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By Jason Wyatt, Managing Director Marketplacer
It’s funny how people always talk about the number of employees in any organisation. I actually think it’s a real trap when you’re creating a business to value the amount of employees you have. Don’t value the number, value the employees.
The number of employees you have is actually a pretty arbitrary measure of success in this day and age. We see big businesses that employ thousands of people go to the wall all the time. Big is not always better.
How productively were the employees of such businesses being utilised? Was the number of people employed just a matter of corporate bloating, unchecked empire building within business units? Could some of the roles have been automated, allowing the people employed in such roles the freedom to contribute more creatively in the name of growth and innovation?
At Marketplacer we actually focus on the quality of employees, and making and automating and getting really good processes and clear accountability in each of our areas. We have numbers of course. We have scale, of course. But I think it’s quality over quantity in everything that we try and do.
We started in Australia with two of us. We scaled our organisation to BikeExchange, which was a small business at the time. Then we transitioned to become Marketplacer and opened up these new verticals, including House of Home, TiniTrader, Tixstar, and Outdoria. We now have a large office in Irvine in California, a small office in Boulder, Colorado for Cycling Tips, which is the cycling publication we own, and offices in Ireland, England, Belgium and Germany.
That’s the core team. We have a CEO in each of our businesses around the world and clear accountability and complete empowerment over running that business. They’ve obviously got helpful processes and learning that we’ve been able to share with them. Overall, I think we’re at 150 employees.
150 is an interesting number in itself when you take into account Dunbar’s number theory, which says that humans work best in groups of between 100 to 250 because that’s the limit at which social relations can best be maintained.
There’s nothing tricky or very novel about what we look for when we employ new people: smart, energetic, passionate, and with a problem-solving mindset. To state the obvious, you need people who can get the job done. And at a certain point, you need people who can help those people get the job done.
As a business grows you need to keep your eye on the infrastructure that supports that growth. You don’t want your frontline staff engaged in backend admin type functions that someone else might be better placed to do.
At the same time, you don’t want to become a top-heavy bureaucratic organisation that is more concerned with administrative functions than getting the business done.
That’s a balancing act, especially for businesses going through a rapid growth phase.
So don’t get hung up on numbers. Try not to think about growth in terms of ‘how many employees do we need to look successful?’. Look at the people in your company, understand what they bring to the table, value them and their contribution. Think hard about how you can help them get the most out of their work.
Because a small motivated team focused on clear goals will almost always beat a large group of people lacking motivation and goals.