Techsperts at Scale: Tips to Grow Your Business

by Zalando Technology - 12 Oct 2016

A great addition to our Zalando Techspert Series has just wrapped up, with this month’s theme focusing on scaling your business.

We invited an extra panelist to mix it up, with Head of Data at GetYourGuide, Mathieu Bastian, joining the fun along with the Managing Director of Movinga, Finn Age Hänsel. We were also joined by the Director of International Markets from Delivery Hero, Tuomas Hurmerinta, and rounded up the panel with our VP of Brand Solutions, Christoph Lange.

Sad to have missed the event? We sat down with our Techsperts who shared some advice for those interested in the business of businesses.

Zalando: What are the key attributes you look for when you’re hiring at scale?

Finn Age Hänsel: When you’re hiring below scale, you’re looking for talent and very driven people. While this doesn’t stop when you’re hiring beyond that point, hiring at scale means that you’re also looking to hire people with experience. What we’ve learned with Movinga is that you need staff who’ve done what you’ve needed before, otherwise it’s constant trial and error.

Mathieu Bastian: I agree – at some point you need specific expertise. When hiring very specialised people, you still want them to have a track record of agility and be able to adapt quickly. Even though their expertise is needed, the project they may end up working on could be completely different to what they expected, or are used to. Thus, your hires needs to be able learn fast.

Tuomas Hurmerinta: I think at some point in a company’s development, you just need to have the strong functional leaders in place. People who know what they are doing and can fully own their areas of responsibility. At scale, it becomes more important that these functional leaders can also lead and develop their people. This means that good people management becomes a quality that you’re after if you’re looking to grow.

Good communication skills is for sure something to single out, as well as vision. But you also still need to motivate people, by being ambitious and setting targets for them to achieve.

Christoph Lange: One of the major differences when hiring at a later stage is that you need more structure, whether that be in people or the organisation, as opposed to the very beginning of your business when you’re looking for employees who are really driven to achieve something, where the willingness to succeed often wins out over the need to do things the right way.

Zalando: Give us an example of a challenge you encountered during your growth phase and what you learned from the experience.

Christoph Lange: During this month’s Welcome Day, we had 170 new starters joining the company. These days, our welcome events are incredibly organised and accommodating for such a large group. However, if I look back to 2011 during our growth phase, we were concentrating on internationalisation and the hiring a lot of people – adding 15% of total staff to the company each month. This became complete chaos, leading to employees not receiving their hardware straight away, for example, or even needing to build their own desk!

We now have a fully fledged Onboarding Program that lasts for four weeks, where Tech employees are properly managed and prepared by the company to begin their work. This says a lot about how we’ve addressed the need to be more structured in this approach.

Tuomas Hurmerinta: Fast growth surely brings challenges. You have to invent new ways of doing things, as the old ways don’t work anymore at a larger scale. And if you are in a great industry, where a growth phase can last for years and years, you have to do this many times over.

The challenge is always to manage that growth, as it can definitely fluctuate – this often means you’ll have to trial new things to ensure you can keep the company moving. This might come from new ideas or from better execution of existing ideas. But it’s great to see that in markets where you have operated for 10-15 years, new ideas still work to boost growth.

Mathieu Bastian: As my focus is on data, I can provide comments here. Growth and scale doesn't happen without a clear focus, which usually means good data. We spend a lot of time working on making our data rich, clean, and fast-to-access. One constant challenge is to very precisely define what we're trying to achieve into measurable metrics, in every area of the business. Sometimes we spend more time working on getting the data right rather than working on the problem itself.

The reason behind this is that we fundamentally believe in experimentation, and there is no successful experiment without a measurable outcome. In other words, it's only worth attacking a problem once you have a way to experiment at scale. This is a very important mindset to have during the growth phase.

Finn Age Hänsel: One thing I’ve learned is that there is a huge difference between growing and scaling. Growing, very often, is not necessarily the problem – if you have a good product market fit that the customer loves, you can always grow. However, scaling means to grow from a good platform with good processes, with a sustainable foundation that allows growth without overheating the company. I think just growing isn’t necessarily a good thing – it’s scaling that shows you have your processes in place.

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