Ten Years of Xref, Ten Lessons Learned
There are tons of companies that jump onto the startup bandwagon, but only a few survive. What makes a company thrive? Is there a secret sauce? How do entrepreneurs stir the reigns of their business in unprecedented times?
Ten years ago, two guys, Lee-Martin Seymour, CEO and Tim Griffiths, CTO came up with a brilliant business idea over a bottle of wine, for an online reference checking platform that would change the way recruiters and employers hire for the better. Xref was a unique idea for hiring professionals at that time, and was designed to solve the crucial issue of fake references. Traditional reference checking had gaps and loopholes leaving room for plenty of fraud. Over the years, Xref has built an economy of trust with its clients and has since grown into an ASX listed, global company helping tens of thousands of people automate their reference checking task with security and compliance.
A decade on and with success under their belts, the founding members and some of their passionate staff share ten important lessons that they’ve learned while building the Xref company. Being able to say ‘no’ even when the odds seem to be against you, embracing chaos and having a sense of humour are part of our story. So if you’re on your way to launching a business idea, or need some useful advice on building and managing a team, the lessons in this blog can prove valuable for your journey.
#1 Trust Your People
You’ve hired great talent to join your team, you’ve done your due diligence in getting to know them through the interview, referencing and onboarding process. It’s now essential that you trust your employees with the role you’ve hired them to do and give them the space, resources and support they need to be successful. If you have a great recruitment process in place, then you should feel confident to encourage and empower your people to use their skill set to grow and develop further in the role.
You’ll never be the smartest person in the room, so you've got to trust the talent that you’re employing to be able to accomplish the objectives you’ve set as a business. A workforce where there is high trust between the leadership and staff is more engaged and committed. If your staff is confident of your trust, your business performance only increases. Like any relationship, trust is built and maintained over time. Your most trusted employees who believe in your brand story may also turn out to be your most tenured staff.
#2 Pay for Good Advice but Always Make Your Own Decisions
When you’re starting out in business, it is important to learn from those who have gone before you to help navigate your new endeavour. Surround yourself with people and resources that give you expert insight and advice. Value that knowledge and be willing to pay for good advice but ultimately always weigh up your options and make your own decisions.
It is important that you are informed and have a grounded knowledge base to kick off from, however, it is even more important that you trust yourself to make the decisions you know that are aligned with your vision.
#3 Know When to Say No
Even when something seems really good, always ask the question “What would happen if we said no?”. There are always going to be new opportunities on the horizon and it is important that you learn how to feel confident about letting some of them pass so that you can focus on the opportunities that are best for your company at that time. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve spent or how much time you’ve invested exploring an option, if you haven’t signed that dotted line, then don’t be afraid of saying “no”, especially when you know this particular option isn’t right for your business at this moment.
#4 Give People Time to Make a Good Decision
When facing important decisions, be mindful to give people an appropriate time-frame to come back to you with a great answer rather than putting people on the spot. Making good decisions requires people to balance out all the relevant options available to them. Putting undue pressure on people to make a fast decision may feel beneficial to you in the moment, but this pressure can often result in hasty decisions that haven’t been fully thought through. The time you might save upfront is then lost by having to spend more time resolving the consequences of a bad decision later.
#5 To Keep Your Clients, Keep it Simple
The beauty of a simple solution is that it’s easy to set up and easy to use, while all of the hard work and complexities are hidden in the background and out of sight for the client. Visualise your product to an iceberg that looks small from above the surface as compared to below the surface where it grows complex and deep. The simpler your product is to customers, the more likely they are to adopt it. If your solution needs to integrate with another, make sure it fits like a glove, addressing the business need. You may need to go beyond the one-size-fits all kind of solution to a customisable one that works!
#6 Have a Sense of Humour
Having a sense of humour at work not only puts other people at ease, but it makes work a lot more fun. While there are many benefits that come along with doing so, ultimately the best outcome is creating a work environment where people enjoy coming to work and spending time together (both virtually and in-person).Ironically, people who tone down their sense of humour at work to be taken more seriously are often taken less seriously by their co-workers.
#7 Listen to Your Client
Nobody can give you better feedback about your product than the people who are using it every day. Be sure to listen to what your clients are saying about your service and be open and willing to make improvements based on their recommendations.
It isn’t just about asking clients to share their thoughts about a product or service that you already offer but take it a step further and make the effort to truly learn and understand the needs of your client, By doing so, you can gather powerful insight and spark great new ideas that will offer more value and will delight your clients beyond their expectations.
#8 Embrace Chaos
Starting a successful business from the ground up is all about embracing chaos. Out of chaos comes clarity and almost always a sense of peace and calm once the storm is over. Sometimes it might appear easier to simply float along and follow the status quo but incredible things can happen when you disrupt the peace or find the opportunity in an unexpected turn of events.
#9 Creativity is Key
It doesn’t matter if it is code or colour, creativity has to take precedence over everything else in order to grow as a company. This looks different for every team or department as creativity comes in many forms.
For the most part, creativity thrives when leaders are intentional about building a working environment where people feel empowered to speak up and make new suggestions. Avoid saying things like “well this is the way we’ve always done it” or being too quick to shoot down an unexpected idea, otherwise you’ll end up creating a ‘finger-wagging’ environment where you have a lot of staff who don’t feel comfortable speaking up.
Creativity is all about originality or looking at a problem from a new perspective. Don’t be afraid to give your people the space to experiment or break concepts just to see if it can be fixed in a new way.
#10 Be Outcome-Driven
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that flexibility is crucial to navigating the unexpected. Rather than being solely focused on hours worked, fostering a more ‘outcome-driven’ environment where meeting goals and celebrating wins is a more powerful way to lead your team.
Creating a healthy outcome-driven environment comes back to trusting your people and by defining the key outcomes you’d like them to achieve by giving them space to create an appropriate process or solution in a way that works for them.
Xref has successfully managed relationships with over 1000 customers around the world. The above are time-tested tips where risk is part of the experience and journey. Our advice is that you always aim to be the best of the breed in your category and pursue the ‘wow’ factor; a lot of it comes from just ‘listening’ to your clients!