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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.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.

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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?

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I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.

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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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