Archive for category Lessons Learned
When we first started the company the goal was to build Scrubadoo.com, our first business, into the “Zappos” of the medical uniform industry. We concentrated solely on the online retail market. Specifically taking advantage of a variety of search engine marketing strategies (SEM) to draw clients in and then offering the unmatched service to keep them here and hopefully tell their friends about us.
This plan worked to an extent but the growth was not as fast as we would have liked. After about a year of live selling we decided toadd a more traditional approach to sales and call on larger clients. We essentially decided to move away from only selling through Scrubadoo.com and search out those larger purchasers by knocking on doors. Combining this strategy with the continued focus on unmatched customer service worked wonders. Today larger purchasers make up about 50% of our business and over the years we became in house experts at SEM which has allowed Scrubadoo.com continued growth.
Despite some success, we have still not been 100% happy with growth and just this year decided to make another change to the strategy of the company. Instead of just concentrating on our one business, Scrubadoo.com, we decided to roll out new business lines and take what we have become experts in (SEM, customer service, direct sales) and apply them to new industries. The new move was centered around the idea that we weren’t a “medical uniform” company, we were a sales & customer service organization and we can really be selling any product. The new strategies success is still up in the air as chefadoo.com and the other new businesses are still very very new (and in some cases still in alpha testing!).
Here at ScrubSquared we have a very small office. It is approximately 300 square feet that is broken up into two separate rooms. Despite the size, on average there are 3 people working in the office. We tend to all sit at one big table together in our front room. When someone needs to have a serious phone conversation they go to the other room and sit at a semi-private desk. Needless to say there is not a ton of privacy. In general I love the set up, it encourages all kinds of interaction between everyone in the company.
However, there are obviously times when private conversations need to happen. To make this happen, we recently implemented a “walking” strategy. Let me explain with an example. We recently had 1 on 1 feedback sessions with all of our employees. Rather than the “corporate” standard of sitting across from eachother at a desk we took a stroll around the block that our office is on.
It was great!
First of all, on a nice day in Minneapolis it is great to get outside while the getting is good (when it snows up here we may have to bring the walks to the skyway). Secondly, I think it helps break down some of the walls a normal session may have allowing both sides to be more open with feelings, feedback, and thoughts. There is something about walking and talking eye to eye as opposed to across a desk that made the conversations some of the best feedback sessions I have ever had. It worked so well that it is now going to be a policy. Even when we move into a larger space, with more privacy, we will take a lot of our important 1 on 1 talks outside for a stroll.
Give is a shot, see if it works for you.
If you missed phase one you can check it out here.
On to phase 2!
Before we get into the heart of our process a quick excerpt:
I received a surprisingly small number of applications from friends and family. Right when I started the process we actually received one application who was referred by a trusted friend. I interviewed the applicant because he came from such a trusted source. I had actually yet to even post the job at the U or on Craigslist. While I was not blown away by the applicant I thought he would do “good enough.” Without interviewing anyone else I actually offered him the position…..
Within a week, for reasons I will not bring up, we rescinded our offer and the hunt continued. Once we posted at the U and on Craigslist it became obvious we would have a plethora of applicants to choose from, one benefit in an otherwise terrible economic business environment. Lesson learned on my part. Don’t settle, and don’t hire the first person that comes in your door that is “passable” as you never know who else will come your way.
Once we got through that bump, we could move on to the search and phase 2!
With all of the applications we actually ran into what became an unexpected problem. Many of the applicants from our Craigslist posting were way more experienced & qualified than I had originally expected. In my head this was great. I was all excited and happy and I became positive we would hire an allstar with all kinds of relevant experience. It really made me change my focus from what we really needed at this point to what kind of employee with crazy cool skills could we get. I lost track of the fact that we didn’t need a ton of experience or an MBA. All we needed was someone who fit culturally, was smart enough to learn new things, and would put in the effort needed to learn those things.
