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Secrets to Scaling A People-Intensive Business with Will Davies from Car Next Door

Will attributes his success to three pillars – Building The Team, Getting Stuff Done, and World-Class Systems.

These are my takeaways and personal perspective from a Fishburners ‘Learn From A Burner’ presentation given by Will Davies of Car Next Door (car sharing in Sydney, Brisbane, & Melbourne). Note that very little editing has been done and that these notes aren’t comprehensive.

“The sketchier our flyers look, the better the results.”

Will started his talk by pointing out that the following three pillars were the key factors to the success to date for Car Next Door (CND). The notes below are my attempt at capturing his advice:

1. Building The Team

Get really strong on the WHY of your company. It’s important not only for yourself as a founder but will be the glowing beacon that draws in everyone to your business – including customers, investors, and even staff.

Speaking of staff, make sure you have a careers page that’s always accepting enquiries. Great people are looking for jobs even when you’re not actively hiring, but you want to have a way for those people to find you and join the team.

When you are actively hiring though, reach out to everyone who seems reasonable for the role. At the start of the process, nobody is committing to anything so you might as well go wide and see what sticks. For that reason though, it’s important you make sure the recruitment process tests for the skills they will need.

Having a solid, repeatable process is vital to recruiting the right people without it taking forever. Here’s a brief overview of Will’s process:

Put the job out on every channel you can (e.g. social media, get staff to push it, Fishburners channels)

  1. Have them answer a specific list of questions instead of writing an unstructured cover letter (use this to assess how well they write)
  2. Have a phone conversation with them and have them answer some specific questions about the business and themselves (use this to assess how well they communicate over the phone and how well they know your company)
  3. Have them come in for a face-to-face interview (use this to assess who they are as a person)
  4. Have them do a half day trial that’s very structured and is a solid parallel to their actual role — some of the work should be non-real but some should be actual, real world work (use this to assess their actual competency, work ethic, and work style)
  5. At the end of their trial go for lunch or a beer with the team (use this to assess how well they fit with the company culture)

Once you’ve hired the right people, it’s important to consciously build a good work culture. One tool Will uses to do that is empowering staff to give a $50 thank you bonus to other team members on a regular basis.

  • Have them give them in the weekly meeting
  • Have a cool template that explains what it’s for (something physical they can take away and be proud of after the $50 is long gone)
  • Just add it to their paycheque to keep things simple from an accounting perspective

“I’ve got a “mailing list” (manually sent) of ‘Potential Future Investors’ that I email every month telling them what’s happening good and bad. These people are added from wherever I find people that somewhat fit the profile of a future investor. That way, when you want to actually raise capital they’ve already come along part of the business journey.”

Getting Stuff Done

In any career productive is important, but in the world of startups it’s the difference between going big and going broke. Will shared some of the tools he’s implemented in Car Next Door to help himself and his team stay focused and get sh!t done.

Everyone on the team has the following:

  • A 90 day plan (Google Sheets)
  • A recurring tasks plan (Google Sheets)
  • A personal to do board on Trello which has a backlog list and a 5 project maximum ‘work in progress’ list (also a list for each of the subordinates to delegate into)
    • Create a list of tasks to push forward each of the 5 projects this week (put it in a Google Sheet and put a priority ranking onto each one)
    • Every week, go through your list of tasks top to bottom (by priority) and allocate time to work on them directly into your calendar so your entire week is planned out in your calendar

Having a rhythm and structure isn’t always easy in startups since the target is constantly moving and there’s always more things to do than time to get it done. Instead of trying to calm the chaos, it’s important to bring structure and rhythm through things you can control like meetings and strategic planning sessions. Will had the following recommendations:

  • Have a structure and routine for meetings and ensure they are rigorously held to. Have an agenda.
  • CND holds an annual 2-day retreat for the team
  • Quarterly 90 day planning sessions
  • Weekly 1-on-1 accountability
  • Professional development – 3/2/1 every quarter (meet 3 people, read 2 books and go to one development event) – reward people for doing this

“Investors are impressed that we always have our monthly accounts done (P&L and Cashflow), plus it means you can actually make informed decisions.”

Systems

Will covered the importance of having properly documented systems for every aspect of your business.

I’ve personally heard from someone who worked for CND that one of the most amazing things about CND is that if everyone on the team got hit by a bus, (obviously hoping that won’t happen!) anyone could pick up the systems manual and run the business with very little trouble.

The CND systems manual is managed in Confluence. (I also use Confluence for all my business systems after getting this advice from Will)

From his perspective, “systems” describe anything people have to do.

It’s important that everyone is empowered to update systems – get everyone in the habit of hot-fixing anything that’s wrong or could be improved.

New team member onboarding is heavily planned and gives them a checklist to work through (this is essentially a list of processes to run from the systems manual).


Also published on Medium.

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