This is a transcript of a live Leadership Conversation between Brad Palmer, CEO and cofounder of Jostle Corporation and Nick Tolley, CEO and founder of Harris + Hoole. This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
Brad: Nick, to me the interesting part of your story is around the challenges of growth. As I understand it, you started with a bootstrapping approach and a pretty ambitious plan to build the operation fast. Can you tell me about the challenges of growth? The stages you go through? The sort of never-ending task of keeping things glued together?
Nick: That is a really, really good question and probably almost a bit premature. In many ways, we are still learning as we go along. It’s such a cliché, but the way I’ve seen the challenges of getting this up and running, and especially knowing the very ambitious plans we had, leadership is the key.
For me the very first thing that I focused on was spending 110% of my time just making sure I had the right leadership team around me. So from scratch, I recruited people with experience and qualifications within our environment, and maybe more importantly, who were aligned around our values and ambition. So that was literally what I spent 110% of my time doing when I was starting up. Ever since then, I’ve basically tried to lead through them, doing my best to set the vision and strategy, but not giving a rigid guide, and providing the freedom for them to execute that strategy as they see fit. Gently helping wherever I can, prodding here and there.
It has been really interesting in many ways because we’ve actually gone from zero to 350 staff in 20 shops in about 10 months. We have grown very quickly and the challenge I think is this: how do you keep the vision that we began with, how do you keep that alive and real, as subsequent wave after wave of new joiners come into the team and dilute whatever sort of culture or vision we might have had. I think to a certain extent this is a bit of a challenge. But we seem to be getting through it. One way we are doing it is, whenever possible, I am literally meeting and engaging with every new hire.
Brad: So you are seeing the importance of hiring for values and are reinforcing this by trying to personally meet with each new hire?
Nick: Oh of course yes indeed. I think that is the really powerful way to ensure that the vision, the values, the business are understood and that there’s real alignment. This is helped by having an amazing People Director, an HR Director.
It is really important to have somebody that thinks about culture and values in very innovative ways.
She is stretching the boundaries around how we think about people. She is has been a massive, massive aid in this effort and has ensured that there is a very strong cultural identity.
Brad: It is very impressive that you knew to place such a high value on that, almost before you even started.
Nick: Yeah well, I don’t know if you know the background but I am proud to have developed, and still have, another coffee business with my brother and sister. We saw that grow slowly but wonderfully over the course of five or six years. And yes, we did realize that the single thing that distinguished us from everyone else, and that allowed us to maintain a high-touch, high-quality business when we scaled it, was a really strong cultural identity throughout the business.
So in starting Harris + Hoole, we realized very early on that is the important thing to do, to be focused on. Therefore the People Director position was probably the most difficult one to find, but it was one that I was particularly prepared to make sure we did not make the wrong hire. It was very important that I just meet and interview as many candidates as possible until I found her. It was worth it -- she is just amazing.
About Nick Tolley:
Nick Tolley is an entrepreneur and cofounder of the Harris+Hoole and Taylor St Baristas coffee shops, which he started with his siblings Andrew and Laura to bring the high-quality coffee they were used to at home in Sydney to the UK.
About Harris + Hoole:
Harris + Hoole is an artisan coffee shop venture founded by siblings Nick, Andrew, and Laura Tolley (the founders of Taylor St Baristas) in 2012. It aims to set a new standard in high street coffee, using some of the latest artisanal barista techniques and technology to ensure maximum flavour and quality. We've captured the Harris + Hoole Jostle journey in a case study.
About Leadership Conversations:
Our day job at Jostle is creating a platform that helps leaders engage employees, drive culture, and catalyze collaboration. Through this Leadership Conversations series we seek out top people-oriented leaders to explore these topics with us. If you know someone we should include in this series, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.