The 6 things that make a startup team awesome

The TransferWise team is growing up fast. We are equally two years from the launch and two years from the first employee joining the founders. Looking back at this roller-coaster ride, the team has achieved something quite magical – a revolution in the way people think about transferring money, testamented by becoming #2 most trusted financial service in the UK and having saved our customers more than £2M in bank fees.

When we got the whole team together a few weeks ago to celebrate, we thought hard about our success so far. What has this team done to be voted #1 startup in the Europas and earn all that customer love leading to throught-the-roof net promoter score. What have we done right, compared to thousands of our peers, who have not pulled that far. How can we do more of it?

 1. Teamwork

We are a tight crew and super supportive for each other. Not only does it create a warm feeling of appreciation, it gives us the sense of safety and security needed at our neckbreaking pace. Days when the customer support load jumps up, we have the entire marketing team working the phones and email.

Every one in the team takes responsibility. And once she takes responsibility, she does not drop the ball. In fact, whenever we hire, I think: “If her and I were handling a sailing boat across the rough waters, would I feel comfortable?” The answer can only be yes.

Something else I have noticed – there is a good sense of pride in the team. We are proud for what we do, we are proud to be great at what we do. Of course the Startup 101 is -only hire superstars or the people you believe will grow into superstars.

 2.  Speed of Execution

Speed is the dearest, yet the most fragile asset at a startup.  The hardest distance in running is the 400m, where the winning formula is defined as: 0-100m run as fast as you can, 100-200m keep the pace, 200-300m accelerate and 300-400m is the sprint. I feel we have maybe just passed the 50m mark.

What are the things that give us speed and what slows us down? Finding bottlenecks and dealing with them effectively. After launching, our main bottleneck was getting customers, we focused most on our brainwaves on this. Then we had customers, but were struggling to support them and manage their transfers. We built dedicated teams to work the phones and manage payments. Today we need to gain speed in developing and extending our product.

Bringing the entire team up to the same agility as product development and having everyone comfortable with the pace is tricky to manage and needs a lot of communication. We cannot churn out product features with the engineering team, while the operations team is not comfortable supporting new payment method or when support unable to help the customer use it.

3. Persistence

Whatever we build, we always build for the long run – product, team, culture. Today we are building a 200-500 person strong team to support the majority of international transfers for the 1st world consumers. Such a distant goal requires persistence. It requires to recognise that after this lap there will be the next one, and then the next one. It will get harder and we will need to run evern faster.

In practice this means, that we have not met 99.99% of our customers yet. We have pushed only a tiny amount of code in the context of what we will push. We have seen only the skirmish of challenges in the context of thunderstorms we will deal with.

It means that we have to be friendly and kind to our partners and people who we work with. Even when our banking partners cock up royally – we say “It’s okay, let’s learn and do better next time“.

4. Precision

We are a bunch of maximalists. Every one of us personally believes, that she can deliver the best quality code, ux, customer support or payment processing in the world. And that is hugely powerful.

Our high self-esteem is empowered by the way that we measure everything – our payments team know to the minute how long on average a payment took to Ireland last week compared to Poland. Customer support knows how fast we respond to emails and what is the percentage of new users, who need help with their first payment. Engineering team knows, how many new bugs we released last week. Some of us have done things to Google Analytics, that google engineers did not know to be possible.

Measuring helps us see immediately, where we can improve. It makes our decisioning calculated and our communication precise and fluff-free.

5. Resources

The team needs resources and a perfect environment to be successful. This productive environment is worth an investment. In fact if there is anything you can buy to make the team more productive, you should go shopping immediately.

If you don’t have money, build a small team. If you need a bigger team, go and fundraise. And be open about the core finances of the enterprise, transparency helps most during rough times.

Managing our resources wisely and being prudent with our finances has become organic in everything we do. We’re planning for a safe passage, when the times won’t be as jolly.

6. Support network

As founders, we hardly ever take important decisions without asking someone, who has crossed a similar patch before. Along the way we have become close with many remarkable people, who we return to on a regular basis for advice.

Now this support network is being stiched into the team, for everyone needs a mentor. Each of us can do remarkable things, but let’s forget that others have been remarkable before us. Finding a mentor takes quite a bit of stepping out of one’s comfort zone. While many in our team have a mentor, I’ve noticed that people who set up a regular cadence for meetings and give their mentors a bit of responsibility in their own success thrive best in building their personal support netowork.

With every month, these characteristics of our people are becoming more and more apparent to me. I am smiling to observe, how these qualities add a ton of awesome to our team when comparing with other young startups at our stage who are all out there looking for their mojo. We are finding our mojo and it is pretty magical.