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Retaining your startup staff when the business moves to scaleup

Sometimes, startup staff have chosen to work in a startup because they thrive under pressure - so how do you retain them when you move into scaleup territory?
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Some people thrive under pressure and naturally work well in startups. How can you persuade scaleup staff to stay on once the business dynamic changes?

As we have explored elsewhere in this series, recruiting is hard. It is especially hard for startup businesses – so much extra is required.

The sort of person that will thrive in a startup environment will typically be able to hit the ground running and take on large amounts of responsibility, and will have passion and enthusiasm for the role.

They need to be on board with the ethos of the business, and be a good “culture” fit – startup employees tend to work closely, and clashing personalities can be a hurdle.

If a business manages to pull this off and assembles a crack team, it can really take off – but now what happens? Here you have a group of people that thrive under bootstrapped conditions, and suddenly the kind of ride they’re on changes.

Some people prefer startup working conditions, and often those that work best are those with an entrepreneurial streak of their own – so once a business has made it, how can it retain the people that helped it get there?

We caught up with James Sinclair, owner of Partyman, a children’s entertainment business, to find out more.

How did Partyman get started?

I started Partyman when I was 16 years-old and made the decision to become a children’s entertainer.

From humble beginnings, I have grown Partyman over the last ten years into a £10m turnover business which employs 350 people and includes a hugely successful entertainment company, five indoor playcentres, four day nurseries, three laser combat arenas, a one-stop online Partyman shop, a children’s farm and a teddy bear making business. 

What challenges have you experienced in the scaling up process?

Sometimes you have loyal staff that worked well in the business when you were a startup but don’t fit comfortably into a larger business environment. They find it hard to adjust and end up causing blockages in the business.

I try and find new roles for them within the existing business where they may be a better fit.

What is your recruitment/interview process?

When we are recruiting for team members, we put them through a group interview process to find out if they have the right mindset for a customer-focused role. We are looking for people with a happy, upbeat temperament that are good with dealing with people.

For our management jobs, we put people through three interviews and we have an interview board so that no one person makes the final decision.

It is important to have a second opinion on people as that is often the best way to avoid costly mistakes. We do also sometimes give applicants a presentation task as it helps to give us an idea of how much they really want the role.
What are you looking for in the ideal candidate?

It’s about attitude over skillset. We are looking for happy and hardworking employees that fit in with the culture of the company and believe in our mission.

Employing somebody with the wrong attitude can be toxic to a company and we have definitely learned from past mistakes.

What kind of contracts have you found works best for your staff?

I tend to like to employ people directly rather than rely on freelancers and contractors. We do have a few contractors and certainly there is sometimes a need to employ them. By employing your own staff the business tends to get better loyalty and there is a sense of belonging.

What do you think is expected of you as an employer?

When you start employing people, you need to keep them motivated and provide them with opportunities to progress otherwise you will lose them.

It is my responsibility to offer them a job that they can make their own and give them the opportunity to grow and progress within the company.

This article is part of a wider campaign called the Scale-up Hub, a section of Real Business that provides essential advice and inspiration on taking your business to the next level. It’s produced in association with webexpenses and webonboarding, a fast-growing global organisation that provides cloud-based software services that automate expenses management and streamline the employee onboarding process.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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