People are the beating heart of your business
Written by Neil Davidson, managing director at behavioural communications agency HeyHuman
“You need to hire for attitude over experience every time.”
Pip Murray, founder of all-natural nut butter brand Pip&Nut, was one of the business leaders sharing her insights at HeyHuman’s most recent transformative growth breakfast briefing.
The event gave the stage to fast-growing businesses who talked about how they are navigating the challenges many entrepreneurs face. Appearing alongside Pip were Bloom & Wild CEO and co-founder Aron Gelbard, and Sarah Akwisombe, founder of the No Bull Business School.
A common theme in this event chaired by prominent journalist Matthew Gwyther, was that none of the speakers had experience that could be deemed relevant to the businesses they now run.
“My journey into food and drink was not a natural route. I was working as a theatre producer when I started Pip&Nut, and I had absolutely no experience of FMCG. I started the brand out of pure love for the product,” said Pip.
“You’d think that a great person to start a business like Bloom & Wild would be someone who knows lots about flowers,” said former management consultant Aron. “It probably would have been, but I didn’t know that … I thought, how tricky could it be to send flowers through people’s letterboxes?”
Aron went on to recall the business’ far from brilliant start, recounting the unfortunate series of events that led to what he now calls ‘Botrytis Day.’ The first batch of flower deliveries were dotted with brown spots – a problem he and his team quickly learned was a fungus called botrytis, caused by the flowers being left unventilated for too long.
Sarah, meanwhile, took a circuitous route to founding an online business training platform, having previously succeeded in a number of careers including as performing artist, running a makeup agency, working in the world of tech start-ups and most recently building a profile as an interior design blogger.
It was refreshing to hear the warts and all tales of business and personal challenges from the three founders, as so often business events are in danger of becoming a boasting parade of businesses successes.
As Sarah put it, “Entrepreneurship just pushes you to constantly, constantly work on yourself. It exposes you in every single area of your life, things that you’re scared of, things you’re confident in, things you’d always rather avoid.”
Should you plan or should you freestyle?
Every business is faced with two big challenges – change and growth. Naturally, the two are intertwined, and each of the founders had a different take on how far ahead you need to plan for your business.
At one end of the spectrum, we had Aron who has presented a plan to investors which takes the business through to December 31st 2022. Pip and Sarah, meanwhile, advocated a more reactive, test and learn based approach.
“The beauty of a food product, or any product you can package and sell yourself is that you can start small. The important thing is not to look too far down the line at some brands who are 5-10 years ahead of you, and actually focus on what you’re doing right now – testing and learning as much as you can,” said Pip. “For me it was buying the blender and making that first product in my kitchen. It wasn’t the brand I wanted, but it was a proof point for me to know; do people want this product and do I like doing it?”
Similarly with Sarah, the No Bull Business School model allows her to be very responsive to her audiences. “There’s always been very direct feedback from my audience. A DM from anyone in my community might give me an idea for a course that I can put into practice within a week.”
People and sleepless nights
However, with growth comes questions about how you can maintain and nurture the people in the business. It’s an issue which regularly keeps Aron up at night.
“I worry about people. We’re a team of nearly 100 now, and it’s a sort of fragile cocoon which I feel is my responsibility to protect and nurture,” he said. “I make it my business to know everyone in the by name and whenever someone joins us, I spent at least an hour getting to know them.”
Pip agreed, and explained the challenges and joys of managing a growing team; “It gets harder and harder as the business grows. You need people who can do a bit of everything, and it’s about having people who want to be able to learn as they go along. That attitude is something I always look for and when you get the team balance right it incredibly motivating for everyone involved.”
When it comes to people Sarah explained that “I’ve learnt the hard way that you need to trust your gut – you need to follow your intuition and also remember that what works for others might not necessarily work for you. When someone or something doesn’t feel quite right in your team, you need to make changes or your culture will suffer.”
Although all three speakers came from quite different industries, what came across really clearly and united them was the single-mindedness of their business visions.
As a business founder, you need that clarity to weather the storms and pick yourself up after the bad (Botrytis!) days. When it comes to growing your business, only you and your gut knows what growth is possible, and whether you can do it without compromising your people.
Because ultimately, your people (although sometimes the most challenging), should be the most rewarding part of your business. Without them, we are nothing.