Why unlimited holidays are out and sprint holidays are in

It’s the end of the summer holidays. The kids are back in school and, for Suzie, this year’s trip is now nothing more than a distant memory. Feelings of relaxation have been replaced by inbox anxiety (see here) and Suzie’s thoughts have quickly turned to wondering when it is next acceptable to take some more time off…? One month? Two? Heck, three? OK, three it is.

Slowly – very slowly – three months pass, and November approaches, Suzie feels exhausted. Sure, she had two weeks off in August but she hasn’t taken any time since then. As a result, Suzie’s close to burnout, has 15 days to take in the next six weeks, yet will only request to book five as she doesn’t want to leave her team in the lurch…

… we confess, Suzie is a fictional character but her story is relatable to many, right?

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Ripping up the rulebook

Recently, wellbeing in the workplace has taken centre stage with more employers than ever ensuring that they have the right offerings in place to ensure a happy, healthy workforce.

One area on this that is constantly being disrupted, particularly in the startup space, is holiday allowance. Many are ditching the ‘traditional’ holiday limit, instead replacing it with more agile processes, that suit the way their team works and encourage all to take regular holidays throughout the year.

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Challengers leading the charge

One popular solution has been for challenger brands to offer unlimited holidays. In theory, this allows employees to take off as much time as they want, whenever they want.

It was Netflix that invented this. The idea is that the company trusts their employee to manage their tasks and projects, and to structure their time according to what needs to get done.

A stream of positive feedback led a number of well-known companies to follow in Netflix’s footsteps. Today, Virgin, Grant Thornton and LinkedIn, all offer unlimited time off as part of their perks.

The benefits are thought to be vast with many citing employees take more regular holiday and burnout rates have dropped. But as with all disruption, with the positives come the negatives, Elliott Rodriguez, director of HR and people at career site TheLadders, points out that it can be hard to ensure employees take the same amount of time off, which may be deemed unfair. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias also goes so far as to argue that certain companies offer unlimited vacation ‘because they know perfectly well employees won’t use it.”

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One week on, One week off

Luckily it’s rare in the world of disruption that people believe one size fits all. As such, companies are continuously trying to solve the holiday conundrum, offering a variety of different solutions.

Designer Stefan Sagmeister revealed in his TED talk, “The Power of Time Off,” that every seven years he takes one year off. “In that year,” he said, “we are not available for any of our clients. We are totally closed. And as you can imagine, it is a lovely and very energetic time.”

Unsurprisingly, seven years on, one year off, is unlikely to be viable for the majority, particularly fresh, smaller startup brands. So Shashank Nigam, the CEO of SimpliFlying, a global aviation strategy firm, recently iterated this into shorter bursts.

“…compulsory one week of leave every seven weeks for all staff,” says Shashank.

“Of course, the leaves had to be staggered but the key was the staff had to be completely cut off from work. There was just one simple rule: Reply to an email and you wouldn’t be paid. React to a Slack message and you won’t be paid for that week.”

He claims the results, albeit from a relatively small sample size, were impressive. Creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%.

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Recharging your workforce

Now that summer is fading away, set some time to review your holiday process

Be sure to research each thoroughly before deciding what is right for you and your workforce, and take some time to consider that alongside the actual holiday allowance itself, there may be other ways you can reinforce the importance of taking time out. For example, Guy Hayward, CEO at professional recruiter Goodman Masson, offers “an exotic holiday fund, which is in place for our people to take long distance, long holidays – so two or three weeks away. We pay for that holiday upfront and they can pay that back through a series of salary deductions over 18 months – that’s how serious we take encouraging people to have long holidays.”

Whatever you decide, embrace the work/life balance and ensure your holiday policy encourages time out. After all, everyone needs vitamin sea every once in awhile.

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What they don’t tell you when you’re seeking investment

“And so that’s why you should invest in my company…”

There I was in a coffee shop near Oxford Circus pitching all over again. Products scattered all over the table, I was mid-way through convincing an angel investor to back my company, an eyewear subscription business when a gentleman wearing a suit and glasses walks over.

