Tough Lessons Flume Learnt To Survive Super-Charged Growth

Tough Lessons Flume Learnt To Survive Super-Charged Growth

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Jacques du Bruyn and Ruan Oosthuizen
  • Company: Flume
  • What they do: Digital marketing agency
  • Established: 2013
  • Visit: flume.co.za

Digital marketing agency, Flume was launched in February 2013 as a typical start-up. “It all happened fairly quickly,” says founder Jacques du Bruyn. “Ruan and I started talking about launching our own company late in 2012, and about three months later Flume was up and running. It was a two-man show; we didn’t have any staff yet, and I don’t think we’d even secured our first client before we started out.”

The founders first focused on social media, but soon realised that they wanted to do more than just manage clients’ social media campaigns.

“As your business grows, you find out what you’re good at,” says co-founder Ruan Oosthuizen. “Over time, we became more of a full-service agency. We didn’t just want to manage campaigns, we wanted to help create them.”

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By offering a one-stop service, Flume grew quickly. “By both creating content and managing campaigns, we were able to offer clients an end-to-end service. So instead of needing two or more agencies, our clients only needed one,” says Jacques. “Also, because we were sub-contracting work out to other agencies, we could offer excellent value for money.”

Of course, taking on the big boys as a small start-up is never easy. Flume’s impressive growth over the last four years has been the result of very hard work. And while Jacques and Ruan might have launched without any staff, they quickly needed help. Finding the right people became an absolute necessity. Here are the lessons they’ve learnt while putting together a strong team.

Set a good example

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“You need to walk a fine line when dealing with staff,” says Jacques. “When you start out, you tell yourself that you’ll be the best boss in the world — that you’ll treat people like adults and never micromanage. The truth is, though, that you can’t be everyone’s friend. And we certainly made some questionable hires early on that required a lot of micro-management. So, you do need to be the boss and you do need to manage.

“That said, we also believe that you need to set a good example. We hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our employees to. We don’t view ourselves as privileged. We don’t have special parking or private offices. We also manage, but we don’t micromanage. We hire good people and trust them to get the job done. Lastly, we treat every staff-related issue based on its own merits. You need certain rules, but you can’t be too rigid. People have lives and demands outside of the office, and you need to be realistic about that.”

Learn to delegate

Hiring staff is always a challenge for a start-up. Not only is money tight, but you’re competing for top talent against larger and more established business. But Jacques and Ruan warn against trying to save money when hiring.

“You need to hire top people who can help you manage and grow the company,” says Ruan. “You want experienced and senior people who you can delegate to.”

“When you first start out, you have no choice but to do everything yourself,” adds Jacques. “However, when you start hiring good people, you realise that there are plenty of things you aren’t good at, and that others do better. So, you need to stick to what you’re good at and learn to delegate to others. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Hire the right people, and then trust them to get the job done.”

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Hire carefully

When Flume started to grow, Jacques and Ruan needed help — and they needed it fast. However, instead of hiring too quickly, they decided to take their time to find the right people.

“When you’re growing, you’re often desperate for extra people, so you hire too quickly. That tends to end in disaster. Rather tough it out in the short term and wait until you find someone that you know will be a good fit,” says Ruan.

The founders have also realised the importance of a thorough interview process. “We don’t hire based on a single interview,” says Jacques. “We often interview prospective employees separately, and we’ve also learnt the importance of a test. You absolutely need to see an example of the work that the employee would offer. You need to see how the person performs under pressure, and you need to find out if the person will be able to do the specific work you need done.”

Hire from your network

How do you find good people? Most companies place an ad or use a recruitment agency. While these strategies can work, the founders of Flume have found an even better strategy: They hire from their network.

“We’ve come to the realisation that things tend to go far better when we hire from our network. Generally speaking, the people tend to be a better culture fit,” says Jacques.

“The fact of the matter is, when people in your network make a recommendation, they are essentially ‘vouching’ for someone. So, in a sense, they are putting their own reputations on the line, which means that they’re not going to point you in the wrong direction. Because of this, we recommend first trying to fill a position from within your network. There will be none of the financial incentives imposed by recruitment agencies to get the role filled as quickly as possible.”

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Understand the value of HR

Despite still being relatively small — Flume now has around 20 employees — the founders are already in the process of hiring a full-time HR manager.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the added complexity that comes with the hiring of each new staff member,” says Ruan.

“Managing and hiring people can quickly become your full-time job if you’re not careful. As the founder, you need to be growing the business, not dealing with every HR issue. It’s simply too time-consuming. Many young companies feel that they can’t justify the hiring of an HR manager, but we believe that it’s invaluable, since it frees up so much of your time.”

Take note

Managing people will quickly erode your time as your business grows. If you don’t put the right systems in place, it can become a substantial barrier to growth.

GG van Rooyen
GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.