The SalesTrip engineering team has a reputation for execution. A very senior of the Salesforce AppExchange team told us, “You’ve done more in 1 year than most do in 6 [years]”. Likewise, we’ve had a senior member of one of the best known (and oldest) Salesforce ISV businesses express amazement that we’ve done so much with such a small team. What have we done to warrant such praise? In a sentence: built an end-to-end travel and expense management system upon Salesforce, and the SalesTrip owned multi-tenanted SalesTrip Engine. In a picture, just about all of this:
We’ve built a helluva lot of functionality, some of it 100% unique to SalesTrip, and part of that exists on a tech stack we built from the ground up and mirrors Salesforce’s multi-tenanted, SaaS architecture. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and wanted to share some of our secret sauce so that others can build at neck-breaking speeds whilst maintaining a better-than-average work-life balance (that’s right, we work normal business hours and effectively no weekends!).
1. Have a plan
“A bad plan is better than no plan” – this quote (or something like it) has been attributed to many different famous people. The common thread? They get things done. In a lot of cases the place you end up, and the journey to get there are vastly different from when you start but this doesn’t make planning any less important. Having a shared goal and understanding of key milestones is key to uniting a team, and feedback gathered during execution is likely to change that plan for the better. Having no plan means constant confusion, challenges to communication, and ultimately morale.
2. Communicate (but only just enough)
This is the secret ingredient that everyone knows but somehow has still been the largest challenge in the 300+ companies I’ve worked with. We have more communication tools than ever these days, but volume is not a replacement for quality. Voice and video (and in-person) communication are key to not only convey information quickly and with the least amount of confusion, but also to build relationships. I have a mantra within my team, “Pick up the phone” – something a COO in a previous business drummed into me and which is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Typed more than 10 words into Slack? Time to pick up the phone and discuss. Your email is running longer than 1 paragraph? Time to pick up the phone and discuss.
On top of this the type and frequency of your communication changes as you grow more senior within a business. When you’re a person that creates things, good communication is about information exchange. If you’re a person that coordinates things, good communication is about organisation and cohesion. And if you’re a senior manager or executive then good communication is often about repeating key business messages to different audiences – ensure the whole business knows the vision, make sure the market is aware of you and your product.
Focus will entail different things for the different roles within your business. For my engineers, it means being given a space where they’re not interrupted, comfortable, and sufficiently challenged so they can focus on their work. Focus as a CTO (and Product Owner) entails ruthless prioritisation, and the very difficult task of saying “No” to 90% of things that come your way. Everyone in a startup is working in multiple roles, and therefore their personal resources e.g. time, are incredibly valuable and with laser-focus, you can achieve incredible things in a short amount of time.
4. Hire the right people
I interviewed nearly 80 people when searching for the first 5 hires in the SalesTrip engineering team. Eight-Zero. People want different things from their jobs and careers, and so often when I had a great technical match for a role I ended up not pursuing the hire because it felt as though those people would be happier in businesses that weren’t early-stage startups. It took a fair amount of time but today the SalesTrip engineering team is made up of people that are hyper-smart, not too risk-averse, and also practical in a way that is necessary for a scrappy startup.
5. Clear a path
This is less a standalone point and more a culmination of the four above. There will always be myriad potential tasks to be completed in any business – but is amplified in the tiny village that is a startup. However, if you know where you want to go, have the right people, collaborate effectively, and create a culture of ‘No’, you’ll be surprised with how much you can do with very little.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 7th July 2020.