He looked at the stuff on the table, looked me up and down and asked if I was a competitor of theirs. Turns out the guy standing in front of me was Kevin Cornils, CEO of Glasses Direct, the largest eyewear distributor in the UK.

Aware that I was mid-pitch to a prospective investor, I gave Kevin my brief elevator pitch before exchanging numbers and carrying on with my meeting.

Obviously, as soon as my pitch ended I made it my mission to connect with Kevin. Over the next 18 months, we got to know each other over three coffees. Initially, Kevin wasn’t interested in working with us. We’d just meet to chat – talk about the market, what the American’s were doing and exchange thoughts.

Yet, each time we met, our conversations became more interesting and it made more sense to collaborate – We’d just broken into the market as a premium subscription company, in a space where Glasses Direct wanted to be. So, after 15 months, we made a decision to sell to them.

Ok, ok… so I understand that it’s not everyday the CEO of the company you want to sell to happens to walk into the coffee shop you happen to be in. And I understand it’s not everyday that the CEO happens to be interested in the product you happen to be pitching.

But, that’s not the point of my story.

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I wouldn’t be in the situation I was in if I hadn’t put myself out there in the first place and met with this angel investor.

Because it wasn’t always easy. Running a business is a constant hustle. Especially in the beginning.

Starting out I was just a guy with an idea trying to make it happen. Sure, I wore glasses but I had no clue about starting a glasses business. Neither had my business partner, YeeMun. I had a background in finance, YeeMun in content, and we wondered numerous times if we even belonged in this field.

We learned by doing.

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This is what you don’t always read… the struggle to even get the business going is real. Very real.

We knew we needed investment to get a prototype and launch our website. So, naively, we went about finding people to pitch to: we contacted friends, blind messaged people on Linkedin and relied on referrals to meet with as many people as possible.

It was tiring. Really tiring. And there were no tickbox guidelines for us to follow, just the belief that the more people we met with, the more likely we’d be in finding someone who believed in our idea.

So we went about setting up coffees.

And, we dated… a lot.

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What people don’t tell you when you’re raising money is that it is much like dating, you meet two or three times before deciding if you like each other or not. And be warned, when pitching to investors they won’t guide you, you’re going in blind.

Fortunately, after experimenting on my first five pitches, I began to realise that pitching was actually quite formulaic. Whilst almost every investor will only pledge money if they like you, the questions they’re likely to ask are largely the same – think market size, exit strategy, amount of money you’d like! It was like practicing a script over and over again. Sure enough, each time you do it, you get better.

The point of my story is, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am now, in the position I’m in now if I didn’t hustle in the very beginning. It’s hard work but if you stop dreaming and start hustling, you might just make it.

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Do you really need an office?

Launching a new venture is exciting. It’s a leap into the unknown with the faith that your
idea combined with your skillset will breed a fruitful business. In the early days there is so
much to do: create and refine your product or service, design the branding, register the
company, set-up a website… the list goes on.

But one decision that is increasingly dividing the masses is knowing when the right time to
get an office is, if at all.

In the startup world, the discussion here is in full flow. Remote working is on the rise; coworking spaces are popping up left, right and centre, offices perks are becoming increasingly competitive featuring benefits such as unlimited breakfasts, yoga clubs and flexi-time. Facebook has gone as far to offer anyone in San Francisco that lives close to its office a $10,000 bonus to accommodate for higher housing prices.

Naturally, with so much noise, it’s hard for startup founders to know which is the right path.
So, we’ve assessed the research to understand what the true benefits of an office are and
how you can identify whether having one is right for you.

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Inch by inch, side by side

The number one argument for having a dedicated office space is the ability to interact with
others and get some face time with your team.

Multiple studies have found that face-to-face communication is often more successful than
other forms (due to a variety of factors, such as body language and interactivity).
Organisations such as Harvard Business Review found that researchers who worked in close
physical proximity produced more impactful papers.

