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Tough Lessons Flume Learnt To Survive Super-Charged Growth

Flume just turned four. And over the last four years, it’s grown substantially. This is obviously a good thing, but it does bring with it a lot of complexity… especially when it comes to managing people. Here’s how Flume is driving growth through its people.

GG van Rooyen

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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.”

Related: How This Power Couple Hooked 2 Shark Tank Investors

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.”

Related: 11 Secrets Of South African Entrepreneurs On Making It To The Top

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.”

Related: Busi Skenjana’s Two Core Rules Of Entrepreneurship

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.

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling

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In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin

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The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

It’s a simple fact: Most millionaires have different habits than the average person. However, these habits are far from inaccessible; they improve one’s odds of finding success but can be adopted by just about anyone with a bit of concerted effort.

Timothy Sykes

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To take that idea one step further, once someone has become successful, how do they stay successful? Here, I’d like to take a slightly longer-sighted look at the habits of millionaires, focusing not just on the habits that make them successful but the ones that help them stay successful over time. By cultivating these habits in your own life, you’ll be investing in your own sustained success over time.

Here are six habits of long-time millionaires:

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