We recently sat down with Jason Moore to candidly discuss what it takes to scale from zero to100+ employees. The CEO and Co-Founder of RouteThis, the leading provider of in-home WiFi connectivity support solutions for internet service providers (ISPs) and smart home brands, shared a behind-the-scenes look at what it means to build a rapidly scaling SaaS company.
Let’s start with your entrepreneurial journey – what led you to start RouteThis?
Many people describe their entrepreneurial journey as a reasonably straight line to success. Still, when you dig into the details, you realize it doesn’t look like that. In my case, my co-founders and I had a few pivots along the way to RouteThis.
Early days, we had a business operating in the smart home space. We experienced a fair amount of user and commercial success with the company. As a result, we got a glimpse into everyday problems in the smart home market.
One of those problems was the reliance on the customer’s home WiFi network. When a customer purchases a smart home product and brings it home to set up, the product will often require a solid WiFi network to work. If the customer’s WiFi network fails during this setup process, they blame the product they just purchased or the accompanying software application. This blame may even stretch as far as the customer’s ISP. The challenge, though, is that none of the smart home product companies own the home WiFi network.
This same challenge was present when we were growing and scaling Videostream. We received a ton of feedback from our users about the challenges they faced with the buffering speed of their videos. They would call and email us to say that our product was awful and that they couldn’t get it to work on their TVs. We spent an enormous amount of time troubleshooting with these customers, and we found, nearly nine times out of ten, that the issue was almost always on the customer’s WiFi network. However, they didn’t care that the problem was their WiFi – they just wanted it fixed.
Internally, we became good at troubleshooting customers’ home WiFi networks, leading us to an epiphany moment. We knew that we were likely the smallest company that had this problem and that if we had this issue at our size, this HAD to be a problem with larger companies who offer products and services on top of their customer’s home WiFi networks. If you think about these businesses, their value proposition relies on the customer having a home network that works, but nobody wants to claim ownership of that network if that is not the case. Consequently, they feel the negative repercussions of it – negative reviews, returns, etc. – and that led us to look at that problem more closely.
After that a-ha moment, we pivoted away from video and focused on building RouteThis. Today, RouteThis’ offering has two key components: a platform designed to help customer service agents more easily address tech issues remotely and a “self-help” component to allow individuals to self-diagnose, troubleshoot, and resolve WiFi issues at home.
Earlier this year, you announced your $25M Series A. In the BetaKit article about this raise, you mentioned that one of the goals is to scale to 100+ employees by next year – how do you think about team growth?
With the new products we want to bring to market and the new verticals we’re chasing, a lot is happening on the engineering side to ensure we can meet our milestones. We’re hiring a lot on the marketing and sales side to ensure that our go-to-market strategy is solid and that we can execute it quickly. Those are two of the critical areas we’re currently focused on.
Early days, my co-founders and I did a lot of the heavy lifting around sales and business development so that we could deeply understand what our customers wanted and what the process looked like. We would do these functions until we got to a place where it didn’t make sense anymore. When we got to that point, we’d ask ourselves, “What do we need to do to make this scale faster?” That generally led us to our next hire.
When hiring people, you’re constantly trying to balance out the competing demands of various business functions. For example, early on in RouteThis’ history, we would rebalance resource priorities from business development/sales and engineering. There were moments when both teams rushed – sales would sell the product, and engineering would rush to complete what was sold. It was high-energy, but it was a lot of fun.
There are two questions that I come back to when I’m trying to figure out what the next step is from a team perspective. The first is, “Who do we need to hire?” and the second is, “Now that we know who we need to hire, how will we ensure they are successful?”
In a startup, people typically have these broad roles that would be twelve or so different roles in a larger company. It’s a common starting point – come into a startup, learn as much as possible about many other business areas, and do whatever you can to reach and exceed the company’s goals.
When you start scaling your team, it becomes mostly about role division. You’re generally taking one role and splitting it into multiple parts. If I look at our hires over the last few years, half of them were new positions born out of a desire for one person on our team to specialize in a particular area, which meant that the rest of that person’s responsibilities had to go to someone else.
As the company’s leader, a big part of scaling focuses on wherever the pressure exists. Another significant factor is asking, “How do we go faster?” and following that question through the business to identify areas that are moving more slowly than others. Sometimes the fix is people, sometimes, it’s process, and sometimes it’s tools. If you keep asking that question repeatedly, it can be a great way to uncover new blockages.
Any pro tips or advice to share around hiring the right people for the right roles?
It would help if you spent some time thinking about each person’s role in the company. What does their day-to-day life look like? How do they work with the people around them?
Thinking this through, and recording the information somewhere, is often a tedious task that nobody loves to do. Still, it would be best if you spent some time thinking about role definition for internal organization and hiring. If you don’t spend the time thinking about these things, you can build the wrong profiles internally and externally and ultimately hire (or promote) the wrong people into the wrong roles.
The “go slow to go fast” mentality applies to hiring. Instead of thinking that you need to rush out and hire resources quickly to fill gaps and go faster, you need to take a step back and think about who this person is, what the role is, and what needs to be in place.
What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced when it comes to scaling people?
I think the biggest challenge when scaling a team is not losing all of your institutional knowledge acquired as a company before a new hire joins.
Hiring new team members is one of the critical elements of scaling, but at the same time, if you don’t institutionalize the knowledge of the people who were there before, it’s almost as though you reinvent the wheel with each new hire. One of the inherent risks to this is throwing away processes that work simply because the new hire hadn’t done it that way before or preferred it be done differently.
One of the things that we’ve put in place at the company is a lockdown period where we ask all new hires not to make fundamental changes to processes for at least the first few months. We ask them to learn the process before coming in and putting something in place that they may have used at a previous company. Sometimes the changes they want to bring in are excellent and helpful; sometimes, it just doesn’t fit. Going a bit slower in this area has been transformational for the business as it retains a lot of our institutional knowledge while still leaving room for innovation.
What are you looking at when scaling people beyond their knowledge-based skill set?
One of the critical things I look for is the desire for the team to win over a personal win. It can be incredibly damaging and a bit toxic if you end up with people inside your company who have the wrong ambitions.
I like to look for people with the right type of ambition. Yes, it’s essential to win personally, but above all else, you must want to see your entire team succeed. Some people view the world this way, and others don’t, but it’s a fundamental characteristic we value.
As you scale rapidly, have you thought about how you’ll keep your vision, mission, and values alive and robust as you scale?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how we’ll achieve this.
It comes down to what the company is doing versus what they say. It’s effortless to write down a mission, vision and values and put them into a handbook, but how is the day-to-day of the company run? How does it feel to work inside that company?
I think it’s essential to live out your vision and values in a tangible way.