Early employees and company growth

Early employees – here is what your founder might not tell you.

This post outlines some thoughts I had shared with my early employees on what to expect as we grow. There are several ideas (e.g.: employees should not be loyal to a company) that many founders cannot talk openly about. I understand that some things listed are not applicable to many companies. However, I am sharing this material in the hope that a few of the ideas are interesting or thought provoking.

Background

A little while ago, it became clear that Qxf2 had to grow a bit for us to sustain our culture. I noticed that there is a lot of material online about growing companies. However, most of that material is aimed at founders, their executive team and VCs. Outside of equity discussions, there is very little material to help an early stage employee navigate the troubles that come from working at a company that is hiring rapidly. So I drew upon my own (very limited) experience and the experience of several of my friends who have been early employees at different startups and put up a guide for my colleagues. If Qxf2 grew larger, what would it mean for them? How will their lives change?

If we grow larger …

I discussed this deck with my early employees. Some of the slides contain some speaker notes that I had put together when I created the slides. Further, the notes section below might help clarify some points that I have glossed over in the slides.

Notes

This section contains some thoughts on the 8 points being made in the deck above. So you should skip the sections that do not apply to you.

1. The company will change

One thing that can help early employees is to accept that their company will change. That also means realizing a couple of things. One, the current way of working is not the ‘only right way’ … it is probably ‘right’ only for the current window of time. Two, any change made is not going to be permanent and the company will change again when it finds its habits not keeping up with the challenges in the market. It will help early employees if they look at all changes as temporary and (probably) recoverable.

2. There is no “And then you can relax”

Folks think that once they hire more people they can relax. This is somewhat true for the technical workload as there are going to be more people to help. But it is not true for your social/cultural workload. As you hire more people on to your teams, you need to put in a lot more effort in protecting the culture you have.

3. The company cannot not be loyal to you

I make this point as a founder who genuinely wants to see his early employees do well. I will be choosing between two bad options when making a meaningful decisions that impacts people. My options will be:

a) stay loyal to the few people who helped me build this company but are now a bottleneck and risk jobs of everyone else

b) side with the new people with approaches that increase Qxf2’s odds of getting better but be disloyal to the early employees who helped me build the company

Both are lousy options. And yet, I will have to make a choice. I have thought about this conundrum for a long while. I think it is best for early employees to not be loyal to the company. When they find a better option, they should switch companies.

4. We will not optimize for your happiness

No comment. I hope the slides are clear.

5. You will get passed over

Early employees are very likely to get passed over. The problem space, thanks to their work, is better defined and the solution is much more concrete than when the early employees started. This means that companies can hire people with relevant experience better suited to do the job. What can an early employee do in such a situation? I think the answer is to get creative and ask for roles/positions/special-projects that are never advertised. Any early employee has the founder’s ear. Make use of it. Ask for a special project. Ask for a new role.

6. The company will be more political

No comment as the slides already cover what I want to say.

7. ‘Delivery’ should not be king

This is controversial but you should not be doing insane hours for the company as it grows. Let projects fail for the right reasons such as under-staffing or under-investing in key areas. These failures will help expose organizational problems early. Because early employees have this habit of putting in heroic efforts to help management succeed, they often end up covering up the bad decisions taken by management. At least for Qxf2, I feel like it is better for us to fail and correct those mistakes than have early employees work insane hours and burn out.

8. New people will be different

There are 5 pieces of advice on how existing employees can help make Qxf2 a better place for employees. The slides are self-explanatory.

Thoughts? Clarification? Disagreements? Additions? Post a comment below. I’m looking forward to hearing experiences from other early employees!

Arunkumar Muralidharan

I want to find out what conditions produce remarkable software. A few years ago, I chose to work as the first professional tester at a startup. I successfully won credibility for testers and established a world-class team. I have lead the testing for early versions of multiple products. Today, I run Qxf2 Services. Qxf2 provides software testing services for startups. If you are interested in what Qxf2 offers or simply want to talk about testing, you can contact me at: mak@qxf2.com. I like testing, math, chess and dogs.

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