19 Apr 2023

Chat with Steph: Planning, Funding, Hiring, and Customers

I recently had a chat with Steph Thommen about some key aspects of running a successful business. We covered a lot of ground, from the importance of planning, the pros and cons of raising external capital, the challenges of hiring the right people, and the need for continuous improvement based on customer feedback.

Steph Thommen

Steph Thommen is a startup specialist with over 20 years of experience in HR and operations both in the corporate and startup world with a passion for people-first culture

Read on for a brief recap of our conversation and the transcript.

Implementing Targets and Goals and Reviews in a Simple Way

As Steph emphasized, implementing targets and goals reviews in a simple way can be a challenge, particularly for small businesses. To make it easier for people to reflect on their progress, it’s important to first make personal planning and reflection part of the team’s routine before implementing a full review process backed by a tech solution. This means including a simple retrospective session where the team can look at how they performed during the quarter. By documenting this process and using it in 1:1s, individuals can reflect on their progress and learnings and plan for the next quarter.

Funding Options

Another topic we discussed was the pros and cons of raising external capital for a business. While it can be tempting to raise funds to fuel growth or build out your product, there are also downsides to giving up control or having to meet investor expectations. As I mentioned, I would prefer to build my company without external funding if possible, but sometimes it’s necessary to hire multiple engineers and build a product with a lot of lines of code. If you do need to raise funds, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and consider using small tools or no-code solutions to avoid raising too much capital.

Hiring the Right People

One of the most challenging aspects of running a business is hiring the right people. As Steph and I discussed, it’s important to hire based on what the business needs at the moment and avoid hiring too many people at once. If you hire too early, you may not know what you want them to do, and it can take them longer to execute on their tasks. And if you hire the wrong people, you may end up having to lay them off or waste resources trying to make it work. That’s why it’s essential to have a clear idea of what you need from each new hire and to take the time to find the right person for the job.

Customer Feedback and Continuous Improvement

Finally, Steph and I discussed the importance of customer feedback and continuous improvement. As I mentioned, we work in an agile manner and prioritize customer feedback over investor plans. That’s because customer satisfaction is key to building a successful business. By listening to your customers and making changes based on their feedback, you can improve your product or service and build a loyal customer base. And by constantly iterating and improving, you can stay ahead of the competition and keep growing your business.

Product Evolution & Contractual Obligations

For startups, keeping up with the evolution of their products and meeting contractual obligations can be quite challenging. One major issue arises when customers want contracts, but the terms and conditions state that the company can change them at any time. This can cause inconsistency in offerings, and customers may lose trust in the company.

  • To avoid such situations, startups can follow certain steps
  • Manage the product roadmap carefully and involve customers in its development.
  • Check the legal implications of any changes that may be made.
  • Communicate major changes with customers ahead of time to ensure they are aware of what is happening.
  • Provide knowledgebase articles that explain the effect of the changes in a clear and concise manner.


In conclusion, my chat with Steph was a great reminder of some key aspects of running a successful business. By planning and reflecting, carefully considering funding options, hiring the right people, and prioritizing customer feedback, you can build a business that not only survives but thrives in today’s competitive landscape.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, so I realized I’d not actually myself because now we have a lot of customers that want to have contracts. And then you read through the contracts and…


Steph Thommen: Uh-huh.


Chris Priebe: you realize it says everywhere. Oh yeah, the product descriptions here on our website. But then we could change that at any point in time. So you could we could just say,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Oh, as of tomorrow. Sorry, recording is not part of your feature anymore. You have to upgrade and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: it puts company. Actually we’re position because you don’t know and what was on the website, two years before. So Anyway, totally unrelated. Yep.


Steph Thommen: Yeah, you could be selling anything. Yes. So to to get back to a chaos. What you were saying is adding it to slack, so that it makes it easy for people to reflect on their progress which is amazing and…


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Steph Thommen: What I wanted to add to that is beyond that, you need to make planning and reflecting part of your routine before going to a tech solution. So people should should be used to every quarter sitting down as a company or as a team and say. So this is a company’s objective, This is how the team is going to execute. This is how I can contribute as an individual. And come back in reflect on that.


Chris Priebe: Now.


