1 April 2021

Startup Flight #15: Trying to run my company like my parents raised me, in order to ensure growth

Hi there! My name is Charlotte and I’m Co-Founder & CEO of Equalture (a hiring software that leverages gamification to debias hiring for SMBs) and living in the most beautiful city in the world: Rotterdam. Being an entrepreneur for 4 years now and building my second company together with my twin sister, I get a lot of questions from other founders and people thinking about starting their own company.

Since I believe that every single founder experience can be helpful to other founders, I decided to translate these frequently asked questions into a blog series: Startup Flight.

In this fifteenth blog: Trying to run my company like my parents raised me, in order to ensure growth.



Eighteen

Eighteen. Eighteen amazing people. It still feels a bit weird for me to actually run a company with a team of eighteen people, when thinking back to that moment on which me and my twin sister (and Co-Founder) just had an idea. 

Now it’s not just an idea anymore. It’s an actual business, with actual milestones, but also actual risks involved – for all those eighteen people who I can proudly call my team members. And that changes the game completely. Because I no longer just owe it to myself and my investors to make this company a success. I moreover owe it to my incredible team members, who have provided me with their trust in this company, and to whom I want to prove that we can live up to their trust.


I think that most founders who’ve already crossed the magic number of 20 employees will recognise the following. Running a team up to 10 to 15 people goes relatively smoothly. Between 15 and 20, you slowly start to discover that successfully running a team is a challenge. And once you cross 20, running a team either becomes an art, or it becomes the brake on your growth. 

Except there’s only one misconception here. It’s not your team or team size that’s slowing down your growth. It’s you as a founder.


The brake on your growth

As I truly believe that it’s my team who’s responsible for our journey so far, so that’s why I definitely want the process of running a team to transition from a challenge into an art for me, rather than a brake. And that requires me to be that founder who is capable of empowering her team. 

Let’s be honest here – learning how to empower rather than slow down your team is a tough challenge, because it requires a change in your founder mindset. I do believe though, that we are slowly getting there. And that’s all because I slowly seem to understand how to let go, without letting people down.


The embodiment of a control freak

Yep, that’s definitely me. Or actually, that’s how I used to be. If you would ask one of our first team members to describe me two years ago, they would have probably told you that I was involved in every single detail of our business, regardless of the meaningfulness of all these details. Simply because I couldn’t let go. 


A comparison between growing a business and raising a child

I know it sounds cliché, and many people probably won’t like this metaphor, but for me, my company and product feels like my child. I am so desperately in love with it, that all I want for it is to ensure a bright future.

And to make it even more cliché, building a company is actually in many ways similar to raising a child. The first years, you might manage to be around and involved for the vast majority of time. But that changes when your child goes to school, or when you have a nanny or grandparents taking care of her/him. Just like what happens with your company once you start building a team. 

And like you can’t control each and every school teacher, or criticise every decision that your child’s grandparents are making when you’re not around, the same applies to your company and your team. 

I definitely did not want to become that annoying founder, like those annoying parents. So that meant I needed to learn how to let go, without letting people down. And here again, the child metaphor applies, because I wanted to learn how to run my business like my parents raised me. So, to my mom and dad, the next part of this blog is thanks to you!


Letting go without letting down

The opposite of the desire to control everything, is being capable of letting go of everything. And although being a control freak is definitely not the solution when growing your business, letting go of everything also won’t lead to success. Or at least not without setting some ‘guidelines’.

What I always admired about my mom and dad was their ability to give me and my sisters a lot of freedom in our teenage years, without us misusing this freedom. We could do lots of things the way we wanted to do it, but of course with some guidelines from my parents. And that allowed us to become responsible and mature at a relatively young age, because when someone gives you their trust, you want to prove this person that you are actually trustworthy.

So that’s what I am trying to do with my team now. Or actually, the credits go more to my Co-Founders Fleur and Jaap, who are actually managing and coaching their teams.


So, how does that work?

Well, it’s actually quite simple. We don’t tell our team members how to do their job. Instead, we explain to them what we expect them to achieve in this job (KPIs/OKRs). And of course, we share our best practices and advice, but we don’t require that to be the way to go. This is the letting go part – letting go of controlling how our team should achieve their goals.

What we do have in place instead, is a daily check-in and check-out with each team, and also weekly team reflections and 1-on-1s with Fleur or Jaap. So that means that, at least twice a day or more, everyone has the opportunity to discuss their challenges and accomplishments, either for us to learn from, or for us to help with. And that’s the without letting down part.

Finally, we have the luck to be able to work with our own hiring software, providing us with valuable insights into someone’s strengths and weaknesses, before we even make the hiring decision. This means that, when someone for instance finds it difficult to prioritise, we know upfront that we should help with this. And for the (soft) skills representing a strength, we know that they probably won’t need our help with that.

And that ‘formula’ seems to result in growth. Simply because each team member has the freedom to do things their own way, without the founding team needing to be involved in every step along the way. And of course, we’re always close to the road they’re taking, but without claiming the driver seat. Just like my parents did. 

By the way, don’t be under the assumption that these changes in mindset happen over night. This morning I even told our Digital Marketer, Joost, that I sometimes have some issues with letting go, and that he should always feel free to discuss it with me when he has the feeling that I am becoming a bottleneck. That’s the power of a great team, right – they can help you here.

So, for everyone from my team who’s reading this: You absolutely rock, all of you! And for all founders or managers who are reading this: Try to let go without letting down, to prevent being the brake on your own growth.

And last but not least: Thanks mom and dad, you definitely rock also. 🙂

Cheers, Charlotte
Co-Founder & CEO