Shimona Mehta - MD EMEA, Shopify
“Hyper growth” [defined as sustained CAGR 40% and up] is an aspiration all scaling companies covet yet few ever achieve. Even if they do, sustained hyper growth is the goal - it’s one thing at $50m ARR and another at $500m or $1bn - but you have to start with the right foundation and habits at $10m.
For those who do, often the skill of riding the scaling wave is more critical than reaching it in the first place. And much like running across a tightrope, one misstep doesn’t just halt growth. Often it can lead to a dramatic fall.
Few companies can claim the hyper growth story of Shopify, a Canadian unicorn company that has now globally scaled to establish itself as the stand out challenger to Amazon’s dominance in the ecommerce platform sector. At the centre of that story is Shimona Mehta, Shopify’s Managing Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
A regular and valued member of the CEO/MD Forum, Shimona was my special guest at April’s Forum, guiding 40 global business leaders through the lessons she and Shopify had learned through hiring and building teams in hypergrowth.
Shimona knows a thing or two about hypergrowth, having grown Shopify Plus to a $1bn brand in five years, building a commercial organisation from scratch. Promoted to manage all of Shopify’s EMEA work, she and her team are exponentially increasing revenues and growth year on year.
The key takeaways of her incredible fireside chat are summarised below.
Judge your success in outcomes, not org size.
When companies judge their progress, they often do so by quoting their headcount. I’d argue that the number of employees is actually inversely related to the speed of growth. Hiring isn’t always a sign of success - it could just as easily be interpreted as a sign your current team is lacking in a core skill the business needs to thrive. Rather than hiring quantity, it’s imperative to relentlessly hire quality.
As leaders, our job is to develop, inspire, empower high performing teams who build, execute and deploy all the things we need to provide our customers with more value, faster. To do that, we have to assemble exceptional teams. To do that we have to hire the right individuals.
I often refer to the Ringelmann Effect when thinking about the building of teams. Ringelmann’s simple tug of war experiment showed that the more people you have pulling a rope, the less hard each member of the team pulls. Combined strength isn’t a numbers game. It’s a personnel selection game.
Hypergrowth means thinking 18-24-36 months out, right now.
I call this the ‘Design Phase’. Rather than starting with the “what” you have to hire, it’s crucial to establish the “why?”.
The first thing to understand is the current composition of your team. What and where are your strengths and weaknesses? This can only be answered through continuous performance management. Performance and talent are inextricably linked - you need to know what you have before you can decide what you need.
Before going to the hiring market, you have to have clarity on your short and long term objectives, your existing team’s current capacity, efficiency (could a task be automated rather than hired for?) and the level of cross-functional input and prioritization required to hire impactfully.
If, having established that a new hire would fill a gap in your leadership or functional expertise or scale a new function or initiative that is aligned with your long term priorities, it’s likely you should be hiring.
If, on the other hand, you are actually hiring to hit a pre-mandated “headcount target”, backfill an underperforming team or poor performers, you risk making the mistake of attempting to solve a larger issue with headcount rather than addressing the core problem.
What you prioritize is what gets scaled, right from day one
If you know what the team needs in order to succeed, you will have clarity on the correct hire ahead of the first interview, rather than the wildly inaccurate “I’ll know it when I see it” approach we have all seen throughout our careers.
It’s vital to be intentional about the culture, values and standards you want to set from the beginning - it’s the standard your teams will carry forward.
Diversity starts at the beginning - not when you’re a certain size. Bake diversity - of gender, race, background and thinking - into the core of your culture as you build your culture. Sustained hypergrowth comes from building diverse organizations who continue to challenge the status quo, remain innovative and have more engaged teams.
Consciously resist the temptation to be blinded by logos and Ivy League colleges. If you are an early stage, scaling company, a FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) employee, despite their glittering credentials, may not be compatible with the scrappier, sleeves rolled-up culture your teams will need to deploy to drive the business forward.
Show me the person who worked two jobs to put themselves through school, or chose a college close to home to be able to take care of an ill family member...
We can observe important traits like work ethic, resilience, values, teamwork through so many greater life stories than just a Linkedin profile or degree on the wall.
This is the hardest thing a business can do. There will be mistakes, all of which can be learned from.
If this was easy, every company would be a hyper growth success story. If I could provide some key lessons I’ve learned along our story, they would be:
- An empty seat is better than the wrong person in the seat: Take your time to hire the right leaders for your company.
- Find people better than you: This is always good advice.
- Constantly work on team and self awareness to know what you’re looking for: Ongoing assessment of performance, talent and any potential shortcomings is essential to ensure teams are working to their full potential. As well as internal assessment, always source externally, expanding your network. Ally closely with your internal talent team. They are a key partner to your work and the company’s long-term success.
- Never sacrifice values or character: Even more than individual experiences and skill sets, long term success will come from bringing on board the characters and personalities you want to build your business and its vision alongside you.
- Roll with the punches: Without a doubt, you will make a hiring mistake at some point. That doesn’t make you a bad leader - provided you correct it as soon as possible.
Stephen Rosenthal is a Partner at Founders Keepers and the facilitator of the CEO/MD Forum, a global virtual meeting for senior leaders of the world’s most dynamic businesses, across every asset class, sector and geography.
If you would like to join the CEO/MD Forum or learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact Stephen on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 7725 144 124.