moment
Soon, Alex was averaging four hours of sleep, seven days a week. He found if he slept more than that, things would slip through the cracks and wouldn’t get done—whether it was customers not receiving service or tracking analytics on the website. Something had to give. It was either going to be him collapsing from exhaustion or him hiring some people to assist with Lantern’s growth.
Hiring for Impact
Alex knew the only way Lantern would win at the game of CRM was through marketing. Once he identified what would make the most impact of the business and what he couldn’t do himself, he set out to fill that skill set.
Once your product is at a certain level, you want more eyes on the product to increase sales and start that flywheel going. Alex spent days, nights, and weekends for eight months straight, not having much of a life outside of Lantern’s code and product build-out. Every day, increases of functionality for customers were being made. Yet, he knew he couldn’t run the company by himself forever and knew, as a business, a goal is growth. As you are raising money, one of the first things investors ask is what you are going to spend it on. That prompted him to sit back, look at what would make the largest impact on the business, and hire for that position.
Building Lantern’s Current Team
The wonderful thing about having a start-up is that you can experiment. Our team has now grown to four, with three focused on developing and one focused on marketing, sales, and customer service. The team has restructured itself over time based on needs; there at one time was an office manager and David moved to focusing more on developing the core product than the customer service that Chad now focuses.
The team gets along well and Alex, as CEO, believes that is the most important thing, especially while hiring. Now, as the marketing ramps up there are more customers and current customers are asking for new features. We have a mantra at Lantern to not build a feature unless it is absolutely necessary and keeps the product simple. We want to keep the ease of use. Due to this, our next hire will be another developer. We have seen how important engineering truly is—most companies can get away with one or two non-engineers and four, five and six engineers for quite awhile, until the product is really well built and stable. Developers are so core to our product and that is what we are selling.
Knowing When to Hire
There is no right or wrong answer when deciding when to hire. Some of the best businesses in the world are run by solopreneurs and others are companies with big teams who have a bunch of money, hire a big team, and then raise more money to hire even more. Choosing when to hire is about identifying when you feel you can’t handle it alone anymore.
Here at Lantern, Alex had the skillset of being able to code and build this product he envisioned himself, get some customers on board and continue to build until he needed to bring others on to help give him more time to focus on growth.
It is always easy to go on a hiring spree and add in unnecessary features to a product during its infant stage. Scaling rapidly is not always the answer, though. A rapid scale can wreck your product. It can destroy your speed and agility as you spend so much time hiring new people, training them and then creating a rhythm to how you work. Some companies, such as Evernote, Netflix, and Google, have been able to pull of rapid scale famously. Others, such as Salesforce.com, have problems when it comes to scaling. That growth adds issues of salespeople who influence new features after project managers cave due to, what we will call, ‘persistence.’
In our case, Alex would rather overdo and over-commit himself timewise and lean on the existing team more to find the right engineer and right person for the job. One who doesn’t just want to code, but one who wants the opportunity to make decisions. We have found it incredibly valuable to have everyone on the team participate in bug fixes and answering customer support requests. Not only does it bring additional accountability to our engineers—who know that if they build something that doesn’t work they will hear about it later—but they are also in tune with what the customers are saying. We don’t just have a project manager saying what people want, our engineers see if firsthand and know how it will help. It is rewarding to see happy customers come back and show how it has helped their business.
Additionally, some business functions can be outsourced. Whether it be hiring a designer, content writer, or even bringing on an intern. Don’t be afraid to outsource tasks that allow you to think at a higher level from a strategic standpoint and offload tasks onto others with specializations.