This week, we’re celebrating our fourth birthday! Over the past few years, I tried to summarize and share the things I learned that year. This year I thought I’d share some lessons learned and also some of my favorite memories so far. Happy to answer questions in the comments.
This year felt like the easiest to get distracted. Everything from product scoping to partnerships can be distracting. We grew our customer base pretty heavily this year and this motivated us to start accelerating things like reseller relationships, product integrations, and corporate development. At the end of the day, exploring all of these things helped us narrow our focus even further and showed us some paths that work for us and some that don’t. Always have your north star at the forefront when you explore non-core business opportunities. This will help eliminate distractions.
When you raise funding or have cash flow to invest in growing your team, it’s easy to build headcount into your financial model. In reality, hiring is incredibly difficult. Make sure you account for this difficulty when you build your company roadmap. It’s not realistic to think that you can hire 10, 20, 30 senior engineers tomorrow. Don’t build your product roadmap in a way that relies on instant headcount. Same for all areas of the business. We doubled our team in six months. It’s brutal. Finding good talent is hard. Pulling team members out of work to interview slows you down. Training people takes time. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s not easy. If it is, it’s not cheap. At the end of the day, your success is dependent upon your people, so take the time to do this right.
Strengthen your beliefs.
Culture is hard to build well. I take a lot of pride in the company we’re building at Agrilyst. We’ve created an environment filled with trust, respect, and empathy, with a focus on winning and building something big and meaningful. It’s an absolute pleasure to come to work every day. This is the time to double down on that culture. We recently went through the process of evaluating our core values. With lots of new team members, we felt we owed ourselves the opportunity to evaluate ourselves and how we run this company. Our core values stayed pretty similar, just a little more focused. I’ll share a little more on this process sometime in the future.
I’m the daughter of two accountants. I can’t imagine spending money on useless things. Anyone on my team can confirm this and if you’ve ever been to our office, you’ll understand my personality right away (we’re finally moving into a bigger office, but it’s only because we’re physically out of space for people). I think it’s really important to tighten your burn around year 3 or 4. It’s easy to start to spend exponentially more capital as you start to see additional cash flow, but doing so without a narrow focus on the ROI of that capital spend is irresponsible. This is the time to increase value-add spend, but there should be a clear agenda for this added budget.
Working 10x harder.
It’s easy to ramp down productivity as you scale. You used to manage product, sales, marketing, customer success, hiring, budgeting, and more. Now you have teams running those processes. But this is the time to increase productivity. Qualitatively, this year felt like I was heads down working ten times harder than I did in past years. I was on the plane more, I was on site with customers or selling more, I spent more time hiring and filling top-of-funnel with good candidates. Like with culture, this is the time to be re-invigorated with your mission and work even harder.
Our Chief of Staff asked our whole team to think of their favorite Agrilyst memories to share at today’s All-Hands meeting. I wanted to share mine:
- The day we were able to offer health insurance to our team, which was back in 2015. I firmly believe that good candidates want to work in an environment that enables and trusts them to do their job, has a clearly defined mission, pays them well, and provides good benefits. They’re not looking for ping pong tables and happy hours. So the day we were able to offer health insurance to our team was a big day. It meant we could hire really great people and treat them well.
- The day we pitched our first enterprise account. Our VP of Business Development and I were onsite with an enterprise account in late 2017. At that time we weren’t selling to enterprise accounts yet. The customer asked us midway through our pitch to stop. He wanted us to come back a few hours later to pitch their finance and operations teams because he loved our product. We both had flights that afternoon, but immediately rescheduled the flights so we could make the meeting. We went to a diner nearby and on the back of a napkin (which I still have) drafted what would become our enterprise proposal to pitch that afternoon. That day, we pivoted to an enterprise business.
- When we had our first 1 year, and then 2 year, and now almost 3 year work anniversaries. It makes me so happy to know that we’re building a place people want to work at and grow with.
- Raising capital is probably low on most founders’ list of favorite things. For me, it’s an opportunity to bring people in who see your vision and support you. That’s a really exciting thing. When we got our first yes (thanks Bong!) in 2015, it meant that I wasn’t standing alone. People were willing to take this ride with me. That’s pretty incredible.