Archive for category Start-Up Tips
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Within a week, for reasons I will not bring up, we rescinded our offer and the hunt continued.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.
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!
About two years ago I wrote a post about major issues I was having with a supplier. I wish I could tell you a fun happy story about our relationship with the same supplier (who happen to specialize in collegiate scrubs) but two years later we are having almost all of the same issues.
TWO YEARS! that is a long long time.
They have had all kinds of internal inventory, staffing, and basically any other kind of issue you can think of. Or at least those are a lot of the reasons they have provided me for their two year long ineptitude.
I need to be clear hear and say that our current account rep is actually very responsive and I truly think he is doing his best, but he being provided very little reliable information and support. There really isn’t too much he can do. Like me, he is overwhelmed by the issues they are having.
We have literally had orders that until recently have been on back order since December 2010! We still have orders that are on backorder from APRIL! We are doing everything we can to keep these clients informed, have provided them with very very deep discounts on their order and are sending gift cards to all of them to help salvage their relationship with us (after some negotiations these gift cards have been subsidized by our supplier (theoretically). We have also refunded anyone who has asked and sent a gift card to them for future orders.
What makes these delays worse is that on over 15 occasions these clients have been told that their orders are about ready to ship out…..15 times! How are they still waiting? I would have demanded my money back a long time ago!
Some of their issues are so ridiculous that I literally went 3 months trying to pay them for orders they had fulfilled for us and I couldn’t get anyone int he finance area to call me back to take a payment!! It eventually had to fall to our already over-worked account rep to handle.
About 5 months ago I sent the CEO of the company (with whom my relationship got off to a rocky start with when he questioned my ethics in one of my very first interactions with his company….never question our my or our companies ethics!) a very long detailed email that was very cordial in the hopes of opening up a little more communication between our companies in the hopes that we could better serve our mutual end clients. I believe it was a 4 page email with the issues we had have, how I thought we could help them, and a few ideas of ways we could work together to move forward to improve our relationship and the client experience. I put a lot of time into this email with the intent of making us all stronger. I received a two sentence response from him that was very curt. Needless to say none of my ideas were implemented.
Lets fast forward to the current situation. Here are the facts (as far as I know anyway!)
- I am pretty sure we have grown to be the largest web based client they have.
- Sales of their products (collegiate scrubs) represent about 15% of our business.
- There is a substitute for about 10% of that business from another supplier that we already have a relationship with (so if we drop them completely we probably stand to lose about 5% of our business)
- Issues with their products represent 95% of our headaches.
- Our account rep is tired of my emails every day I would be to in his shoes, but I really don’t have any other options other than emailing and calling him).
- There is really no plan in place for these issues to be resolved.
Now I am faced with a choice. Do I drop their products off of our site completely? Do I do a partial drop? We are going to need to do something and I have done my best to manage my relationship with them to proactively improve the situation but this hasn’t seemed to work. Like I said. I wrote a post about the same company and many of the same issues two years ago!
One thing is sure. We will be making changes shortly.
No matter if you sell scrubs or if you are an entrepreneur in some other random industry, you will likely encounter similar issues, and anytime there are standard issues there are probably some general rules to live by.
On that note, I recently read a great article by James Altucher where he laid out his 100 Rules for Entrepreneurship. It is a quick read and is certainly worth it. Heck, it inspired me to tell you all about it.
Believe it or not I actually agree with almost everything he has written. There are a few rules that I think can be very industry specific and don’t apply to scrubadoo as much as they may another company. However, of everything he writes what really sticks out?
Rule #1 – ‘It’s (entrepreneurship) not fun.”
This is obviously a bold, blanket statement that is meant to inspire conversation and people like me writing posts like this. I have gone back and forth on whether or not I agree with him on this, in the end I am pretty confident I disagree. Altucher doesn’t feel the need to justify or prove it, but I figured I would give my two cents.
My argument against him is pretty simple. If entrepreneurship isn’t fun, why would anyone ever really do it? It can’t be money, there are a lot easier ways to make money. In a traditional job people will be miserable yet continue to go to work day after day and year after year because they work to provide for the rest of their lives. They don’t “live to work” they “work to live” if you will.
Entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury to do this. Working is living and living is working. If you can’t have fun with it then you probably won’t last in the start up game very long. Am I passionate about the medical uniform industry? No. Do I love taking customer service calls every day of the week at all hours? Not always. But I am extremely passionate about entrepreneurship and building something that can be around for a long time. To me that challenge is fun. To find the fun in entrepreneurship you can not concentrate on the day to day. You have to look at the experience as a whole. That is where you find the fun.
On the flip side, the supporting argument for Altucher is also pretty simple. There are a TON of annoying day to day things that plain suck. A lot of my days are not fun at all. In fact the majority of the days are probably not very fun for me. Why isn’t every day fun? Lots of reasons; I have talked in the past about how lonely entrepreneurship is, which is probably one of the worst parts of it. In addition to this, it is tough, you have a ton of weight on your shoulders, you never have enough money, every day is a struggle to be successful, and you deal with an immense amount of the unknown to just name a few. There are an uncountable number of things that can make you want to crumble into a pile and give up. What makes it worse? They happen on a daily basis. It is a roller coaster ride.
