Six months ago we had closed our seed round and I was running around my house with a huge smile on my face. It was September 2020 – the world was a tough place and not many people were getting deals done. It’s been a rollercoaster ever since and I want to share our honest account of our biggest challenge – none of this “we launched a product, went viral, scaled, had VCs knocking down our door and sold out for £300m – aren’t we legends?” That’s just not how it goes!
You’d forgive us for celebrating six months ago when Passion Capital led our seed round followed by Velo Partners with some other great angel investors. For a second, I genuinely thought I’d be able to high five and give my co-founder Dror virtual hugs for a good few days. The reality is that the second you close a big round, you get cracking on the next milestone and then the next and the next…In fact, the pressure is bigger – because now you have new targets to hit and more investors who you are accountable to. I’m not going to pretend that’s easy to deal with – my sleep patterns are a mess now!
One of our goals was to double the size of the team to six which is where we are now. The next leg is up to fourteen by the end of 2021 (deep breath…). Hiring is, without a shadow of a doubt, the thing I under-estimated the most. I knew the tech would be hard (I’m a finance guy after all – what do I know?), I knew fundraising would be hard (it always is!), but finding talent – that really knocked me for six! Add together COVID, plus the risk of joining a start-up, plus finding a cultural fit and then there’s not being able to meet anyone face to face.
Hiring Michelle, our CCRO, was easy-ish. We’re both ex-bankers, she knows credit and risk inside out, we both like sport, have both been scarred by some bad work experiences and we connected over LinkedIn early on. We clicked immediately. Finding Junior (our Lead Backend Developer) took over three months. We liked him immediately – he has an insanely positive attitude, is an incredibly talented developer, is always smiling and speaks fluent French (unlike me despite my misleading surname!). It just took a long time to actually find him – which was probably our fault! And that brings me to Janneke, our brilliant new Head of Business Development – a perfect fit but just a long notice period and we didn’t have a great process for eventually meeting her.
We tried job ads, LinkedIn, referrals, recruiters, asking our network, spreadsheets of endless candidates – everything. We just couldn’t quite crack it. I won’t lie – it drove us mad. And then I kept reading stories about incredible start-ups rapidly hiring and growing – and that wound me up even more! How hard could it be?!?
We learnt so much from this experience and as a result have completely changed our hiring process. All my advisors had told me that hiring would be hard – but I didn’t listen, I’m a little bit stubborn (ask my wife!). I came from investment banking where hiring was easy – just get a recruiter, move fast, offer good money and move on. But the start-up world is so different.
At Sugar, we’re on a huge mission to revolutionise finance for the digital economy – and if we can do it then the upside is absolutely huge. But there’s a trade-off – we are doing things never done before and our people make a huge difference every single day. Every one of us has equity in the business and has the freedom to think creatively, but I’d be lying if I said we could compete with big firm salaries. We trust each other deeply to make decisions and there is no hierarchy or micro-management. We want our people to take the lead, tell us when we’re wrong and to have fun doing it! Also if they can put up a silly picture of themselves on our Twitter and Instagram feed then that’s a bonus!
Am I shooting myself in the foot and will Dror (my co-founder and CTO) wish we hadn’t published this? Maybe. But I don’t see any weakness in admitting to our mistakes and learnings. We want people who can be open and aim high – open about their problems and aiming high to solve them. So we should do exactly the same. Every single day.