Fortunately, all I really lost was the time spent on these applicants, many of whom I am very sure would have done well here. I ended up offering phone interviews to about 8 people from the first round of applicants and then face to face interviews with 4 more, all from the Craigslist pool, all of whom were overqualified. After the interviews and taking some time to reflect on everything I finally realized that I had gone off track and didn’t need the MBA or the experience at this stage in the company. I decided to get back to the core of what we needed and re-worked our job positing at the University of Minnesota. I was sure a recent, motivated grad would fit the bill.
Like Craigslist, we had a significant number of applicants from the U. We offered phone interviews to about 8 more applicants and interviewed 3 or 4, all of whom had way more impressive resumes than I did when I was their age. After the interviews I again had time to reflect. We had interviewed 2 “kids” with undergrad business degrees and two from the liberal arts side. All of them seemed smart and motivated. It honestly came down to our three core needs: cultural fit, ability to learn, and willingness to learn. If they had those three I figured we could train them on anything they would need to know.
We ended up hiring Eva. She is now four weeks in. So far so good as she has surpassed expectations in the first four weeks.
ScrubSquared was lucky yet again.
Takeaways from the hiring process:
1. Keep in mind the stage your company is in and hire to that life-stage of the company.
2. Don’t rush to hire. We went 3 years without anyone else full time on the business side, what was two more weeks? I rushed into a stupid decision and it could have cost us.
3. Take the time to truly distinguish the needs for the position. It will help you when decision time comes.
4. Culture fit is incredibly important, especially at a small company. I can’t imagine how tough it would be had Eva not ended up fitting culturally. This is my new #1 for any hire.
Vacation is such a crazy thing when you are an entrepreneur. The lack of it was something I never considered prior to starting scrubadoo. I have learned the hard way there is really no such thing as a “true” vacation when you are an early stage start up. Here art scrubadoo there are things that need to be done every day and until recently I was the 1 and only employee on the business side.The result: I have worked every day for the last three years no matter if I was on vacation or not.
Just a quick (extreme) example: I actually got married last July, my wife and I went to the Cayman islands for our honeymoon. Even then I wasn’t able to get away from the business. I would wake up every morning at around 7:00 am and work for several hours while she slept in a little bit. It was the last thing I wanted to do and my wife, while a little annoyed by it (more because I couldn’t truly relax than anything else), was incredibly understanding and supportive.
This is just one personal example of the difficulty of vacationing while starting a company. Over the last three years I have learned more tricks and gotten better at minimizing my obligations while on vacation. Here are a few tricks:
1. Take advantage of technology. While on my honeymoon, I still needed to call clients in America. We are a bootstrapped start-up with a small budget. I took advantage of Google voice. As long as you are calling a US number it is free to use no matter what type of phone you are calling. We also manage the majority of our transactions online, so as long as I have a laptop and internet I can get a lot of work done.
2. Plan ahead. No matter if you are going to be gone for a day or a week, there are things you can knock out ahead of time to minimize your daily work requirements while you are away. I always check in and make sure all of my accounts are 100% in order before I leave to minimize the possibility of a “fire” while I am gone.
3. Hire. We recently added our 3rd employee, someone that would work on the business side of things and manage the day to day operations. While my vacation time was not the primary reason to make the hire, knowing it would be easier for me to get away was certainly a consideration when making the decision. You can only go so long without taking a break, three years without a true day off is a long time.
4. Mary an understanding woman.
To be honest, I don’t think there is any one answer of how to make it easier to leave, even with employees and others that can handle the day to day operations. This company is my baby and it is tough to leave
Here at Scrubadoo we recently went through the process of hiring our first full time business side employee. It was 6 weeks of time consuming, stressful work. This hire is also the most important next step for the company. Here are a few thoughts and takeaways from our process.
How we got the word out.
I first wrote as detailed a job description as possible. This was an extremely difficult task as how do you write a description for a “do everything” job like this. After we had a usable description I took the following steps.
- First, I sent it out to any and all personal networks I have in Minneapolis, including alumni clubs. I felt that these networks may provide the most reliable/trustworthy applicants. Unfortunately, there were very few applications received from this outlet.
