Building a startup is hard, and bootstrapping to 40 people is even harder. Now, HiMama co-founder and CEO Ron Spreeuwenberg is directing his energies to scaling the fast-growing childcare app company. It’s a new challenge, but one that should be made easier by HiMama’s focus on process and people.
We caught up with Ron to hear more about HiMama’s culture and recruiting practices – and how HiMama has been growing quickly and consistently since its founding in 2013.
How do you understand culture?
For me, culture comes down to one thing: people.
The key is that the leadership team needs to innately understand that people are the centre of culture. We bring people on with that perspective because that’s important to me. I want the leaders in our organization to genuinely care about their teams. I want them to continue to look for humble and genuine people when we make hires across the organization.
We have a lot of the cool things other startups have – pets in the office, happy hour on Fridays, and other fun perks. But the biggest part of culture is leadership that knows and genuinely cares about everyone on the team on a human level. It means, for example, when you ask someone on the team what they did on the weekend, you’re asking because you care.
What fundamental traits do you seek in a person when recruiting, regardless of role?
The easiest way to describe it is through our core values.
Our first core value is “be a good person”. Working with each other every day, we want to come to work with people we enjoy working with. This also applies to our customers.
Our second value is “work hard and win”. We take hard work seriously, but we also want to get results.
But the reason we want to win is our third core value, “own positive change”. We’re a certified B-corporation. We want to use business as a force for good. Really, what’s the point of it all unless we’re doing something to benefit the world? We want to scale positive social impact as we scale the company.
How does diversity and inclusion come into play in your culture and recruiting practices?
Diversity is an important topic and I see a lot of tech startups struggling with it.
The funny thing is we haven’t sat down at HiMama and said, “we need diversity so we’re going to do these things”. Instead, we said, “this is the business we want to have” and as a result of the values we’ve put in place – and followed – we’ve created a diverse team.
I think instead of trying to find quick fixes to diversity, like processes, systems or quotas, it’s about the leadership team genuinely caring about the people on the team and the business they’re creating. If you do that, you’re going to create a diverse culture organically.
The other thing, though, is whenever we look to hire someone, we want that person to not only fit with our culture but also add to – evolve – our culture in some way.
What’s the most underrated advice you’ve ever received when it comes to recruiting and culture?
That’s a tough one; I’ve gotten a lot of overrated advice!
One of the most underrated pieces of advice we’ve gotten is to have a rigorous recruiting and hiring process.
We used to make hires before putting them through a rigorous process; we’d hire after an interview or two. Ultimately, we found someone who could interview well didn’t necessarily translate into performing in the role.
Now, we don’t just have interviews then offers. On our sales team, for example, our Junior Account Executive candidates come in for a half day and basically do the job. With this process, we can not only figure out if there’s a cultural fit but also see if there’s a fit for the role. That rigor helps us be more successful in hiring.
What advice would you give to founders hiring their first employee?
The biggest piece of advice is to focus on the person on a human level. Looking for traits like if they are genuine, humble, friendly. Look for the things that you care about and want to have as part of your culture. The first couple hires are so important when it comes to that.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in your role right now?
One of my bigger challenges as CEO is, we’re making a transition where previously I was involved in everything in the company at an operational level – product, sales, marketing, customer success, and more.
Now we’re bringing on a management team to lead each of those functions.
That leads to two challenges for me: I must force myself to step away from running the business on a day-to-day basis and I need to learn to lead a leadership team, which is a different challenge than leading the team that delivers each day.
How has Peerscale and your peer group supported you in learning as a leader?
Everyone brings different perspectives. As a CEO of a startup, that’s super helpful because, for me, it’s the only forum for unbiased perspectives is from other entrepreneurs.
Some of the other entrepreneurs in my peer group may have more expertise than me on product, marketing, or sales, so everyone has value to offer. I think we’ve done a good job of optimizing sales and building an awesome culture at HiMama, so that’s value that I hope I bring to my peers, for example.
As well, we were invited by Peerscale to the Venture Out conference at MaRS – an event geared towards furthering LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech.
I don’t think a lot of startups would have thought to go to an event like this right off the bat because it may not be the “typical” tech startup event, but we attended the event and had a great time recruiting. It’s about getting out into the external community – and sometimes going to places that you wouldn’t have initially thought of.
What’s the responsibility that you hate the most in your job? Why?
I think what I probably enjoy the least is fundraising.
As co-founder and CEO of a company that’s been bootstrapped, I’m very focused on the business. The challenge with fundraising is that it’s a distraction from the business.
On top of that, there’s a sales element to fundraising. Unfortunately, investors often put a discount on what you say you’re going to do. Our culture is to be humble, genuine, and deliver on what we say we’re going to do so this can be a challenging context for us. We’ve been delivering on the things we say we’re going to deliver since our founding in 2013.
Is there anything CEOs should always delegate?
The short answer is no.
Your role as the CEO changes all the time as your startup grows. Over the last few years, I’ve done everything from unclogging the toilets to running financial projections.
As you grow and scale, though, you want to add people to your team that can support you with more of the administrative functions of the business, so you don’t get tied up and can focus on the strategic elements.
What’s one thing a CEO should never delegate?
Something you wouldn’t do yourself.