Ask the expert: your questions on growing the business answered
FinTech Futures is introducing a new fortnightly column, Ask The Expert! The column is designed to provide readers with practical advice on how to grow their businesses.
Greg Watts is our resident expert. He is the founder of Demand Creation Partners, a London-based growth consultancy that helps fintechs and paytechs to scale. A visiting lecturer at the American University in Paris and regular industry speaker, he was previously head of market acceleration at Visa Europe.
QUESTION: I’m the founder and CEO of a fintech undergoing hypergrowth. How can I create a culture for business success?
Here’s a situation I often encounter with fintechs and paytechs undergoing hypergrowth:
- The company has been trading for approximately two years, has 30 to 60 employees and is growing rapidly
- It has earmarked investment for product enhancements, partner recruitment and entry into new markets
Needless to say, the founder/CEO and executives want to scale – and fast. The question is, how can you create an internal culture that helps drive growth and success? In this column, I’ll share how.
- Start with a purpose.
It’s surprising how many fintechs struggle to articulate their product, service or proposition in a way that is universally understood by clients, partners – and crucially – employees.
If there’s any ambiguity about who you are and what you do, you need to address it immediately.
At the beginning, all that matters is building something great. When you start, your team is likely to be small – in the single digits – which means communication tends to be direct and issues resolved quickly. However, as a company grows, communication can become inconsistent, resulting in a lack of clarity or incorrect information proliferating around the business.
To avoid this scenario, ensure you have a clear purpose that is embedded and clearly communicated from Day One. To create that purpose, understand the “why” of the operation. What (or whom) does your business serve, and why? Your answer should be simple, unambiguous and authentic. Examples of fintechs with clear purposes include Coinbase, Divido, Modulr, Revolut and Stripe.
Once you’ve defined your purpose, ensure that it’s communicated and visible throughout your organisation – in induction programmes, job descriptions, on the walls and across marketing channels. Your purpose is what you do and who you are, so it needs to be seen and understood by everyone.
- Define values, standards and a common language.
For a culture to be successful, every employee – from the CEO down – must speak the same language and embrace common behaviours and values. Typically, four to six behaviours and values is about right, and they should be created with input from employees at various levels across the business – not just by the C-suite.
Measurement is crucial when it comes to adhering to values and behaviours. You can do this by embedding them into performance reviews and publicly recognising individuals and teams that go the extra mile or display rock-star attributes.
- Lead by example.
When fintechs go through hypergrowth, leaders can understandably forget to communicate key information to the wider team. They’re only human, after all.
Culture is often shaped by how leaders act and behave. It’s their responsibility to live and breathe company values – and call out those that aren’t. He or she shouldn’t simply recite the mission statement, but exemplify what the company stands for – at all times.
Leaders must also be transparent. If your team doesn’t trust you, it’s unlikely they’ll go the extra mile. Being transparent with commercial or investment challenges, for example, will go a long way in creating an engaged, focussed team. It’s a good idea to schedule all-hands meetings at the start of the week in which leadership provides an update to the business and employees have the opportunity to ask questions.
- Identify cultural ambassadors.
Every fintech has them: employees who live, eat and breathe their company’s culture – and who love to express their passion internally and externally. Such employees are among your most valuable assets. Once you identify who they are, ask what they like about the culture, what they don’t like and why culture matters to them. That will help you gauge if you should stay the course or make changes.
The value of these ambassadors will only increase as your fintech grows. Why? Because customers, partners and external influencers remember people who are passionate and knowledgeable about the company they represent.
- Hire for behaviours, not necessarily for years of experience.
As a fintech going through hypergrowth, you need people who are can-do; who roll up their sleeves and get the job done. People who want to deliver.
When you’re looking for such people, screen for behaviours rather than skill. For example, if you’re launching into new markets, what examples can they provide of having worked with different cultures? What did they learn? How did they make a difference? Remember that skills can be learned, but it’s much harder to cultivate a positive attitude.
Hiring people who embed your values and go the extra mile will have a significant impact as others will come to see this as the new normal.
Bringing it all together
Creating a high performing culture isn’t difficult or expensive but it does require careful thought, focus and dedication.
Employees who embody and champion your purpose and values will go a long way to ensuring hypergrowth as you build and scale.