Sales Director Ken Rahn on Learning and...
What does the Medallia Sales team have in common with a Navy aircraft carrier’s nuclear power plant? Ken Rahn says there are more similarities than you might think. In this...
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I woke up this morning with the feeling that something was different. Something in my life had changed without me noticing. Yesterday was a normal day at Medallia. The Operating Team gathered for our weekly meeting in the same red-chair-flanked room, honestly evaluated our performance thus far in Q3, and planned for the coming weeks. The energy in the office was at its usual level — high — and the same laughter erupted from the kitchen, brought on by the same coworkers. This was the Medallia I’ve always known. But opening my eyes this morning, I knew something was different.
This creeping notion became an acute awareness this afternoon as I looked at the faces I didn’t quite recognize in the lunch line. I couldn’t say when it had happened, but as I neared the back of the queue, I suddenly felt a whole lot farther from the food than I remembered. When I finally reached the soon-to-be-doubled-in-size kitchen (to discover we were almost out of guacamole… again!), it hit me:
I was not at a startup anymore.
As the VP of People & Culture, my immediate thought was that I was wrong — that the number of new hires had simply swayed my judgment. I, Employee Number 175, must have been reacting to the 330+ new faces that now called themselves Medallians. That’s all! That being said, the heads of other (younger) Sequoia-backed companies seemed similarly affected by our most recent headcount at a recent startup gathering. I got some dubious looks when I called Medallia a startup. But still — I reasoned with them — I had only recently bumped my shin into the company kegerator in order to dodge a Nerf bullet. This certainly seemed to reinforce our quintessential startup-ness. But, well, I just couldn’t remember the name of the guy who had shot at me.
I had to admit: We are now a tech startup company.
Aside from the keg-caused throb in my leg, there was another throb in my head: when did this transition happen? What milestone marked the end of our startup days? Did it happen the day we expanded on to a new floor? Was it when we took our first round of funding? Our second round of funding? When we hired a Chief Financial Officer? Brought on our first regional salesperson? Opened our first international office? Started running out of guacamole faster and faster?
It’s hard to say the exact moment the change occurred, but I’ve identified some signs — big and small — that I think indicate you’ve been sprung from your startup nest:
Faces and Names
“High growth” and “scaling” are just annual report ways of saying there are going to be a TON of new people joining your company. It’s at this point when you start having great conversations in the kitchen with people whose names you don’t know and calling people “Andrew” because you know there are a lot of Andrews. Your memory will begin to be tested — which is always a good thing. But it’s also a pretty good sign that you’ve hit adolescence as a company.
Different Forest Fires (If Not Fewer)
Any startup veteran is an expert firefighter. But, as you grow, you find that agendas and to-do lists around the office start to be filled with fewer URGENTs and more IMPORTANTs. You start using the word, “Strategy,” more than the phrase, “Oh, noooo!” It’s not that you don’t have any fires, they’re just different. When you’re small, you don’t know how to pay employees when the payroll person is sick. The problems we’re facing now are different. We’re figuring out how to have conversations with the French Government.
David@mycompany.com doesn’t work anymore. Hello, last names! If you want to email David, you better know his, or your email has a 1/10th chance of reaching the right person.
When It Rains, It Pours… Recruits
Finding talented candidates when you’re small can be tough. People don’t know who you are, and even if they wanted to know who you are, they probably would never stumble upon you. These are the days when your founders and CEOs are literally cold-calling people for interviews. There’s a point, though, when suddenly it’s the other way around. And you’re receiving more applications than there are eyeballs in a square mile radius around your office.
Out of the Office
When you’re at a small startup, it’s like you have a tracking device on your coworkers. You have knowledge and intuition around where they spend their time outside of work. When you’re bigger, you start seeing strangers in public wearing t-shirts with your company’s logo. Or you’re at a coffee shop. You meet the person sitting next to you. You ask them what they do.
They work at your company.
The Sound of Spreading Wings
When someone moves on from a 20-person company, it can send reverberations and whispers throughout your organization, often in a bad way. Now, we have people we call “lifers” who are going on to business school and to found their own companies — but still coming back for happy hours.
Founders and Myself Interviewing Everyone
There was a time when everyone interviewed with a founder or with me. Suddenly the volume of hires required us to figure out the magic behind these interviews, codify it, and train others on how this “culture” interview could be conducted across the business. The idea is simple: have other people outside the department focus specifically on the culture criteria to ensure we preserve the fabric of what’s made this such a special place. Coining the “culture interviewer” and conducting a training for this group was also a clear sign that we were moving away from our startup practices.
Staples and Guacamole
I remember when you would need to walk around the entire office to find a stapler that had a single staple in it. Though this particular example might sound silly, it’s emblematic of a resource-strapped startup. When your company is all grown up, though, you’ll wake up one day to find you’ve finally calibrated your headcount such that you’re not even running out of guacamole anymore (Fingers. Crossed.).
I guess that’s what happened to me when I woke up this morning. Though we’re only a tiny fraction as large as our big neighbors in Palo Alto, I can’t deny that we’ve grown to the point of no longer being a startup. And the irony of this? We were trying to do it all along. Growth is part of the goal. I’m realizing, though, that the key to moving forward isn’t to mourn this fact and resist the transition — but instead to continue to foster the collective ownership and “all-hands-on-deck” spirit that made our little startup successful in the first place.