Steph Thommen: And when that is a habit, you can start implementing a tech solution because if people don’t understand the benefit of why you’re doing things, and it hasn’t served them and it’s not part of their work habits, then it’s just another thing. On top of all the things they have to do. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, and it’s just like a burden, right? It’s like, okay, I need to not fill out this thing because I manager wants me to And…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: then actually you may not do it or if you do it, you may even resent it a little bit as to say Okay all this admin that I’m being asked to I just want to code, you know. And I think frankly I think I’m still not quite sure I think now I’m only starting to figure out some of

the kind of like on the individual level you know,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: on the company level like what even should be a reasonable okr? I mean, in the first year of the business, I had no clue. Even if I have the best tool, whatever it doesn’t matter, right? I would not have known what actually is a meaningful one. And that’s why actually we never implemented it because it’s better to not implement it at all.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Then making up some random things and then, yeah, just kind of like having it just for the sake of having it. So I think we’re only there.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: We’re only getting there now that we haven’t understanding of, hey, what are we actually doing and how do you actually achieve that?


Steph Thommen: And and I think to your point that’s for very important for you to do it. Now, like when you have three, four people in the team, you’re talking about what you’re doing. And you’re just saying, Okay, this is what we need to do off we go, we do it. But when you start hitting 15, 20 people in the team, it’s much harder to bring that visibility and to actually give people a sense of direction and that’s why starting to document things is more important. It is just saying okay so This is the roadmap. This is what we’re going to do this quarter and it might change probably change three times during the quarter anyway. But when you when you’re at that size that that happens maybe just giving people the sense of direction and It also helps you reflect back on. What worked, what didn’t work? How can we make better? Make it better.


Steph Thommen: And that’s what’s the most important is that your you keep on learning and you’re building learning into what you’re doing.


Chris Priebe: You know.


Chris Priebe: Now, I mean, for me, what I’m what I’m actually trying to create first is before even saying, Hey, what even should be the target because even investors, they asked me all the time. Let’s sit down and make up a growth plan for the next 18 months to like, get to whatever. Make up random target. I’m like, Well, I kind of don’t really know that because really what I’m doing right now is I’m doing a lot of experiments. So really, I’m just, and each next experiments is influence by the last experience. How can I, possibly know what I’m gonna be doing a six months time. I cannot make it up, but it’s totally meaningless. And all I know is in each experiment, we make progress, right? So I know that the customer that we just signed up was the biggest customer you ever signed up. So, probably we’re on the right way and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: probably we should continue what we’re doing, but cannot tell you now, what the biggest customer, we sign up will be in Q4 at the end of the year, I have no idea. And and frankly, I don’t know if our product is is there because I haven’t we haven’t yet work with a customer like that.


Chris Priebe: So, maybe there are some things that we can’t fulfill. Maybe we will be there by the end of the year,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: maybe not. But so,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: I’d rather focus on so, I actually don’t worry about too much about. Okay, this is what we want to be in 12 months but what I do really care about is getting more less real time feedback. And I had a really cool feedback group just the other day with our head of customer success. So we have hubspot it’s pretty great tool but I mean it’s daunting because you can do everything and nothing in it but we now figured out. So we have this little chat support window in zel so…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: if somebody reach out and then we respond and you can check directly in the app and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: obviously when it’s chat you want to be as real time as possible, right? So otherwise not chat. So the response time is one of the most important things because if you know you have to wait for three minutes, you don’t use in the first place.


Chris Priebe: So we figure out there’s a report on Hubspot where you can see the average response time on a given day, so it’s like a chart and like you can see like a spike if it’s a Saturday, for example, right? So we also reply on Saturday, of course, because we’re startup. So we do it but it takes longer. So it’s okay,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: you see a spike and but when I always set up our dashboards and it’s okay Delia We have now here, our customer success dashboard. We have two shots on there. So it’s simple,…


Steph Thommen: Simple easy. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: right? It’s two things. Response time and time to close. So that’s the last time. The last message in a conversation. So, It doesn’t matter what we are today frankly. I don’t care. But what I care about is that we improve,…


Steph Thommen: Let’s go stuff. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: right? And also we know when we screw up and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: as a prominence grown up but we should know so that we can understand why.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: And then maybe we can we can figure out how to make it better. So now she came up this morning, she’s like I sit up, I missed one message and there’s a big spike. It’s like


