The four most important things we’ve learned in four years

The four most important things we’ve learned in four years

It’s Compass’ fourth birthday – hooray! So what tips can we share from four years on the startup rollercoaster? 

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When we were tasked with the job of distilling into a blog the four most important things that we’ve learnt in the past four years of business, Luke and I  rattled off about 44 million things in the course of a 15 minute drive. In short, we’ve learnt A LOT. We both laugh, cringe, high-five and face-palm at the people we were at that newborn stage of Compass newborn…when incidentally we also birthed our very own first human newborn too. Recipe for disaster, much? 

However, surprisingly to none more than ourselves, here we STILL are on our fourth birthday, alive (despite sleeplessness), thriving (despite 2020’s endless challenges) and able to tell the tale of what we know now and what we wish we did back in those early days.

1) Get clear on your numbers

This is a really important one….make decisions via data.

At the beginning, everything we did was via gut-feel, intuition and just straight-out recklessness. In short, these are just whimsical words for saying that almost all our decisions were emotionally-led, which is no way to run or lead a business. 

By chance, this worked wonderfully at first – but as the business grew, there was a persistent anxiety that hovered over us. Could we actually afford that new hire? And how truly terrifying will our next BAS bill be?

Luke and I resisted metrics for so long. Neither of us are natural numbers people so we hid behind the excuse of not having the time, or the expertise that we needed to really start the climb on what seemed to be an impossible mountain. But around the three-year mark, we were forced to carve out time with a blunt butter knife. 

To survive COVID, we needed daily visibility on our numbers as a break-even reference and for minimal-viable-product indications. It was a tough time, but I’m so incredibly grateful for the clarity it gave us and the confidence it continues to give us to make empowered decisions about Compass’ future. What’s more, not only have we taken the guesswork out of big calls, but we now have really clear and shared goals of what success, stability and growth look like. 

Decisions are no longer so draining, just a numbers game and this is the most solid (and intelligent) new foundation that we can build from. 

2) Outsource experts

You are not superhuman, you can’t be across it all and nor are you good at everything. Sheesh, get over yourself, you two. 

I cannot stress this enough. Find the 5% that only you as a leader, founder or owner can do and zone it on that. The rest? Outsource it to your team and allow your business to be successful beyond you. I love the concept from Arianna Huffington that says that you can’t steer the ship and see the storms ahead if you’re on deck and looking down all day. Let yourself look up!

And if you can’t afford the roles you need internally, invest in those skills externally. I could hack away for hours on end on Xero tutorials, but hiring a bookkeeper, accountant and advisor who are better at this than me is a better use of my time and that 5%. 

Compass also isn’t yet ready for a full-time C-suite, but boy do we need that experience, insight and level of operation; so in the meantime, we outsource our ops team and advisory board. This ensures that we are tracking towards the company we want to be, and also that we aren’t just operating in our own echo chamber. Husband + wife duos, this is a biggie. Copy + paste. 

If you need any more proof that we believe in this theory so wholly and solely; despite being a marketing agency we actually outsourced the Compass brand positioning and website copy, as well as numerous big brand pieces to an external and very trusted marketing specialist; the super talented Hannah Silverton. But why, you ask? There is unsurpassed benefit in third-parties, external perspectives and brains that are separate to your daily dialogue.

3) Develop systems for scale 

Your systems and processes should work for your business whether you are 1 person or 100 people. When you are developing processes, ways of working or standard operating procedures, think – would this work if our business tripled in size? How would we handle this if we had 50 people asking the same questions?

I joke that Compass has the systems of a multinational corporation behind the scenes, but in all honesty, it runs like a business much bigger than it is. As much as my team collectively sigh every time that I pull up the ol ‘Policies and Procedures’ doc or repeat some our SOPs in quick succession, it allows us to be nimble, work from anywhere, be transparent about the how and why we do things and above all, include every single person in the business in this conversation and responsibility. 

4) Keep your talent pool deep 

‘Always make time to have the coffee’. This was some advice that an ex CEO gave me in relation to meeting new people and potential talent. Even if you’re not actively recruiting, having a good network of highly skilled and values-aligned talent ensures that you are ready to embrace change when it undoubtedly comes knocking. It also means that your brand is active and gaining air-time in the market. You may not be looking for that particular skill set, but perhaps the candidate has a friend of a friend who could be perfect for another role? 

And if you find a unicorn? Consider selling a kidney just to find a role for them. We have found some of the best people we have when not looking for them, but couldn’t be more thankful that we found a way to make it work. If your business is your people, then make your people a priority. 

And that’s four. Phew, that was hard. Are you sure you don’t want the full 44 million? I hope you’ve found this post useful with liftable strategies, but also in being kinder to yourself in your start-up journey. We are all learning, flailing and epically failing as we go forward, but hopefully with each year we can celebrate all three of these things.

Happy birthday CMP and thank you so much to everyone who has supported us over the past four years. 

As always, I love to hear from our community. Drop into our DMs and tell me what you want to hear from me.

Natalie Dean-Weymark, Co Founder + Co Director of Compass Studio

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