- I then moved on to Craig’s list. It is free to post on Craig’s list and you certainly reach a huge audience. From Craig’s list we received at least 75 applications. They were from people that were over qualified, under qualified, and everything in-between. These applicants made up a large portion of the people I ended up interviewing.
- We also posted the job at the University of Minnesota. The timing happened to coincide with graduation, so a new grad seemed like another great option. This route probably made up about 25% of our applicant pool.
From these three sources we received the applicant pool that made up all of our interviewees.
This post is the first in the “new” phase of my entrepreneur blog. I am going to do my best to post more regularly. The goal is one post/week. The goal is to just talk about whatever is on my mind and then mix in things like “The Hire” (which will be finished shortly). Check back regularly for updates. As always I will be as direct and frank as I possibly can be.
We have recently begun a search for our 3rd permanent employee. First I tried to send a job description out to friends and colleagues locally. We did not have much luck so, three days ago (on Friday) I posted it on Craigslist.
Needless to say, hiring a complete stranger is incredibly nerve-racking. Bringing someone new into the company is like bringing someone into my family. They will quickly learn everything there is to know about our company.
Over the weekend we have already received at least 30 applications. We are going to do some phone screening and have any applicant we decide to interview in person fill out a few forms so we can collect more information and really do our diligence on this hire. Unfortunately, we do not have an HR department nor do we have these boiler plate forms.
I started Googling in the hopes of finding something usable (and free) and I came across an unexpected site with some great resources. It turns out that Office Depot provides a slew of corporate forms that are all free.
What a great resource for a start-up.
Oh, I am sure I will let you know how the hiring goes!
I have recently had some people ask what they can do to provide better customer service on the cheap. Aside from “people cost” providing unmatched customer service can be surprisingly easy. It is actually kind of sad, but it doesn’t take much to stand out from the pack. If you do what is basically “expected” of you you are already ahead of the game.
Here are a few of my tips:
#1. It needs to start at the top and flow through the entire organization. When people ask me what kind of a company we run the first thing I say is a “customer service company.” We could really be selling anything. In my emails out to clients my title is always “Scrubadoo Customer Service.”
#2. Use common sense. If there is an issue with a client, put yourself in their shoes and then make your decision based on what you would want to happen if you were the customer.
#3. Communicate. This is probably the easiest and most impressive thing you can do for a client. Anticipate questions they may have and answer them before the ask. In our situation we preemptively send out emails to all our clients with a REAL customer service person’s contact email and phone number, tell them when their order will ship, follow up with a second email telling them their order has shipped, and finally we ask them to reach out to us if they have any questions at all.
#4. Follow up. If someone calls or emails, respond to them ASAP. We try to respond within an hour. At the very least you should always be able to respond within 24 hours. Follow up is really so important.
You would be shocked at how just executing on #3 and #4 will bring you to the top of your industry in the customer service department. Great customer service does not have to be incredibly difficult.
#5. Wow factor. It never hurts to have a “wow factor” to put really rank your customer service amongst the elite in your industry. This can be your shipping and return policies, a unexpected gift, etc. At Scrubadoo we hand write thank you notes to all of our clients (and we service thousands of clients a year). We also have a free return policy that is head and shoulders above what our competitors offer.
These are just a few simple steps that I believe can be executed on by any small company. In fact, we are proof that anyone can do it!
I have mentioned before that one of the scariest things I have had to do in the last three years of running scrubadoo is hire our first employee.
Our first employee, Frank, is our web developer and he has worked out better than I could have imagined.
We have now started the search for our second employee. This person will take over a lot of the daily work that I do and hopefully free up my time to focus on sales & growth.
This go round is just as scary as the first. Much like with Frank, I am not worried about the performance of any future employees, I am more worried about the added pressure. The more people we bring on, the more people I am responsible for.
As an entrepreneur, and especially a solopreneur, if your company fails only you are directly effected. I am ultimately comfortable in my ability to bounce back from any failure, but it is an entirely different story when you become responsible for the livelihoods of others.
