How do you choose your employees? Do you base your decision on whether you’d like to sit next to them on a plane for 12 hours? We do. Making sure our employees are great people as well as great workers has been one of the keys to our success as a company from New Zealand (nowhere) that now sells retail management software to 140+ countries around the world.
Startups are hard work. Having to think about every little detail is draining, and a lot of it is left in the “it will sort itself out” basket. This is often where business and brand values sit. But your values and how you define your company both internally and to the outside world can play a huge part in your business’ success.
At Vend we focused on culture right from the start. It didn’t matter that the business started with just me in my garage. I knew that I wanted the company to be global and I knew how I wanted to shape our values.
We set out our mission early on and the mission was simple: delight retailers. This seemingly innocuous statement then informed everything: how we acted, how we communicated, what projects we prioritized and who we hired. And it still does to this day. In fact, every single employee lives by it.
Going global, however, certainly provided us with some challenges (headaches). Suddenly it wasn’t just about what was happening immediately around us where we could have oversight of all activity and personnel. We had to think about how we were going to ensure our values continued across different borders and time zones. How were our Kiwi attitudes and beliefs going to work within different cultures and with all sorts of people thousands of miles away?
One of the key things we did to let our culture live on in all our offices was to plant current “Venders” there right from the start. What better advocates for a company than the employees themselves? These people already lived and breathed our ethos and knew exactly who Vend was and how to communicate that to new hires. It worked like a dream. No matter which office you go to now, be it Melbourne, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Berlin, Auckland or Wellington, the Vend values are well and truly alive and consistent.
And that’s why we also have a unique approach to hiring. We don’t compromise on cultural fit because it’s so important that the team dynamic works. So we always get current Venders in a room with a candidate and see whether they gel. Everyone has to consider: Would you spend 12 hours on a plane next to this person? Are they interesting beyond their work experience?
It’s a sure-fire way to find out whether they uphold our brand values. Because quite simply, we like interesting people. We love people that have passions outside of work and that bring something special to the table. That’s the exact reason we set up offices in the places we did – because those cities are full of energetic, creative people.
Aligning business values across so many countries also relies on some solid communication. There are loads of technologies that enable internal communication, and we’ve implemented a few different programs that encourage all our employees to talk. Talk about retail, talk about Vend and even talk about their weekends. Simply providing people with a space to easily chat to others, regardless of where they’re based means work isn’t slowed and people constantly get to know each other.
This is particularly important considering we are growing at a rapid pace. The number of new faces each week is crazy; but by introducing them to all our communication channels on their very first day, and by encouraging them to interact and introduce themselves, they very quickly become part of the Vend family.
Another thing Vend has made sure of is that every office around the world is equal. Regardless of whether we have two employees or hundreds in an office, each one is treated as bringing the same value to the business. Whether it’s how the office is designed, what equipment is installed or something small like having free snacks or a coffee machine, it matters. We want people to succeed and to always feel included, so we make sure their environment does just that.
As a startup, it’s crucial to define your values and your mission as soon as you can. Then live and breathe by them. Let them sit at the very heart of who you are and what you are trying to achieve. And make sure every single employee fosters your values and mission correctly.
Vaughan Rowsell is CEO and founder of Vend and has more than 15 years’ tech experience. He is a veteran of several startups including Kiwi auction site Trade Me. He founded, coded and then publicly launched Vend in late 2010. Follow him on Twitter.