Breaking down borders

Why diversity is the key to a winning workforce.

The workplace is changing, and SME owners can no longer expect workers to be “tied to their desk” from 9 am to 5.30 pm every day, five days a week. SaaS start-up Longtail UX has a diverse workforce, many of whom are parents – we spoke to the company’s co-founder Andreas Dzumla to find out how he manages a team that needs flexibility in their hours and the opportunity to work from home to accommodate childcare responsibilities and cultural considerations.

ISB: Please tell us briefly how you and your co-founder Will Santow came together and arrived at the decision to start your own business.

AD: Will was actually a client of mine! We first met in 2012 when I helped him and his developer implement a hard-coded longtail SEO solution into the website of his education, lead generation business (career FAQs). The solution was based on my experience at a vertical search engine in Spain (post-Google) in 2008/2009.

“When you feel understood, you feel respected and valued, both of which are big motivators for producing your best.”

In an increasingly competitive market, Will was looking to squeeze more out of traditional SEO and SEM to boost margins and grow lead volume. Our solution delivered four times the lead volume and revenue for career FAQs within three months – we knew we had something that worked and that was in line with the massive Google changes between 2008 and 2012. With a product that delivered such increases, we had one of those unspoken moments where you look at each other and realise it’d be crazy not to try and evolve this hard-coded approach, although it requires a lot of risk-taking and development work, into a software as a solution for businesses to plug and play.

Ultimately, we took a leap of faith and set to work expanding outside of education or real estate (the original use case at the start-up in Spain) into a general e-commerce solution for retail, travel, marketplaces and other large-scale sites. It quickly became clear that while we brought different and complementary skill sets and experiences to the venture, we shared similar core values and goals that would make our business partnership a success. The result was our landing page automation SaaS start-up, Longtail UX.

ISB: I understand you have a very diverse workforce – please tell us about the cultural and gender make-up of your team.

AD: For a group of 30, we’re indeed very diverse and also incredibly international! We can account for 17 different birth countries and cover 16 different languages, with a gender split that is 52 per cent female. This has made clear communication and understanding important cultural traits for maintaining a supportive and collaborative culture. Some cultures can, at first experience, come across as very direct – I’m German, I get this! So, giving plenty of opportunities and channels for communication ensures that people feel understood. When you feel understood, you feel respected and valued, both of which are big motivators for producing your best.

ISB: And what was the ethos behind your recruitment strategy that resulted in such an exciting mix of people in the office?

AD: Will and I have a strong set of shared values, including values around family. We wanted to bring these values into the core of the business and set out to hire for a cultural fit and supportively upskill wherever required. I guess this was a hiring mantra I learned from my time at Google: more than anything, hire for personality, skills can be taught. We’ve since established five core values that we hold any potential hire up to, as well as acting as a code of conduct for those already working

with us: driven, transparency, game changers, collaboration and “we care”. We’ve found these invaluable in identifying the right people and maintaining a culture that we can all thrive in – you spend the majority of your time in the office, we want that to be an enjoyable experience where everyone can be themselves.

ISB: With so many parents on board, what arrangements do you have in place to cater for their childcare responsibilities?

AD: The kids have us outnumbered 32 to 30 and this is about to increase to 34! Will and I account for seven of those kids, so we inherently know what it is to be a parent. We’re also both 40+ founders, with an employee pool with an average age of 35 – that’s perhaps a little unorthodox for a start-up, but essentially it means that parenthood is likely to come with the territory. We, therefore, work flexible hours and are pretty relaxed when it comes to working from home. We want to do what we can to ensure we provide room for work/life balance for both parents and non-parents alike. Our employees pay us back by their commitment to delivering amazing results, it’s give-and-take and it works, so we never think twice about being flexible.

ISB: What initiatives have you put in place to support team members working from home when they need to?

AD: While we want to provide the necessary flexibility we also recognise that effective teamwork requires the right tools and processes. So, we’re organised about being flexible and ask the team to plan their working from home days ahead wherever possible, as well as make sure the other team members know about it. If there’s a weekly commitment like a practice or lesson, we can accommodate that regularly through flexible working hours. We use Bamboo HR, where the team not only applies for annual leave (AL) and personal leave (PL), but also for work-from-home (WFH) days – the system is synced to our team slack channel so everyone is notified and knows where to find colleagues (or not, in the case of AL or PL).

We use programs like Bamboo HR, Slack or Jira for developers and Zoom for video to make working from home and communicating with our teams easy. We’ve found that regularly scheduled work-from-home days have numerous long-term benefits. For instance, they provide a window to multitask some life admin around the house, which helps keep the work/life balance in check – you don’t need to be a parent to appreciate that! These days also give the opportunity to work on larger projects without being interrupted in the office.

ISB: How has the culture you have fostered impacted the development of the business?

AD: Our culture has been an intrinsic element of our success. Being so international makes us adept at adapting to new markets, this was especially important in November last year when we expanded into Japan – a business culture unlike any we’d experienced before. Having a respectful culture that communicates and actively listens, brings us all much closer together, enabling fierce collaboration. We relied on this like you wouldn’t believe at the end of last year to launch our Scorecard tool, which provides industry-first ROI on SEO investment, in time for the SMX East event in New York. We made our deadline thanks to the incredible efforts of everyone pulling together and delivering for each other. Everyone is an embodiment of our company values and that comes across strongest when the pressure is on!

This story first appeared in issue 28 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine

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