We started Puzl kITchen as a knowledge sharing platform to benefit both the Puzl community and the Sofia startup gang. Аs any entrepreneurial community, we face many challenges, but we believe by sharing our knowledge, wins and fuckups, we can grow together to be stronger. 

That’s why every month, we’re gathering experienced people from the ecosystem to discuss the challenges that they’ve faced and to see how we could learn from their hard-earned experience.

Edition: 1.2

For the latest edition of Puzl kITchen we truly had a 5-star pack, who were discussing the successful scaling of teams and culture. Very, if not the most important topic for any business in rapid growth!

Velina Getova

The discussion panel was moderated by Velina Getova, Psychologist, performance coach and mental health entrepreneur. As a person with experience in both scaleups and startups, Velina effectively covered all angles of the matter with:

Vassil Popovski, Georgi Ivanov, and Alex Popov

Vassil Popovski - a VP of Product Development at Leanplum, a leading platform for mobile marketing automation with 6 offices around the world and more than $93 million received in funding. 

Georgi Ivanov - a serial entrepreneur with over 10 years of experience and a huge passion for people. He is the founder & CEO of Noble Hire - a next-gen job board platform that leverages the power of referrals.

Alex Popov - Site Lead at Uber for the Engineering team in Sofia. He has about 20 years of experience in the software industry and strong track record as a leader of tech teams. Alex worked for SkyScanner in the UK and co-founded and led the engineering team of Skyscanner in Sofia.

You can check the whole video recording of the event. Below you will find an excerpt from the talk.

When building a team, you need to start thinking about culture the moment the team reaches 10 people.

Georgi opened the theme explaining that culture and values are extremely important when the team is no longer capable of fitting in one room (or garage - if you want to take it to the startup way). Vassil’s take on this is that the team is no longer attending one meeting - that means that the team is split into sub teams and values is the most important part that is going to keep them aligned in one direction.  

To make sure people are aligned with the values and the culture, Alex believes that we all need the right incentives for people to do the right things and not to do the wrong things. There’s no universal tip for the incentives, but they all start from the hiring process and the culture fit interviews and continue to the informal practices that team leads can introduce. A good example from the audience was the so called ‘Release Banitsa’.

When you succeed with the alignment of the team, you channelize their energy into one direction.

There’s no universal recipe for making a team aligned, but long term vision, short term goals and weekly priorities work. Alex believes that alignment is done by slowly tackling all the issues. He believes that an organization that is willing to learn from their mistakes and implementing fast and effective changes is repared for the scaleup growth challenges.

Fear should be removed completely from the culture of a company, as people should be brave enough to challenge every leader.

A constant idea that was circulating during the whole discussion is the feedback loop.The higher you go in the hierarchy the aim is to go for more generic goals and to empower everyone in your team to decide how they are able to contribute to these goals.

Managing Specialist VS. Managing Team Leaders
Having the proper set of soft skills are more important for team leaders than having the proper technical skills.

Vassil pointed out that you usually start with leading specialist and then you grow to leading team leaders. However, those two are the same, but when you’re growing in the hierarchy, you’re changing the level of abstraction you’re working with. That’s why it’s important to get fresh blood onboard to challenge you and your ego.

Hiring Mistakes
Tech is something that could be learn but mindset cannot be changed for years.

A good input from Georgi and his experience in Noble Hire is that most of the hiring mistakes come from the poor evaluation of the challenges and what type of person /skills / experience is required to solve the issues. Moreover many tech companies rarely evaluate against cultural fit.

Alex mentions when evaluating talent, you need to evaluate not only if the applicant is a good fit for your team but also if the team is a good fit for this applicant.

And a really important thing that Vassil mentioned was that a single “bad apple” can decrease the performance of the team by 30-40%. Not only we should avoid risky or inappropriate hires, but also pay attention to the apples that we already have in the team.

To wrap up this article, I’ll use Vassil’s simple formula for culture implementation.

Culture is defined by:

  • Who you hire
  • Who you fire
  • Who you promote

Always keep that in mind! And stay awesome!