Founders insights on bad advice, hiring right and metrics

Entrepreneurs get a lot of bad advice.

This is one of the surprising themes that came out of the first ever FounderCon New Zealand. Nearly every one of the over 120 attendees had a story related to a piece of bad advice they received.

In fact, Ben O’Brien, founder and CEO of StretchSense, spent his keynote going over all the bad advice he’d gotten and how he dealt with it. Though he astutely recognized that he was still up there dispensing advice. “You may decide the advice you’re hearing from me today is bad. That’s fine, that’s good even. You need to evaluate every piece of advice you get, and it’s source, to decide if it’s right for you.”

Ben’s focus was on the process of getting funded. “You have to consider the source of the advice. A lot of the venture capitalists are out there telling people what they expect, but their job is to cull down the hundreds and thousands of pitches they receive. They’re getting you to help them filter you out.”

Considering the source was something that popped up several times.

Rod Drury, founder and CEO of Xero, spoke about the advice he got when entering into the US market. “We were told that to compete we had to model ourselves after the big guys. We had to look like one of our competitors. And we tried to mimic those companies at first, but that’s not really in our DNA.”

Instead Rod forged a way forward that felt correct for his company. “We realized as the new kids on the block we weren’t going to get our A-team from day one. We had to earn it, we had to build our reputation.” He went on to say the key is finding the talent that shares your vision of getting you to the next stage, especially when you’re new.

It’s not the person, it’s the role

From there, you need to grow and nurture your talent. Rod prefers to hire people, not roles. Once he finds a fantastic person he’ll bring them into the business and build a role around their skillset. “All of our best hires have been people I’ve met off the street.”

Once you get those right people in the business, it’s important to make sure you’re using them correctly.

“Everyone in the business, including myself, is expected to do themselves out of a job on a daily basis,” Ben said. He sees his staff as growing and evolving with the business. “If you’re not growing and changing every day we’ll stick you in a role that will do that for you. We don’t believe people aren’t right for roles, it’s the roles that aren’t right for them. So we change their role.”

Metrics make a difference

Caroline Dewe, co-founder of Alphero, uses metrics to help get the most of out of her staff. When her four person design team was struggling with major peaks and valley in their work, Caroline dug into the scheduling to find out what to do.

“They would be smashed at 110% of capacity for weeks, and we’d have jobs stacked up behind them. Then all of our jobs would be in dev stage and they wouldn’t have anything to do.”

She said at first blush people might have reduced the size of the team and worked out a new scheduling. But she doubled the team.

“With more designers we were able to move jobs through faster. We also made the decision to take on more design-only projects rather than all design-and-dev. That one decision changed the shape of our business.”

Originally posted by Andrea Silvers on