Simon Biltcliffe founded print services firm Webmart in 1996 using £10,000 of his own savings. Now, with a “preposterously yellow” HQ in Oxfordshire plus offices in Yorkshire and London, he employs 42 staff and turns over £25m. He’s never borrowed money – and he’s never been in the red. He explains how he’s combined Marxist and capitalist principles to build the business.
On ‘Marxist capitalism’:
It’s a pretty simple, coherent way of looking at the world. At Webmart, we use capitalism to create value (intellectually, emotionally and financially). And then we use Marxist principles to redistribute surplus wealth back to the people who deserve it – the “Webmarteers”. This is about working for the people, not just those at the top who have everything.
On hiring new people:
First, we’ll have a 10-minute Skype chat with potential new recruits. That’s fairly Darwinian: if you’re not comfortable and cool with tech, you’re not the right fit for Webmart. Next, there’s a psychometric test followed by a team interview. If you get through that, you’ll be interviewed by me. All new starters are asked to send in a one-minute video on who they are and what they’re all about (which gets shared with the whole company), we’ll stick their photo up on the wall, and everyone will welcome them. This is a company that feels different and acts differently.
On peer reviews:
We run biannual team peer-reviews – so every six months, everybody anonymously ranks everybody else in the company. The only review that's public is mine. I’m accountable: that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
In all companies, people hate being reviewed by their boss. The boss hates it even more. It’s awful - it’s “me against you”. Peer reviews are very different. They don’t feel so personal. The aggregate of subjective is objective.
We want to make our employees’ lives as enjoyable as possible, inside and outside of work. So we’ll pay for their ironing to be done. We’ll give them an extra day off work when it’s their birthday (and when it’s their mum’s or kid’s birthday, too). We try to make everything remarkable, right down to the themed rooms in the office. And our cinema, diner and medieval themed rooms aren’t just there to be whacky: each room has been psychologically profiled to deliver a different outcome. If something adds intellectual, emotional and financial value, we’ll do it.
We invest a percentage of profits back into the company and the rest is shared out amongst the team on top of their base salaries, which are “marked to market”. A recent annual staff bonus was a massive 88 per cent of salary. Any interest we earn from our cash in the bank gets distributed annually through our partner charities to those in need.
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Simon Biltcliffe was a guest speaker on the 100th episode of the Squiggly Careers podcast. Listen here
Image courtesy of Webmart