Growing from 5 Employees to 70+

By July 22, 2008blog

Yesterday I was having a conversation with the founder and CEO of a 50-employee technology company about whether it was time to hire a full-time HR manager. We had the same conversation a year ago when they were at 35 employees. I think we hired our first full-time HR manager at about 35 employees, and it was one of the best things we ever did for the company. I’ll explain more on why later.

I remember being crazy-busy at just 5 employees and even more so at 10 employees. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to have 30, 50, 100, or even 300 employees. How would I possibly have enough time to take care of everyone AND grow the business? At the time I asked a couple of my mentors, who had grown into 300+ employee organizations, what it was like and what the key was? The key was and is building a recruiting machine and finding operational leadership to run the game plan in each department.

At 10 employees, we were totally hands-on and the managers for each of our four departments (Development, Sales, Marketing, Support).

At 20 employees we started developing “Team Leaders” in each department. They were the point people that we and their coworkers respected. As we added more employees, their time shifted away from being on the front line implementing and towards more of managerial roles.

At 30 employees the recruiting and interviewing and hiring process was starting to take way too much time and energy of all the leaders, in addition to trying to serve the growing needs of the existing employees. Myself, our finance manager, and the office admin were spending a third of our time managing the HR stuff.

Then at about 35 employees, we hired a great HR manager. And life got easier real fast. Writing job descriptions, placing ads, screening people, setting interview appointments, annual reviews, compensation reviews, employee orientation, benefits packages, vacation tracking, interpersonal issues, performance plans, terminations. ALL that stuff became dramatically easier with the right person handling it all (thanks Michelle!). The best part of hiring a great HR manager was that it meant we could all focus more time on developing and implementing better strategies for serving our market better.

At about 50 employees, it got to be really fun for me because I realized I could focus 80% of my time on developing and implementing new ideas AND had a great team to do it with!! It also was about the same time that I realized that I didn’t have a personal connection with everyone in the company anymore and was starting to realize I was having a hard time remembering everyone’s names in the company. Attila & I would point at new people at our all-company Friday lunches and ask each other who they were. It was also at this point that I also realized that I wasn’t just a coworker anymore. New people looked at me as “The President”. I’d ask people random questions in the kitchen about how things were going in a particular area and get full-page reports back via email a couple hours later.

I think we are at about 70 employees now and still growing about 40% a year. What will 100 employees look like? I’m enjoying that my role continually becomes more about developing and testing new strategies and less about operational stuff. So my advice to my younger self is that it keeps getting better as the company keeps getting bigger… and hire an HR manager sooner!

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