One of the many great things about life is its tendency to take us through unexpected journeys - twists, turns, and all. Leading an EdTech company is a path I hadn’t set out to take, but it’s a journey that I am immensely proud to be on.
Our road to Hero takes a slightly different path to many tech startups. In the early days, I’ll admit to suffering from imposter syndrome. I was nudged into the role of CEO by co-founder (and husband) Paul. As a woman, with no experience in the tech industry, who was I to lead a tech startup? Unlike many of the founders of startups around me, I didn’t understand the language, my wardrobe didn’t consist of branded T-shirts and caps, I didn’t like wearing headphones or eating fish fingers cooked on a sandwich press (our office still doesn't have a sandwich press!).
Being in my mid 30s, balancing the duties of a mum with two young kids, whilst also teaching (and loving it), I had some doubts as to whether I could create and build a successful technology company. However, I was surrounded by good people, who believed in me - our board chair, Gary Leech, independent director, Andrew Leete and my biggest champion, Paul. As I faced a completely new set of challenges, I realised that my background in education (with its highly relationship based and organisational aspects) had prepared me for the task. I quickly realised that people are the foundation of any company, and so developing positive relationships and a culture built on a set of shared values is key.
You’re only as good as the team around you
The startup culture is one where founders roll up their sleeves and give everything a go, and they need a team with a similar attitude. Founding team members become like family - they go the extra mile, and there tends to be a bit of a ‘Blitz’ spirit. So, making the decision in the early days to hire for culture fit is critical for success. Too often we see founding teams implode under the intensity of the start up phase. It is brutal and unrelenting (another blog post in itself). Company culture is formed at this time, whether intentional or not, and in some early stage companies, we see it take a negative turn. Focusing on mission, vision and relationships at this time is critical to creating a climate that is ripe for growth. Sir Ken Robinson’s quote still resonates and has stuck with me: “The real role of leadership is climate control; creating a climate of possibility, and if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things you did not anticipate and couldn't have expected.” Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk "How to Escape Education's Death Valley".
We made a conscious decision to bring people into our team who shared in our vision to make a positive impact. We looked close to home, but also extended beyond our own network for talent. Somewhat unconsciously, we brought together a diverse group of talented individuals of different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender. We made an effort to get to know each other and a culture of mutual respect was created. The structure was flexible and we learned about the specialist skills every one of us brought to the team. We generated a shared language which developed into a supportive environment. We got to know each other’s interests outside of work and celebrated individual and company successes (sometimes it meant dancing through the office). It was in these early days that our family culture was established, even down to home baked birthday cakes.
So, as we continue to grow and scale, how do we maintain what makes us special? Referencing Einstein’s famous Parable of Quantum Insanity, doing the same thing over and over will not generate us different results - especially in an evolving context. Growth (in every aspect of the word) requires ongoing work, attention and prioritisation. We have consciously made the decision to hire for team fit. Roles have become more defined, and company structure has subsequently changed. What does remain, however, is a culture of respect, open communication and collaboration. Everyone has a voice, and different perspectives are valued. This has to be constantly worked on and clearly articulated. As new members come into the Hero family, it is important to take them on the journey travelled thus far, to help them understand our origins, and to share the values and vision going forward - our “why”.
This year, we have experienced continued growth and with the unprecedented global challenges of 2020, it is crucial that culture and well-being remains central. As CEO, it is my role to continue training the team to be match fit, in the right position on the field, and playing to their strengths. Whilst social committee activities, a “winning” Slack channel, Friday drinks, and nice snacks are loved by all, I felt we needed to dive deeper.
I was fortunate enough to connect with Anna Gibbons, Executive Coach and Well-being specialist, and Founder of The Best of Today Workplace Wellbeing programme. The Best of Today programme has been designed to “foster connection, define purpose and enhance productivity”. This was a natural next step for our growing company and team, and I want to acknowledge the support from ChristchurchNZ’s Regional Business Partner Network in assisting us with building capability and growth.
We are now well into our Best of Today journey together, with the programme encouraging us to hit pause for 8 in-house well being sessions. Through this, we are consciously gaining the tools we need to better focus on our values, hauora and the importance of mindful language. Admittedly, I was a little nervous when taking our team on this pathway, particularly newer members. However, I am blown away by the positive energy it has created, the shared language and understanding across our team, and the supportiveness of our environment. There is a strong sense of togetherness and we are all feeling inspired, positive, and excited to have a set of tools in the kit that will better equip us all for the future!
Aimie Sibson is the Co-founder and CEO of Linc Technologies. Aimie is a former educator who is passionate about making a positive impact on the education space, through providing transformative software and heroic services. Linc Technologies, Hero App is now being used in hundreds of schools across New Zealand and has launched in Australia and South East Asia.