All that being said I think the “fun factor” of entrepreneurship really probably can be compared to a roller coaster ride.
1. It is certainly not fun for everyone.
2. Even if you like roller coasters there are probably parts of the ride that suck (spending the money to get into the park, waiting in line, going up that first hill, getting knocked around, etc).
3. But if the over-all experience wasn’t fun no one would ever ride a coaster a second time.
3b. If anyone tells you they love everything about it they are a liar or crazy.
Basically, all the parts of entrepreneurship may not be fun, but the total experience has to be. Or else, you should probably get a normal job.
Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since this post. A long care-free vacation still seems like a dream these days. We haven’t automated enough of our site yet (we are working on it!) and I am still the only one that can do a lot of our daily tasks.
For those of you that are new to scrubadoo, we are well over a year old now (we went beta with the site in Oct of 2009 and live in Feb of 2010) and I still have yet to go on a vacation where I haven’t opened a computer to do work.
I am getting married July 9th of this year and like most couples we wanted to take a honeymoon to help celebrate. Unlike most couples, I run a young start-up. The fact that at least 1-2 hours of work would need to get done every day played a significant factor in deciding where to we we should go, what to do, etc. We even considered postponing a honeymoon until this winter, largely because of Scrubadoo (also because it is really cold in Minneapolis in case you hadn’t heard).
I have found that bootstrapping a start-up company engulfs you. No matter where you are or what you are doing, it is very, very difficult to get away from it. I was a commercial banker at with BB&T for a while and when I went home from the office or went away for a weekend, I could easily leave work at work. It was pretty easy to separate yourself. Now, it is tough to take 2 hours in the evening to work out and have a nice dinner, let alone go away for a week. I honestly think it is just a part of it.
Perhaps we are an extreme example as we focuses on customer service and are open 24/7 (this doesn’t leave a ton of downtime). I honestly still feel that if I’m not working we aren’t serving our customers. Until we get to a point where we can bring on more staff, I think this is the reality.
It certainly does take its toll on you. Research has shown that vacations are a great way to re-vitalize yourself and get “excited” about work again. When you are an entrepreneur you need to find new avenues. Rather than vacations I refuel by getting “wins.” A win can be beating last months revenue numbers, signing up a big client, or just receiving appreciative emails from clients. Loving entrepreneurship or your industry is a must.
I love making decisions that effect the strategy of the company and find that when I am stuck doing the daily work and not am not working on larger initiatives that will move scrubadooo forward I tend to get beaten down even more. Entrepreneurship is certainly a roller coaster ride, there are ups and downs every day, sometimes every hour. The wins and the greater goal of building a sustainable business from scratch have to fuel the fire at this stage for me.
Last month I put together a 2010 annual report for a few of our “stakeholders.” To be honest, it was as much for me as it was for anyone else. It had the basic rundown of where we are, where we were, and where we want to be. While this was good to put down on paper, I always feel like I have a general idea of where I want to be in my head. Writing out projections and goals can be a good practice though, it gives you something to shoot for. I don’t have a board, investors, or anyone else to answer to. Nor do I have any real benchmarks of how a company like mine should look this far into its life. Thus setting goals at least makes me answer to myself. It gives me checks and makes puts some pressure on me to keep chugging along.
While all of this goal setting was great practice, the real point of putting the report together (and why I would recommend everyone do something similar even if, like me, you don’t have a true “board”) was to garner feedback from everyone I sent it to on the challenges that lay ahead. I figured I would throw a few of those challenges out here to see if anyone had any ideas for me! Thus, direct from the scrubadoo.com 2010 report:
How do we answer our ever present need for consistent development work? Do we hire full-time? Try again with yet another development company? Does anyone know anyone?
Should we create a scrubadoo private scrubs label? Is it worth the inventory risk? This would cost an initial investment of around $15,000. Where do we get that cash? What do our sales levels need to be prior to taking on this endeavor?
What are some creative, yet inexpensive ways to expand the brand recognition of scrubadoo?
How do we increase wholesale scrub orders? Specifically, how do we attract orders from Private practices?
When is the right time to bring on another full time employee (aside from myself)?
These are a few of our most pressing questions. None of them have a magic bullet but many of them can be improved. Any thoughts would be appreciated! On a side note I would recommend that everyone put together a similar report for their “stakeholders.” It helps keep people engaged and supportive of your endeavors. Keeping that conversation open is always important!
I was recently informed of haro.com, or “helping a reporter out.” It is a pretty cool concept. Basically reporters from all over post a quick snipit of ideas they are working on and ask for “expert” opinions and quotes.
As anyone trying to build a company from scratch knows, getting your name out there is extremely difficult to do. I wish there was a magic bullet that I could use to send thousands of people to scrubadoo.com, but there isn’t. Every little bit of publicity helps.
Haro.com is a great way to achieve some free publicity. I have been following the feed for about 2 weeks now and you can check an article out here that I have already been quoted in.
Moral of the story: Every little bit helps and you never know what will come of small stories like these.