By Simon Woodhead
It is pretty much a year since I stepped back into the business. Sure, the announcement came in late November but as you’ll expect there was some lead-in to that and my first serious interventions came in October.
It isn’t really a secret that I didn’t intend to take the reins back and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to say too much about why it was necessary I did, but nevertheless I wanted to reflect on what we’ve collectively achieved in the year since, as transparently as is fair.
A lot is made in business commentary about ‘culture’. Companies like Apple and Google have done a really good job of embedding a culture that is hopefully enduring, or at least they appear to from where I sit. As a smaller company, with getting on for 30 people, ours has always been somewhat more dynamic; a single hire can dramatically shift the balance rather like taking one more soul onto a rowing boat versus a cruise ship. The induced metaphorical rocking can be really good, or it can be really bad. Equally removing one ‘bad apple’ can be transformative, even if you didn’t know the apple was bad. It is really subtle but the consequences are huge.
Our culture was wounded when I came back. Sensible productive people who put our customers first, while still there, were subdued. Others, who I called ‘clipboard people’ – who are handy in the background but need treating cautiously – were somewhat cocksure. That isn’t a helpful dynamic especially as one important thing I’ve learned about teams and culture is that like attracts like (and by consequence repels unlike). Thus, whatever the direction of travel, it gains momentum fast. Thankfully, with a few quick fixes we started that wheel spinning the right way, repelling remnants, and attracting new awesome people.
In 27 years we’ve never had a round of redundancies. When we hire I regard it as another mortgage I’m responsible for paying. It is something we take very seriously and appreciate the commitment someone is making to us. That respect, the culture and the day-to-day flexibility we offer, I think creates something pretty unique here.
That cultural recovery is probably the biggest change and I’m really chuffed where we are now. The team are and have been amazing and there’s a palpable energy and enthusiasm that was at best subdued last year. I hope as founder I’m over-sensitive to these things and customers never noticed, but if you did, I hope you can sense the change and are loving working with us again. If not, please let me know!
Great and happy people really are the foundation of any business, and on that foundation everything else is built. So it is no surprise that having got that back in order we’ve grown our revenue 24% in 2023, and reduced our costs 10%. Part of that is fabulous customers, some of whom are growing strongly and some of that is new wins from larger (and smaller) competitors, of which there’s been numerous. Those two deltas are even more impressive when I tell you we’ve been without an effective sales function for most of 2023 and have raised pay, our largest cost, on average by 20% (before deserved promotions).
Our whole team, at every level, are now shareholders in the business and getting that in place was a big focus. That feels amazing, unifies everyone behind a shared goal, and completely cuts through any ‘them and us’ you might find in other companies. It also means we can be open and transparent about the future and whether we 10x from here, or Elon recognises our unique place and value in the world, we’re all in it together. I wish I knew what I know now 15 years ago, but I guess everybody does!
Our Senior Management Team (SMT) is much stronger and more confident. Arguably Simon 1.0 was pretty autocratic but I’ve changed! Simon 2.0 lets them run things, and provides the guide rails and tone. We brought some brilliant talent up to the SMT, chopped some dead-wood, and put the SMT in a place where should I go under a bus or be forced to step away again, the impact on the business would be dramatically less. That’s important. We also have some very impressive talent coming up through, and on track to join the business soon as well, which is hugely exciting for the future. Nurturing the leaders of the future and ensuring the ship is big enough for them to grow into is a massive responsibility, but also an incredible privilege. We don’t do racial, gender or age quotas (the tokenism it leads to is a whole rant in itself) but the diversity of people within the company, and those coming up through, would make those who do very happy. Suffice to say, I’m pretty hopeful for Gen Z, which I don’t think many have said, least of all me!
Why am I writing this? In part because we’re not a company that buys awards, but while it doesn’t come naturally, ‘blowing our trumpet’ is one of my responsibilities. Mostly though because we’re in such an exciting place and I’m so proud of the effort and attitude of the whole team, I think they deserve a pat on the back. We’re a transparent company so why not do so publicly. Team Simwood: keep kicking arse (or ‘ass’ for our American colleagues!).
Lastly, if you’re reading this and think you could contribute positively to our team, we have multiple vacancies in Porting and DevOps so please get in touch; you’ll know how.