It could be research such as this that has spurred a long list of large organisations to shut
the door on remote working and revive the office environment. Marissa Mayer, former CEO
of Yahoo, led this charge in 2013 stopping remote working, instead of introducing work
perks such as childcare. It appears IBM has followed in these footsteps, four months ago
ending it’s widely known remote culture to work ‘shoulder to shoulder’.

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Flip reverse it

However – before signing a lease on the dotted line, consider what your team thinks about remote working.

It’s been reported that 97% of employees believe they are more productive when working
from home. Further research suggests remote workers are more productive and log more
hours than employees who work in the office, and for many companies, offering an option
to work remotely helps recruit employees who are seeking better work-life balance or who
want to live in a location where the company has no office.

Tech companies, like Buffer, have done away with their offices completely. The social media
company used to have an office until the company realised almost none of its employees
worked there. So, in 2015, Buffer closed its office in San Francisco office for good. Not only
increasing ‘freedom’ for its employees allowing them to work and travel as they wished but
also saving $7000 a month on office space.

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Do what’s right for you

Both the case for and against an office are compelling. There’s research to back up each
side of the argument. As always in business, it comes down to doing what is right for you.

Why not consider the three Cs when deciding?

Cost:
An office doesn’t come for free… usually. Consider the financial impact on your business. Ensure you have enough budget for additional costs such as furniture, insurance and utilities.
Work out your long-term business plan before signing a lease. Consider your growth plans and how quickly you plan to hire. Ensure that you don’t outgrow your office space before its up.

Collaboration:
Research how you will communicate with your team if they are remote working. Consider the project management and instant messaging tools that are available. Ensure you understand exactly how you can manage workflow.
Decide whether an office will actually lead to new business. Consider how often you will hold in-person meetings with prospective business owners at your premises. Ensure you understand if these meetings will yield new business and if so, how that additional income will impact your business.

Colleagues:
Make sure you have communicated with your team to understand their thoughts on remote working too. Consider the impact on their work lives too. Ensure you have feedback from all to make them feel valued and listened to before reaching a conclusion.

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Want to grow your startup? Learn to delegate

 “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate”

Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur and founder of Virgin

 

When you run a business the buck always stops with you!

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the challenges associated with starting a business are vastly different to those needed to scale one. Launching a business requires leaders to do the do, talk the talk and walk the walk. It’s your baby, and in the beginning, the devil will be in the detail. You can’t take your eyes off anything for a second. But scaling a business presents a different set of challenges. It requires leaders to put a well-structured team together, and strong growth strategy in place.

As your company changes, your roles and responsibilities will too. It’s important to recognise this and accept the need to share the load, because like it or not, delegation is intrinsically linked to startup success.

Research from a data-driven news site, Gallup shows founders that are able to delegate well “generate better business growth and venture success than leaders who get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of managing a business.”

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Transitioning from doing to delegating

Taking the first step to delegation is scary. It is like trusting someone else to help you look after your baby.

But remember this – it will help you determine which work falls in and out of your scope and keep your standards of delegation high.

Adopt a strength-based approach

Don’t get caught out by delegating the work to whoever is available. Play to your team’s strengths and delegate work to the person that is going to do the best job.

For example, a task that requires a deep dive into data would be best given to someone who is analytical, whereas a new business pitch may be best suited to someone with excellent communication skills.

But when distributing work, be careful to ensure it’s done as evenly as possible, or top performers may become overwhelmed and feel as though they are being taken advantage of.

An effective way to achieve this is to ensure everyone in your team has a mixture of quick and easy tasks and ones which are more, challenging and time-sensitive.

Set expectations and emphasise accountability

Prepare your team for success, not a failure. You wouldn’t hit a ball on the golf course without teeing it up, so avoid delegating work to your team without handing it over properly.

Make sure you sit down with your team to run through each task at hand. Set clear goals, objectives, and expectations. This is your opportunity to emphasize that they are accountable for the work being done on time, to a good standard.

Make them want to work for you, not against you.

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Don’t be a micromanager

Letting go is tough but you won’t get the best out of your team or yourself if you’re watching their every move. Something that is even more tricky in the world of startups.

As Don Zillioux says in his Linkedin post, “Not every issue demands a leader’s attention”.

