Things we've learned

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor and CEO of Sugru

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh had plenty of confidence in her invention. Sugru, dubbed the ‘most exciting product since Sellotape’, is a mouldable glue that has a similar consistency to Plasticine when it comes out of the packet, but bonds to most materials and becomes a durable rubber within 24 hours of being exposed to the air. It’s waterproof, flexible and grippy. From mending a hole in your shoe to insulating the handle of a saucepan, it seems there’s a vast amount of uses for Sugru.

But Ní Dhulchaointigh admits that in the early days of her business, she lacked the confidence to hire and manage people. ‘At the start, we couldn’t get our heads around employing people so we tried to outsource our production, but that turned out to be a management nightmare,’ she recalls. The factory was two hours away, making it difficult and time-consuming to monitor quality and make changes. So she took the decision to hire a good production manager and give him the task of setting up manufacturing in-house at a factory in east London. ‘It was the best thing we ever did,’ she says.

Launched in 2009, Sugru now has annual sales of around £5m and employs 60 staff. ‘I also realised that I needed to hire someone with genuine people management experience. When we were just a team of 10, I could manage it myself, but as we grew I started to find the people management piece much harder when I was also having to think about product development and everything else.’

When her team doubled in size to 20, she and her board decided to appoint a general manager. ‘We needed senior people who could bring us proper management processes.’

Yet in other roles, Ní Dhulchaointigh has found that fit and hunger often trump experience. ‘We’ve hired some really good people with less experience, but who are hungry for the opportunity and fit with the values of our company. One of our values is being hands-on, and we look for doers. Therefore at interview we make sure we give candidates a chance to tell their stories to let us know if they have the necessary get up and go, rather than waiting to be told what to do.’

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Jenny Biggam, co-founder, the7stars

Judge people on their output, not how much time they spend in the office. So our staff get unlimited holiday. Whether you want to take time off for a new baby, a honeymoon, a trip around India or a floristry course, the policy is the same: take as much time as you need.

Gilad Tiefenbrun, managing director, Linn

Managers make engineers unhappy by telling them what to do without understanding what they do. So my philosophy is around structuring management in a way that frees up creativity and gives engineers enough guidance so they know where they're going without stifling them.

Neil Murray, co-founder and CEO, Redx

The challenge is not only making sure you’re bringing in talented people but also making sure that you maintain a consistent culture across the business. If you’re bringing in a lot of people very quickly, it’s very easy for the view of that culture to be deleted very quickly.

Simon Duffy, co-founder, Bulldog

I wish I’d hired more senior, expert staff more quickly. The temptation at first was to try to do everything ourselves, but before long that slows you down as there’s too much to do in a day. Now we’re seeing the benefits of recruiting experts and people with deep experience in particular areas.