Chris Priebe: Well, how did it happen? Well, there were four messages at the same time. So it turned out, It’s hard to keep track of them when there’s more than one. So then you can figure out, Okay, how can we maybe there’s some rule and have spot to say If there’s one active one, maybe we can send it to another person so it doesn’t happen, right? So That’s kind of what I think about is you know really valuable and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: but in this case it was rather easy. If you know an engineer it’s much harder like what is what is the feedback there? So, and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: two-thirds of our team, my engineers. So How do you, how do you get that feedback like If in one of the angel messes that was at revolution in the early days, right? He was building revel business, for example, so there, they just look on Twitter. They’re like, I just go on Twitter and see what people like Post on revolute, and they get the public domain. That’s amazing. But at the moment, we don’t have that luxuries.


Steph Thommen: It, you’re not there yet. Have you thought of looking? Can you see when the volume comes in? Because if you know that it’s on Wednesday at 11, am that you’re getting more more volume,…


Chris Priebe: Yeah. Yeah.


Steph Thommen: or maybe it’s on Saturday between 10 and 12. When people just have a little bit of time to investigate what they couldn’t do during the week. And then you can have more people covering


Chris Priebe: I mean, what I said is I’m she was like, Yeah. But you know, I was he’s I mean, she has lots of responsibilities,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: right? So it was zero fault on her end. It’s just like, okay? You can only one thing at a time, right? It’s what it is. She’s like, yeah. But I was carrying two laptops because we also provide like equipment. I was carrying two laptops and they were like four messages coming in. I’m like, Oh yeah, it’s fine. You don’t have to do all but you know there’s I’m sitting here this polina over there just say Hey Paulina jump in here because also people like they don’t want to like ask others for favors or some dawn. So then that is not my role I need to say Delia Polina. It’s okay. You know it’s okay also that you ask others to jump in because it’s a joint responsibility. So that next time you know and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: I can jump in as well, you…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: it’s like, it’s not like, hey, I’m not because you know that that person that technically is responsible. It’s not like others, can’t help.


Chris Priebe: But I think, unless I would, unless we didn’t have this incident, I wouldn’t have made her aware. Hey, it’s okay. Just a standing to somebody else. And I tell that person, by the way, when this happens, you are responsible. So the future, I think this will be resolved but without this feedback loop, probably the next time. The same thing would have happened and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: it’s not like it’s the end of the world, but that one person that had to wait for 40 minutes. They will have like, Oh zeld is pretty slow in like support,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah, so that this


Chris Priebe: right? And they will tell the other person, Oh yes, I’ll just kind of slow. Well, 95% of other people are like, wow, sounds super fast, right? So you have like, and you may not even be aware of that, because if you don’t measure it, you don’t even know that this person exists that had this experience.


Steph Thommen: You know. yeah, and I think so, I love it that you are thinking that way, because it’s helping your team grow, and it’s helping


Steph Thommen: People work more autonomously because not now. Paulina. And the other lady know that they can communicate, they need to collaborate and it’s more likely that they’re going to do it themselves. And what really, really resonated as well is the fact that you Resist. The investors plan because the way you working is fully agile and…


Chris Priebe: Yeah, totally.


Steph Thommen: any and it’s basically, I’m speaking with my customers, This is the pain,…


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Steph Thommen: this is what I’m developing. I know I have a hundred customers, I ask them the same question, they are going to inform the next a feature, right?


Steph Thommen: if the investors insist you might say, Well, by the end of 2023, we will have developed another five features. But it’s kind of pointless because you might have a massive feature that takes a long time, but it’s going to get you a lot more customers. so, What I’ve seen in startups, a lot of the time is people want one plan, they and planning is two things. Planning is especially at that stage is Both avoidance and reassurance. It’s, there’s some big things that we have to do and we’re afraid of starting them. And reassurance that if we have a plan, that means that we’re getting somewhere. But most of the time you finish the plan, you’ve wasted three weeks and nothing gets done. That’s that was on the plan, because that’s what not what the business needs.


Steph Thommen: So it’s better to do as you’re doing it right now and just going. Okay? So we’ve done this thing. What do look at one next and just drive it through the roadmap and customers feedback. Than saying we will have 200 customers by the end of the year.


