Simplify everything. The sales process, the set up of the product, the product itself. The easier the product is to buy, adopt and use, the better, more sticky and successful it will become.
Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ross McCaw.
Ross McCaw is a software entrepreneur who founded Cap2 solutions in 2009, which was acquired by Jonas Software (part of CSI) in 2011. Ross then went on to found team communication and engagement platform, OurPeople, in 2016 to help deskless teams navigate their internal communications. Since its inception, OurPeople has raised $3.75m and has worked with a number of high-profile clients including West Ham United Foundation, Virgin Active UK, Paulton’s Park and Serco Leisure.
Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
“Prior to setting up my own business I lived a pretty normal life. I went to university and was running a web design business outside of those hours. In 2009, I founded the course management system, Cap2 solutions and grew it exponentially across the globe. In 2014 I was able to sell it to a North American firm, Jonas Software and then focus on my next venture — OurPeople.
“OurPeople was founded in 2017 to fill a gap in the market. I found that there was no safe, secure or efficient communication platform available for deskless workers. I wanted to provide a central platform for businesses to engage, manage and train their remote teams — no app required. And provide business leaders with the certainty that their messages have been delivered and seen by their employees.
“The need for such a platform was highlighted during the pandemic. While desk-based workers could work from home, most deskless workers remained on the frontline. Having a strong internal comms infrastructure proved critical to keeping teams intact during this busy, unpredictable and unprecedented period.”
You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
“As a British entrepreneur the done thing is to stick by the ‘made in Britain’ tagline. But the turning point for me and my business was when I recognised the opportunities that other markets presented. The US market is ten times the size of the UK market and has an audience who are considerably more receptive to trying new technologies in a shorter period of time due to their quicker buying cycle. By recognising this, I was able to scale and sell my first business and OurPeople is following in its footsteps.”
What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?
“The most impactful was noticing that the industry really needed a platform like OurPeople. However, the government isn’t doing enough to get platforms like OurPeople into the hands of people and businesses that need it most.
“The UK is on a mission to be the leader in innovation and home to the very best talent. One of the ways we can collectively put our best foot forward is by supporting our tech innovators to roll out their solutions to the masses, helping them connect with potential customers.
“One initiative introduced by the UK government is G-cloud 13. While on the face of it this seems like a great initiative to encourage and enable mass innovation, instead it is doing the complete opposite. We have been on a personal mission to call out the government on this and for better structures to be put in place in order to connect the UK’s greatest developments with councils to do their best work.”
Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?
“My biggest mistake was that I was blind to the opportunities presented by other markets for way too long. Realising that the American market is quicker, less risk averse and more willing to try new products is when I started to see real results and it’s something I wish I knew earlier on.
“However, it is worth noting that it is almost impossible to sell to the American market as a Brit. While American’s do trust and respect UK tech companies, it is crucial to have feet on the ground selling your product for it to succeed.”
How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?
“I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredibly successful software entrepreneurs and software acquirers over the past 10 or so years. These are the kind of people you won’t have heard of, because they focus on their work and not on their personal brand.
One of these early mentors made it incredibly clear to me that work is about the people that you meet. They said, “If the fit between the people isn’t right, it’s never going to work” and this advice has definitely stuck with me over the years.“
Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?
“Nowadays young people are fed information online that to be a ‘successful entrepreneur’ you need to wake up at 3am, run 50 miles, read 5 books and then start your highly productive work day — while this is possible, it’s not realistic and it most definitely does not define success.
“Characters like this sell the ‘vision of a visionary’ when in fact, what you really need to focus on is communication with your team and how to actually get the work done. The days that make me happiest are when I deliver something meaningful — specifically working on the great product we are building. Social media is full of people talking about themselves and how they are the best but it does make you wonder — what are they doing that is actually meaningful within the company? What value are they delivering? It should always be about what you are building, not about building your own personal brand.”
Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.
- Differences between US and UK purchasing culture: By noticing that there are advantages in other markets can help grow your business to new levels. I was able to sell my business seven years after it was founded because I ditched the ‘made in Britain’ tagline and explored other opportunities
- Make sure you are building something that people need in order to do their job properly. In the early days of a software startup, it is very easy to listen to your loudest customer and end up building something that is only really useful to that one company. It’s really important to get what you are building into the hands of as many people as possible. Often founders are worried about how their idea might be “stolen”. But just consider how hard you are working to get your idea off the ground in the first place.
- Simplify everything. The sales process, the set up of the product, the product itself. The easier the product is to buy, adopt and use, the better, more sticky and successful it will become.
- Don’t be influenced by what you see online. Just because Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn are telling you that you need to get up at 3am, run 50 miles and read 5 books to be a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. You can be a success story without having to abide by these outlandish routines. Simply believing in yourself and your product is enough to get you there.
- Communicate well with your team and trust them to do a great job. In the early part of my career, I found it incredibly difficult to delegate and trust the team that was working with me. Fast forward a few years, I have learnt to stand back and trust the great people we have in the business.
Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?
“One of the biggest mistakes that I see happening time and time again is businesses taking investment too early. Before you give any of your business away, it’s important to build as much value in the company as possible. Most entrepreneurs are too eager to take money from investors too early on, forgetting that when they do so, they give away a proportion of their business which comes with risks during the early stages.
“Many businesses also don’t prioritise cash flow and break even as a goal, often putting significant growth at a huge cost, ahead of building a lasting, sustainable business.”
Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?
“As OurPeople operates in the deskless space, it is even more challenging to ensure a good company culture and ethos. Colleagues have less face-to-face interaction as most of their communication happens through technology.
“Therefore, your internal comms infrastructure will be the core to maintaining a real sense of community, identity and purpose as employees can not benefit from the same environment provided by an office. You should have a platform that has features specifically designed for harnessing company culture amongst a deskless workforce. OurPeople allows business leaders to send short questionnaires to employees where they can provide anonymous feedback on working practices. This makes employees feel valued and listened to. Your digital platform should be used to enhance the in-person relationship between employee and employers — this can help build trust and rapport which is key for the long-term success of the business. Having high levels of engagement with deskless staff can reduce staff turnover and help build a recognisable and attractive company culture.”
Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?
“This is an area where we have focused heavily on over the past 12 months. Taking sales as an example, when a new sales rep joins the company and you have a small team, that new rep becomes a huge drain on the time of others, and there is always the possibility that the same problem will replicate in other areas of the business too.
“We have spent a significant amount of time working on internal documentation, internal inductions and processes to ensure new people are brought up to speed as quickly as possible. I never really used to see the value of this but now that we have it, it is invaluable and means that when new people join the team, while there is always an inevitable period where things will slow down, they grow into their role quicker and feel more confident.”
What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?
“Onboarding new employees plays an important role in setting the tone of the company, its values and what it expects of every team member. A thorough and positive experience will ensure staff feel prepared for what they’ll face and better equip them for work. This means giving them the resources and documents needed to start, provide training for their roles and ensure they have ways to communicate with other teams and management.
“Being able to do all of this on one platform, allows you to keep it in one place. Through you can create a staff onboarding process that’s easy to follow, understand and complete from start to finish. You can include engaging content that makes everything clear for a new starter and share the files and documents they need to read, complete and use in their role.”
Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.
“Think for a moment about how easily distracted you can become during a working day. Everyone wants a piece of your time. A single text message can interrupt the flow of the task you are trying to complete. Often the best work is completed when you just focus. I often actually find public spaces/coffee shops are a great place to avoid distractions. A pair of noise cancelling headphones and putting your phone away works wonders. I call it the get sh*t done movement. Stop talking about it and just get on with it.”
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