So hold the faith that your team will, and wants to, deliver awesome work. If not, it’s a bigger problem than the individual task itself and something that needs to be addressed head-on sooner rather than later.

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Steer your ship

Now your delegation strategy is in place, your role is to check-in to ensure everyone is on board and motivated.

This doesn’t have to be in person all the time. Instant messaging services such as Slack, Skype and Google Hangout allow teams to communicate easily from anywhere. There are also great project management tools out there, such as Trello and Harvest, that allow teams to track their progress and iron out any hiccups online as they go along.

But don’t forget to book-in regular one-to-ones. Facetime is invaluable. It allows two-way feedback and you get to see firsthand that you’ve got a healthy, happy workforce.

That’s it. You’re now taking steps towards mastering the art of delegation. Time to work smarter – together.

 

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Seven Habits of Mentally Strong Female Founders

Despite it being 2017, research shows only 17% of startups are made up of female founders.

Looking further into this, Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness research found that one in ten women wanted to start their own business but don’t because they lack the confidence, network and finance needed to do so.

Dr Travis Bradberry recently wrote a LinkedIn post identifying ‘Ten Habits of Mentally Strong People’. Within his post, Travis explains that developing mental strength is about ‘habitually doing things others aren’t willing to do’, something that is particularly necessary if you fall within the 17% bracket of female founders.

With this in mind, here are some mental habits that the world’s most powerful female founders follow to stay on top of their game.

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Back yourself. Even when others don’t.

Research shows lack of self-belief is holding women back in business with questions such as ‘What if I’m not good enough?’ or ‘What if it fails?’ often plaguing their mind.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has openly spoken out about battling with this issue, dubbing it ‘imposter syndrome’, a concept whereby high-achieving people internalise their accomplishments because they’re afraid of being exposed as a fake.  

As Sandberg explains, ‘confidence and leadership are like muscles… you learn to use them or you learn not to’.

The more you ‘work on’ your confidence and learn to back yourself, the more you will believe in yourself and the confidence will come.

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Make mistakes. And accept that you have, gracefully.

The most successful entrepreneurs tend not to be perfectionists, because if they were, their products would never go to market.

A study by The College of William and Mary found that the most successful entrepreneurs don’t care about failure and don’t care what people think of them. This may not come naturally to you but the more you accept that mistakes happen, the sooner you will reach your goals.

Remember, it’s better to fail than fail to try.

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Channel your emotions. You need the good, the bad and the ugly.

Negativity is draining, yet too much optimism can encourage impulsive behaviour.

As Venture Capitalist and UK tech leader, Eileen Burbidge says, ‘People with open, optimistic minds see things that closed mindsets don’t.

In the world of startups, in particular, optimism is key because you’re always selling and convincing people to join your ride.  If you don’t show you believe in your idea then they won’t either.

But don’t get too optimistic. With every high comes a low… train your brain to manage the ride.’

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Trust yourself. You will make the best decisions.

Often, when something isn’t quite right, you can sense it. Trusting your gut allows you to believe in your ability to make the right decision by what feels right.

Melody Wilding, a therapist and professor of human behaviour explains, “Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences.”

When you’re making your next decision, try stepping away from the computer and pausing to think about what your instinct is telling you.

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Be creative in the face of a challenge. Don’t runaway as soon as it gets tough.

Running a business is often likened to a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs, twists and turns.

Cassandra Stavrou, founder of Propercorn, believes resilience is a women’s secret weapon. ‘“True resilience is about being strategic – not just ‘strong’ – in the way you overcome challenges. That means showing empathy and being creative in the face of adversity.”

Time your ‘bounceback’ time every time something doesn’t quite go your way. If you accept over time that mistakes happen, your resilience will grow and your bounceback rate will become shorter.

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Say no more often. You’ll see the returns on your bottom line.

“The ability to say no really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” says professor, Vanessa M. Patrick.

We live in a people pleasing culture, yet saying yes all the time not only gets you into unwanted situations, it can also be highly unproductive.

