How a business owner learned a valuable lesson in staffing up
“There is no elevator for growth — you have to take the stairs”
Business needs change, especially as a company rapidly grows. People who are great fits for early startups may struggle when more processes are in place.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, struggled with the hard decision to let some early employees go. But as she explains in the Q&A below, it is what her company needed to get to the next stage.
Tell me what your company does.
Mavens & Moguls is a global network of seasoned marketing experts who can do anything a marketing department, market research shop, public relations firm, or ad agency does on an as needed or outsourced basis. We help our clients tell their stories in compelling ways by finding the right words and pictures to create interest. We have resources in major metro areas across the country and around the world.
“Hire slowly and fire quickly.”
At what point did you scale up, and what did that growth look like?
Year one to year two we quadrupled, year three we tripled, then we doubled in year four, so as the base was growing early on, we began to scale pretty quickly. I was doing a lot of public speaking and wrote a monthly column for Entrepreneur which drove a lot of traffic to our site. I was serving on several boards and networking a lot so all the roads converged to create a multiplier effect. I was working nonstop and scared to take a vacation with so many balls in the air.
What went wrong when you scaled up?
My biggest challenge was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers.
How bad did things get?
I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff, but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew, which was not productive for the team.
How did you fix the issue?
As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A" team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on because I learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier, though!
Where did you get the idea for the fix?
It was obvious they were not going to grow with us. I was more scared to keep them and create a toxic environment than listen to my gut and shake hands and part ways as quickly as possible. Their excuses and time had run out, so I just ripped off the Band-Aid and moved on.
What do things look like now that you’ve corrected the problem?
I have a strong and confident team now, which is a huge competitive advantage. The culture is great with everyone pulling their weight and no one is having to look over their shoulder. All our energy can be focused on serving our clients, so it is a big win all around.
What did you learn from this experience that other business leaders need to know?
To effectively lead a team you must get aligned. Everyone on your team needs to have the same baseline assumptions regarding overarching goals in order to make progress because growth cannot happen when different groups have different beliefs. Everyone on your team needs to believe that what they do matters. Create a culture where innovation can thrive. As a colleague once said, there is no elevator for growth — you have to take the stairs.
Scaled Up is a weekly interview series by Inverse with entrepreneurs. They share how almost everything went wrong while growing their business — and how they fixed it.