There is no real way to describe this feeling. On the flip side, only by bringing new people into the fold can you grow a company. Through growth you can build stability and provide more jobs.
All you can do up front is make sure the people you bring on understand the inherent risk of working for a start up. That and work your ass off to make sure you don’t fail.
Today was not a fun day.
Woke up at about 6:00 AM to a fire alarm. Turns out a water pipe had burst in the lobby of the building I live in. Scrubadoo’s office is located in commercial space at the ground level of the same building.
Guess where the pipe bust was? Needless to say we were basically swimming in water this morning. It is extremely cold in MN right now (think -10ish) so the hot water that was pouring everywhere was throwing off an amazing amount of steam. The firefighters that responded to the alarm broke through the glass security door to the building and then proceeded to kick in the two doors to our office. I am actually ok with this (better than having someone stuck and in trouble).
But everything was a mess. Damages basically consisted of walls, scrubs, and a day of my life cleaning up. It got me thinking of the other low points of running scrubadoo.
- We played a part in messing up a large order this past Christmas. Total cost ~$1,000. We ate the total cost despite having about 50% of the responsibility.
- My honor being questioned by a supplier when we first started the company. Essentially we were promised certain terms by our account rep, he left the company and my new rep wouldn’t honor it. I took it all the way to their CEO when he basically called me a liar. I didn’t have it in writing – lesson learned.
- Writing a $6,000 dollar check to a company for web development – despite literally zero of our line items promised were completed.
There have been a lot of tough times for us. To this point we have pushed through and kept on growing. I am sure there will be more to come. Have I ever mentioned starting a company is tough?
There was another first for scrubadoo.com this past week. We had our first ever “annual” strategy meeting. On Jan 2nd we held our 2012 strategy planning session.
I wanted to put all of our stakeholders in a room for several hours, tell them how we have done since our live launch waaaayyy back in Feb 2010 and then pick their brains to see how we can improve and continue to grow. Here was the basic format of our meeting:
- Performance Overview: To this point I have maintained the policy that everyone that works for scrubadoo has full access to both myself and our books. They can see exactly how we are doing and can ask questions about why we are doing it. In the meeting we showed a bunch of fun graphs demonstrating growth etc over the last 23 months.
- Projections & Expectations: I put together my personal projections and expectations for the company for 2012. I then laid out several key areas that we will need to improve upon and work towards in order to hit these projections.
- How the Hell Do We Do It?: The final segment in our meeting was opened up to a brain storming session. I had a bit of a frame work to keep us going in the right direction but the goal was to figure out how we can hit our projections and meet my expectations in 2012.
Overall I think it went pretty well. We basically want to double the size of the company in 2012 and I think we can do it. While maintaining consistent growth on the retail side, we are going to continue to aggressively pursue wholesale scrub selling opportunities and will depend on these opportunities to really lead the way in our growth.
On quick side bar: we hired our first full time employee in 2011 and I expect to have a second by the middle of 2012. Talk about scary. I think hiring full time staff members is the scariest thing I have done to this point in my entrepreneurial endeavors. I will talk more about this later.
Back to the strategy session. Overall I think meetings like this can really help any company, even if you don’t come up with any ground breaking ideas. Here is why: When you can provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to voice opinions, be heard, and come up with ideas it really increases buy in. To this point almost everyone that has worked at scrubadoo has truly enjoyed their time here, and I think the level of involvement and knowledge that they have about the entire company helps build a strong attachment to it. Everyone from interns to friends that have helped us with side projects become vested in scrubadoo’s success.
This vested interest is amazing and one of the reasons I still love entrepreneurship and doing what I do. Seeing all of these other people that are excited about the potential opportunities for scrubadoo, continues to push me to make sure we make it happen.
So on we go to 2012 and I am confident we will continue to grow and will take more steps towards our goal of being the premier retailer and wholesale distributor of medical scrubs in the country.
It has to happen, we can’t let everyone down…