If we want to try out the same idea today, there is a number of things we need to consider first. We need to think about how to communicate the idea and to whom, how to collect feedback in the fairest way, handle potential objections, and figure out the best way forward collectively—which means we cannot run with it as easily as we did before.
The bigger you grow and the more complexity is introduced, the slower you become. And that’s where you need to let go of the democratic ideal, and start making difficult calls.
In the past year, growing past the €15 million ARR mark and with a Product and Engineering team that now consists of 30 people, I have realized that you simply cannot make decisions everyone enjoys.
Here’s an example: a few months ago, we decided to disband an internal team known as the ‘platform team’ and shift all the engineers into existing teams. We had created the platform team as an experiment and hired very experienced engineers for it, but then realized we didn't have any prepared work for them—so the timing was bad. To be honest, when it came to disbanding we weren't even 100% confident in the move ourselves, but since something was clearly not working, we wanted to try something new to see if it improved things.
There was quite a backlash, almost a 50-50 split between people agreeing with it versus hating the proposal. That was one of the first times I felt that people were not happy with a decision that, as far as I could see, was the best thing for the company at the time.
In the long-term, people have recognized it was a good move for the health of Hotjar; but back then it was not a popular decision, and we had to take a very strong stance that upset some of the team.
This is where the make-up of the people you hire ends up becoming crucial again.
You want to surround yourself with individuals who embrace change, who accept that they may not agree with all decisions taken. In young startups, the ability to quickly try out new things and learn from both successes and failures is a huge opportunity that should be seized. Over-thinking every decision means you move much slower and never learn from your mistakes. As long as there is that shared understanding that things might fail, and change, and then change again, you’re good.
And as the company grows, we have started to experiment with processes that allow the group of decision-makers to stay small. When a critical decision is needed in our engineering department, we usually elect a group of 2 to 3 trusted team members and give them full ownership of a decision. Everyone on the team trusts those 2/3 people to be the best ones to take the decision, regardless of whether everybody agrees with the outcome or not.
In the long run, it’s much better to take decisions that may occasionally be wrong, than to not take decisions at all.
Finally, you need to hire people who are better than you. It’s not threatening: it’s what’s going to make your critical decisions work. Decisions shouldn't always come from leadership—sometimes the best person to take a decision is not in leadership at all.
The whole point of being open to experimentation is that anyone can propose and make changes. If you build a culture of being open to experimentation, anyone in the company is empowered to take decisions and try new things.