September marked the 2 year anniversary of Pragmateam. It felt timely to reflect.
Typically founders of a startup business are faced with a number of challenges:
Short on time
Short on cash
Too many options, pulled in different directions, therefore lacking focus
While I wouldn’t say every day over the last 2 years has been smooth sailing (we would be bored, unhappy and missing a lot of great lessons for life if it were), as company directors there are a few key principles Juliano and I have subconsciously adopted which I believe have assisted us to stay on course.
The right business partner - turns out you get to know nearly as much about your business partner as you do your personal partner. A healthy relationship is fundamental, knowing when to support, challenge, a mutual trust and respect, all achieved with as low effort as possible.
Juliano and I have a healthy balanced capability overlap; we have enough in common (values, morals, approach) to allow us to move at pace (without having to course correct, keeping in mind we spend approximately only 20% of our time face to face), while we have enough not in common to keep challenging each other (to think outside the box, outside our comfort zone).
The right number of business partners - one is lonely, two is company (supportive), three is an extra coordination point. There have been times, both early and throughout the last 2 years, where we have discussed having additional business partners. Each time we conclude having an additional business partner would significantly slow us down in decision making. See point 1 above.
Values - in the early days of Pragmateam we worked through what our values as a company were, and where we were aspiring to go. These values have served us well to anchor difficult conversations and make the hard decisions easy. They have also evolved and become more clear over the two years as we have progressed and further built out our services offering.
Sharing the load - aligned naturally through our interests, experience and passions, Juliano and I have managed to divide up areas of responsibility of running the business that distributes the load in a fair way. But every once in a while, one of us temporarily takes the bulk of the load over when the other is busy with client work, so we are still each other's backup.
Minimise overheads - to this day we still have significantly low overheads - this is a combination of:
- how we have divided the workload (see "Sharing the load" above)
- the toolchain we use to integrate/automate (Xero, Harvest, Slack, Google Suite, Zapier), and then actively optimising any internal process to streamline. For a while we had an internal initiative “PragmaOptimisation” focusing us to consciously look for and remove waste from our internal processes.
- our overarching principle that everyone within Pragmateam is a practitioner, i.e. we have no dedicated sales reps, admin office staff, recruiter. Instead we lean on the work we are doing at the client and natural networking to generate new business and find new Pragmatists.
It’s ok to say “No” - one of our values is to only generate business for our team in clients/environments where we’d be willing to go ourselves. When approached by potential clients, Juliano and I always asked whether it is was an environment we would personally want to go into. If we weren’t willing to work there, we didn’t expect one of our team to work there. We don’t expect the environment to be perfect, if it were, we wouldn’t have a job there. But characteristics we look for are strong internal sponsorship (means we will be supported), sufficient budget (means stability), interesting problem statement (means our team will be stimulated), healthy environment (means our people will be respected), aligned values and vision (means we have shared intent and drivers).
Time out, regular reflection - as the co-founders it is very easy to quickly sink into the day to day of billable client work (we call this the dancefloor). At times, either Juliano and I have done this, and Pragmateam has suffered as a result. We now consciously put time aside each week to step away together (we call this the balcony), spend the day reflecting and planning. Some of our most creative and strategic ideas have been generated during this day of time out.
Play the long game - it's often too easy to think about the here and now, especially when discussing potential engagements with new clients. In one particular example, we were approached to resource an Agile Coach full time into a program of work. At the time we were completely sold out at an existing client. Rather than turn this client away, we offered to drop in for 2 hours a fortnight, running regular sessions with the leadership team, “Agile Doctor” if you like. This was a win-win situation, the client was getting significant value from these sessions and we were managing to keep a potential long term client opportunity open. 18 months later, we now have a team of 10 Pragmatists onsite with this client. Similarly, sometimes it's tempting to seize an opportunity that is ready for the taking right in front of you, even if not aligned, too risky, too fast. But over and over, these prove to be short-term wins that turn into long-term distractions for the really good opportunities.
Foster our network, relationships - we don’t have a dedicated sales business development team (see "Minimise overheads" above). Likewise we don’t use external recruitment agencies to grow our team and talent. Instead, we foster our existing network, people Juliano and I directly have relationships with, or via our team and peers. As directors we set ourselves weekly targets on taking the time out and consciously staying connected with our network.
Pragma and Team - and finally, two important words “Pragmatism” and “Team”. When starting Pragmateam we threw around many potential options for our company name. We quickly gravitated to the importance of always being pragmatic in our approach, and the greater impact we can make as a team rather than individuals.
Two years on and our company culture thrives off these two fundamental values.