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We Will Not Put You in a Box

Reaching the 100 employee milestone is a vote of confidence for Optimove’s product — and HR philosophy.

Optimove has just crossed the 100 employee line. For a company that was started seven years ago by three people in a dingy office, this is indeed a significant milestone. Throughout the years, the growth of Optimove’s headcount closely mimicked the company’s growth in revenue. This is not always the case with startup companies, but since Optimove has chosen to remain bootstrapped and to scale without any external VC funds, employee growth has been organic: we always hired just as many people as we could accommodate through the product’s revenues.

As expected, growth was not linear. The “vesting” period was characterized by an average growth of 0.5 employees per month. This slow and steady period took a dramatic turn in April 2014, just after we crossed the 30 employee mark. From that day onwards, Optimove entered the employee “growth” period that continues to this day and is characterized by a growth rate of approximately two employees per month. This represents a quadrupling in the pace of employee headcount growth. 30 seems to have been our glass ceiling. For five years we had linear growth at a constant pace. Once we surpassed 30, we began a new and explosive period of linear growth that has catapulted us to just over 100 employees today.

Growth is not typically measured by the number of employees. But all other things being equal – when the employee growth rate is organic – a growing number of employees is the best news a startup can hope for. Because de facto, every day, the thing that actually makes startups grow and optimize are the people who own its vision, the people who come into the office every morning.

Thus, crossing the 100 employee line is an assurance that we’re doing something right. We are optimizing for growth, but we are also creating an ecosystem that is optimized for personal growth. And while growth can be measured, building this kind of HR philosophy and work ecosystem is more art than science. It does not bow to measurements.

A Fine Balance

Creating an atmosphere that fosters scaling at a fast pace is a delicate balancing act between different and sometimes opposing demands: creativity and structure, criticism and empowerment, hard work and great fun, team effort and personal excellence, cooperation and competition, agility and perfectionism, consistency and an endless ability to change.

The underlying principle for creating this elusive work dynamic is simple: we recruit very talented people, and we never put them in a box. And this is my promise to all Optimove employees, present and future: we will not put you in a box.

I view Optimove not as an assembly line where every employee utilizes two or three skills, but rather as a large stage where employees are free to showcase and employ the full gamut of their professional and interpersonal skills. The company maintains the right amount of structure and fluidity to allow every employee who comes through the door to excel at his or her complete skill set, even if it consists of skills which are not part of the recruiting requirements or official job description.

This approach is closely linked to my own work experience; founding and running Optimove is my first job! From day one, it has always given me a stage to be many things at once: entrepreneur, product manager, marketer, salesperson, content writer, data scientist, etc. And this is exactly the kind of experience I want to reproduce for every Optimove employee.

This philosophy is successful on two fronts. On the one hand, the company thrives through diverse skills that it didn’t even know it was looking for. On the other hand, employees thrive as they are able to express who they really are. And as they do, they truly become a part of the company, and the company truly becomes a part of them.

Growth Takes Hard Work

Much has been said in favor of employee equity in the startup world, and owning a piece of the business is indeed a great motivator. But in my experience, ownership also happens on another level, which is sometimes an even stronger stimulus – that in which employees come to own the company through personal expression and mutual success.

This kind of ownership drives employees to push the envelope of their abilities, to optimize for growth at their own desk, in their own team, and across the company. Making things grow takes hard work, so it’s only when you truly own something that you care enough to do whatever it takes to make it thrive.

Creating this unquantifiable work environment is essential for measurable growth. The first is a condition for the second. To quote sociologist William Bruce Cameron, “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” In Optimove’s case, I consider crossing the 100 employee line a huge milestone – and a sign of great things to come.

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