Taso Du Val is CEO and a co-founder of Toptal, which provides companies with elite software engineers and developer teams on a full- or part-time basis. I recently asked him about what challenges face young companies that have found initial success, and what that means for the CEO’s focus and behavior.
So, a company has found initial success, but now the task is maintaining and expanding upon that. It makes sense that this starts with the CEO. What should the CEO focus on first?
The CEO needs to maintain a positive, engaging atmosphere to focus on the continued success of the company. He or she should actively communicate company goals to the rest of the organization while also forming a solid growth plan and allowing employees to be involved with the process. Most notably though, the CEO should express the value of employees to the company and its continued success.
To follow up on that, what should the CEO not be as engaged with, to avoid being overwhelmed? What is best left to delegation?
When the company remains in these first stages of growth and maintenance, the CEO can continue his or her involvement in most aspects of the company but should begin to gradually delegate tasks to other executives and managers. As others in the company begin to show their ability to make strategic decisions that are in line with the vision of the company, the CEO can begin to let go and only step in when needed. This process should take time so that the other executives and managers can show they are capable of taking over certain functions of the company so that the CEO can focus his or her efforts on other areas that need attention.
A company like this is likely hiring; how does messaging differ to new employees versus existing employees — generally, but also in terms of brand championing?
The key to creating and sustaining brand champions really lies in existing employees. People rely more heavily on word of mouth and feedback from others when looking to buy or use a service, so companies should make it easy for employees to spread the word about a company and implement employee-friendly social media policies while developing and providing training and guidelines to encourage employees to participate.
Existing employees can help with the recruiting process by sharing job openings with their network and communicating the great things the company offers. The messaging from the existing employees communicates the company goals and helps to identify other candidates who can help the company get there.
Remote staffing is ever more popular, and it seems your company has its engineers largely working off-site from clients. How does that affect engagement and brand-champion efforts? What have the biggest challenges been?
At face value, it may seem that remote work causes a disconnect among employees, but it actually works quite the opposite. Remote work rewards employees to make them feel more engaged with the company overall, and remote work allows for opportunities to take exciting trips to sync up. At Toptal, we aim to get together in exotic locations which act as both a company retreat as well as a rewarding experience for employees. These meetings allow employees to meet face to face and to enjoy time to both work and play — helping to form a stronger bond while also relating on a professional level.
Employee engagement is, of course, important. But what about investors, if you have them? How do you keep them engaged after initial success — or, conversely, manage their expectations if subsequent growth and/or funding isn’t as rapid?
Expectation management is key, and you must set the expectation that investors must add value to your company from the start. Always bring on investors who clearly understand how to improve your business; otherwise, the problems you have will fall upon deaf ears that will not be able to understand or help you. If you have the wrong investors up front, it will set the wrong expectations with you and everyone on the team (including the investors) while getting the right investors on board will make you feel like you have ultimate freedom and the value they add is consistently invaluable and insightful.
Your investors would certainly engage you positively if you were to have success in any manner, and they can also help make success more of a reality. On the other hand, if you don’t meet the expectations of investors, you must try to explain to them the problems as clearly as possible so they can help with as much impact as possible.