A lot can happen in a year. For us at GlobalWebIndex, 2018 was a period of hyper growth and change.

We hired over 100 new people. We went from one office (and time zone) to three. We released our new survey technology. We expanded our world-leading panel to 22 million consumers, and launched in country number 45. We took on our very first round of outside funding.

Despite all this change, it’s the latter I get asked most about. So what’s changed since we took on this funding?

The realities of radical change

In truth, this path has been pretty linear. We were already firmly in scale-up mode, with the business doubling in size and revenue year-on-year. This meant we were already going through a lot of change, which had been apparent to me for quite some time.

Running a business of over 200 people across several locations is radically different to running a business of 75 in one place.

It needs to be organized and managed in a completely different way.

But the best thing about going through radical change is the learning that comes with it. So here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Retaining your growth culture is no easy feat.

In many ways, a company’s growth hinges on its culture. Without a culture that empowers teams, breeds innovation, nurtures talent and keeps that passion alive, your growth is going to be stunted.

We worked hard to build a growth culture we’re proud of. Sustaining this has always been our top priority – and our biggest challenge.

When your business transforms into something that’s almost unrecognizable in terms of size and scale, it’s inevitable that your culture shifts with it. But despite the challenge, it’s not impossible to retain.

It’s become clear to me that by consistently reinforcing a primary focus on your values, your mission and your story – the “why” behind what we do – your people respond. They want to be part of that growth mindset and play a role in the business’s success – it’s about giving them the chance to do so.

This means greater transparency, openness and honesty across the board, and taking the time to listen.

We’ve taken this on board and we’re seeing the benefits:

A recent survey revealed 95% of our employees would recommend a friend to work at GlobalWebIndex.

2. With great change comes a lot of processes.

The greatest thing about a startup is the passion and drive that flows through its veins.

It’s scrappy business – with teams working across functions, pumping their time and resource into wherever it’s needed. People aren’t siloed into one category, they’re shaping their expertise to fit.

But when you get bigger and more mature, you have to change your ways. With a steady stream of new talent flowing in, your processes need to be carefully crafted and clearly defined to ensure productivity and drive stay on track.

This is one area I feel we’ve struggled with. We somewhat underestimated the incredible amount of time and resource it takes to onboard and train new starters, while ensuring current employees are supported and empowered to the same degree as they were previously.

That’s why we’re hiring more experts in the field of upscaling, putting more structured processes in place for our teams to continue thriving.

3. Communication isn’t just key – it’s everything.

The biggest change for me has been how my role as CEO has transformed. Today, it’s 90% about communication.

While we hear time and time again how communication is central to an effective business, when you go from a small to a mid-sized company, what that means is something completely new.

What I’ve seen is that people value transparency, honesty and openness a lot more than you may think.

Keeping those channels open – across time zones and locations – encourages people to share their feedback, their ideas, their suggestions. This is a key challenge, but it’s also what makes collaboration work.

You hire the best talent for a reason – don’t underestimate the value they can bring to every inch of your business.

4. The best talent is most likely under your nose.

Over the past year, we’ve upscaled our management teams enormously. We’ve brought in a whole host of experts in their designated fields to help us streamline our processes and create a scalable, repeatable path to success.

But much of this growth has come from within. While there is a perception that when hiring fast, you need to do so externally, this simply isn’t true. You need to do both.

We know our people do a great job, and our extremely low customer churn rates and consistently positive feedback are a true testament to that; in a recent survey, 94% of our clients said they would recommend us to other business.

We’ve also seen first-hand the incredible rewards and benefits that come from promoting from within.

Many of our employees have been with us since the company’s inception – they’ve grown alongside the company and shared in our vision and success.

They’ve proven they have the growth mindset, motivation and determination we value, and I take pride in seeing them take the next step in their careers with us.

5. People need something to believe in.

90% of our employees say they’re proud to work at GlobalWebIndex. 91% also strongly agree that the company is innovative, entrepreneurial and a leader in its field.

This is incredibly positive and it tells us we’re doing something right.

But keeping this pride and passion alive doesn’t come without its challenges.

With a smaller business, everyone involved feels they have a stake in its success. You’re all building this brand and product together – making the “dream a reality”, side by side, little by little – so passion and drive aren’t hard to find.

With a bigger business that’s already established and making its mark, it’s not always easy to see the unwavering belief and determination it took to get there, and why it’s needed to get even further.

That’s why we as leaders need to work harder to make that passion visible. Coming to your people with a powerful and ambitious mission and vision helps you do that.

6. It’s all about continued learning.

Of course, it’s not all about how our business is growing and learning. It’s about our people doing the same.

I’ve come to realise just how important continued learning is in nurturing and retaining good talent. These are people who are keen to move, adapt, explore, try new things and expand their skill sets.

To truly encourage the growth mindset we claim to endorse, we need make room for this and create the kind of environment that supports it, offering opportunities for professional and personal development.

We’ve taken enormous strides in this direction, putting a huge amount of resource into learning and development, giving our employees the opportunity and the flexibility to make learning a priority.

Thoughts on what’s to come

2018 was an incredibly exciting time for me, and for us as a business. Not only have we grown enormously, our opportunity has too, with our core user base expanding from predominantly enterprise to small and medium-sized businesses around the world.

95% of our free signups are no longer in research roles – they’re CEOs and managing directors of SMEs. This changing opportunity is vast and we’re reshaping team structures and strategies to fit.

The lessons we’ve learned over the past year I feel have given us more grounding and prepared us for what’s to come.

With far more hyper growth and change on the horizon, I’m looking forward to seeing what we can learn from here on out.

Today, we have over 150 new hires in budget globally. To this I say bring it on.

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Written by

Tom Smith is founder and CEO of GWI. Having spent several years working agency-side, he recognized a growing demand for global insights to better understand the complex online market. And that demand kept on growing. Coupling the world's largest study on the digital consumer with powerful analytics, GWI is now the leading audience insights company, representing the views of over 2.7 billion people.

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