Among VC firms and the business press, retention is often overlooked in favor of all things new: new talent, new business, new tech. Steady progress might not seem glamorous, but it’s effective. At Heady, we see a business case in nurturing relationships over time.
One of the key lessons I learned coming out of my MBA was the value of long-term thinking, and during my 4 years at Heady, we’ve put that into practice. Below is a breakdown of how Heady’s focus has positively impacted our culture, employees, and products — and ultimately our profitability.
Heady has grown from two to 50+ employees in less than 4 years. How did we do it?
Attracting talent to a very small startup (<10 employees) can feel like a daunting task. One school of thought says that you should hire the talent you can afford and “upgrade.” But a different perspective is that your founding team can adapt — all while retaining their drive. These critical soft skills grow a company.
When Heady was founded, we were like many startups: with a restricted budget, an unstructured interview process, and limited time to evaluate if candidates could handle pressures. For these first employees, founders tend to tap into personal networks and make “leap of faith” hires. You see the potential in a person and hope your instinct is true.
In Heady’s case, these original employees became the foundational blocks of our team. By hanging onto talent, we’ve hung onto a growth mindset.
It’s a philosophy that endures. By setting a goal to retain today’s team members, we keep them in mind as budgets and business grow. We proactively make salaries competitive, have regular discussions with employees on their next steps (personal and professional), and involve them in plans for progress.
In return, we have a team that has internalized a growth mindset. After all, they have lived it.
Most brands that start working with Heady don’t stop working with us.
That’s because we value long-term partners as much as we value long-term employees. Much like your first hires, your first clients are valuable. They trusted you with their business and ultimately helped you get your start. Essentially, they are worth their weight in gold.
All are not equal, of course. Some partnered with you to get a competitive rate and may seek out another agency with the same agenda. However, the true gems are partners who seek passion and energy from smaller agencies, without a templated approach.
A nimble mindset is why they chose you. That means these original partners will be more likely to give you valuable feedback you can adapt to. A market feedback loop, while a start-up is growing, helps it introduce relevant product offerings, divest when interest lags, and lastly be top of its game if another player gains traction.
Heady has chosen to nurture and retain client relationships. We maintain positive and proactive communication about their needs, work through solutions when budgets are tight and are helpful and responsive to tech consulting. Essentially, we value their continued business.
If our partners thrive, we thrive. Re-investing any extra capacity builds trust — and ultimately a better relationship and product. Year over year, Heady’s partners have reinvested an average of 25–50% more into our company.
Another perk of happy employees and happy partners: it helps Heady accurately plan deliverables, all while remaining nimble.
One of the big metrics for Agile is the velocity or the speed of development. It takes a few sprints for any product team to understand its velocity, primarily because it takes time to learn how to work together and anticipate roadblocks. For this reason, Heady strives to keep a stable team on all our products. We delegate with long-term cooperation in mind./p>
Once a team has experience collaborating, velocity improves. We hire people who are excited about improving a product over time. When a team has trust and efficiency, that creates flexibility. Heady is able to plan around the life events and needs of our employees while delivering consistent speed to partners.
A product over time will accumulate tech debt. This is the nature of software. Technology needs to be upgraded and/or refactored. Most partners and engineers do not want to deal with tech debt. It is boring, tedious, and time-consuming — while new features are fun, flashy, and interesting.
But because of our long-term philosophy, Heady takes responsibility for code quality as well as tech debt. We build processes to make code simpler to maintain. For example, we have a very robust review process where engineers set standards, review and approve, as well as commit code. Our mantra: Write code you might inherit one day. If you work on a digital product short-term, you can get away with not addressing the inevitable tech debt. You know that someone else will pick up the slack somewhere in the future. However, if you are in the business of building long-term relationships with products and employees, you can not brush tech debt under the rug. You or one of your colleagues will most likely be that “someone else.”
Heady addresses tech debt on a rolling basis — rather than suddenly running up against an unmaintainable code that needs to be scrapped and rewritten. This saves time, money, resources. The result is a positive cycle with unanticipated perks. Writing code that matures efficiently has led to cross-department collaboration, improved logic, and proactive conversations on risks and benefits.
This decision has made it easier for our engineers to learn from each other, onboard new colleagues, and ultimately set our company (no longer a start-up!) to scale.