Practice the refusal strategy. Professor Patrick’s study in the Journal of Consumer Research found saying ‘I don’t’ as opposed to ‘I can’t’ allowed participants to get out of unwanted commitments.

Say yes to saying no. It’s an important way to build mental and business strength.

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Be kind. Even when others are not.

It takes time to climb to the top but a fall to the bottom can happen instantly. When building mental strength, don’t let people walk all over you – but don’t stoop to their levels of rudeness.

Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, one of the most successful UK entrepreneurs, says this is one of the most important attributes leaders should have.

“Be nice to people, err on the side of generosity, be a good person and work hard.”

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Successful Founders Come in All Shapes and Sizes (but have three things in common)

I’ve been in the entrepreneurial space for six years now and there is one thing that I can say for sure is that no one entrepreneur is remotely the same.

There is no mold or type in the world of disruption – just distinctive individuals who understand who they are, and don’t make apologies for what they want whether it’s for their business, or out of life.

Some are planners, some are chaotic, some are detail focused and some are all about the vision – yet all have done the following to build businesses that are worth millions.

So if you are an entrepreneur looking to scale your business, here are the tips I’ve learned from those at the top.

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Focus on your strengths (and know what strength means to you)

It is one of the biggest cliches bandied around the startup world. “Just focus on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses or even the things you don’t enjoy.”

But the statement lacks context. People forget to talk about how you identify strength. As Marcus Buckingham (an author and a strength strategist), puts it: “Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you.”

Focusing on your strengths does not mean making life as easy as possible for yourself. It is actually the opposite. Understanding what will help you to grow and the activities that make you stronger is likely to require some brutal home truths.

For example, it is not about saying ‘I don’t like spreadsheets, therefore, I’ll outsource the finances.” Dig a little deeper and try to understand why exactly you don’t like spreadsheets. Maybe it’s because you don’t like structure or detail? Or perhaps your brain doesn’t easily process numbers in large chunks?

Once you understand that situation a little more, you will also learn a little more about yourself – which will help you see the opportunity within the issue and grow accordingly. Instead of outsourcing the entire finance function, maybe you could outsource the bookkeeping and get them to give you top line numbers? Having a working knowledge of the numbers strengthens you and enhances your position in your company.

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Improve your ‘bounceback’ rate (i.e finding a routine way of dealing with emotionally draining times)

‘Build resilience’ is another cliche, but one that is well worth practicing. Business is full of ups and downs, and when it’s your own you’ll celebrate every win, and feel every loss It can, and will be a rollercoaster., and most of us who create something of our own are hardwired with a perfectionist streak that doesn’t deal so well with the downs.

These inner critics – ‘shitty committees’ if you will – in our heads love it when we make a mistake and have a knack of finding ways to tap into our fears, fuelling anxieties that prefer us to stand still, rather than pushing forwards.

The good news is that it is possible to silence the committee and break out of the box with a little awareness and a disciplined bounceback routine. For example, for some to shake off small mistakes they take a trip to the toilet for a five-minute panic before tackling head-on. For others, it is a 24 hour period of moping followed by a boxing class the next morning to literally release the aggression you feel towards yourself.

Follow this with a super conscious effort to let it go, move on and stop you from thinking about it again.

Sure – it sounds basic enough but it’s the discipline of sticking to the routine you’ve committed to which makes the difference and allows you to move forward.

 

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Find the right kind of support (by actively making a plan to find your people)

From my experience, this amount of discipline can be found in high-performing individuals.

Performing at your best as an entrepreneur requires the same skills, strength, and rigor as professional athletes, musicians or leaders of any country.

But here is the final cliche: it can get pretty lonely at the top.

The entrepreneurs that succeed get around this by actively surrounding themselves with others going through similar journeys.

They collaborate, meeting to share war stories and support each other. They are friends who compete with each other – just like the Brownlee Brothers in a triathlon. Just because they are competing doesn’t mean they can’t support each other.

And if at any point you are in doubt that these traits and discipline yield results then just think of the most successful people in the world (Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs) – they all have a track record of bouncing back, operate in the same circles and have glaring weaknesses… and they definitely didn’t apologise for it.

 

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