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: yeah, the thing is a lot of It’s, I investors are. An interesting bunch, right? So obviously, they would tell you. Yes, I agile. Of course, all of our start adjust the way to go. You know, every should be doing agile but then actually, they’re quite scared of it because they want the certainty, right? Because I mean the end, one thing is certain your money will run out.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: That’s the one thing that is certain if you don’t raise funds. So obviously you would like to have that visibility you know or this is our plan and this means this much revenue and then if this much revenue and of course the idea what scenario I would like to know that. But the reality is it’s kind of You know, it’s kind of meaningless.


Steph Thommen: He I think it’s good to aim for something and have the idea that you want to build the best HR system in the world and that’s what you are aiming for and that’s awesome. But what that looks like is a step at a time. because if you say to to do that, we need to be making a billion dollars and then we need to do all of those things and just kind of when you when you break it down, it just never


Steph Thommen: That’s what I was saying. The plan never gets realized, but aiming small step of after small. Step every time you do in incremental step forward, you’re a little bit.


Chris Priebe: Mmm. Yeah, was it I think was Van Gogh? Right? Who said every great thing is Doing many small things after each other or…


Steph Thommen: Yeah. Yeah. It’s the concept of the next specs best step.


Chris Priebe: something like that. Yeah.


Steph Thommen: And that’s that’s why I stop doing New Year’s resolution, right? You’re just kind of well I can only take it one day at a time.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, I’ve stopped those long time ago. Yeah. And I’m not that old but yes. I’m getting older now, but yeah.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, I mean it’s like I don’t know. I just have to say right? Like as a foundry always in this weird spot because I mean you have to work agile, but then you have investors and like externals that won’t have visibility in certain ability and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: actionability and say always like torn, like Yes I can all spend. I mean, I think it’s good that you have that pressure because it now forces you to at least try And you should try. But the realities will come different and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: every time you make that next insight, you have to change your plan.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: So I don’t even have like And normally and I used to be in private equity investor, right? So we would do this. We have a business plan and then we have a plan in an actual in the plan and an actual.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: And then you look at all, was it higher or lower? So although I’m very familiar with and understand the values like what we are even there doesn’t make sense because


Chris Priebe: Well what’s the point of now knowing that we’re underneath? Well, I don’t know, the plant changes soften like I don’t by the time it changes softly.


Steph Thommen: That’s it. That’s it.


Chris Priebe: I don’t even know what was like when you say Plan. Like, Which plan do you mean like is a version 22 or…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: 1348? Right. Because


Steph Thommen: Yeah, and when you look at what happened between version 1 and version 48 is too completely different plan. So how many days work have you?


Chris Priebe: Yeah. Yeah.


Steph Thommen: Wait wasted planning when you could actually have been executing. Have you considered a bootstrapping it and not bringing in investors?


Chris Priebe: It’s not really possible. I…


Steph Thommen: Okay.


Chris Priebe: Actually I’m pretty active Angel investor.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Yeah. And I kind of do less now but like I get a lot of comment like founders coming in asking. Hey, I’m I’m having this business. I’m like planning my next thing and I was asked, like, Do you really need the cash or is it just because you think you need it as…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: if you really? Don’t need it. Don’t take it. I would definitely build my company without any external cash if I could. But the problem is, you know, to build like the kind of thing that we’re building. Like, it’s like It’s just a lot of lines of code and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: they’re all of no cold tools out there whatever. But the thing that we’re building you can’t hack and you can’t bootstrap together and it takes a year until you have something that is really even like minimally useful and you need like five engineers and that’s like you know they’re not cheap. So


Chris Priebe: But unless that’s not the case, you know we chose that challenge and we know it’s difficult one and we need to raise more upfront to get into the first dollar of revenue than most other companies that’s fine.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: But I don’t know if you, if you use like this kind of small tool and you can use no code and and you can get away with not raising, don’t do it, right? And only do it once you realize,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: okay? It would be nice to do it because now I can hire a salesperson or higher two sales people. Or I realized that OH marketing on Google works really well for us. So why not? Just spend 100K on marketing and then yeah, you should definitely raise that money. But more like after the fact. Right? So now previously, it was more like before the fact. Okay, I need, I should raise money against that we do,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: but actually should be all around. And I think the same with hiring, like, a lot of companies. They raise a lot of money. They’re like, okay, we need to hire 10 salespeople. And then


Chris Priebe: Five months later, you fire five of them because you hide over higher, or the higher, the wrong people, or maybe hide for the wrong skills. So, Brother just I think I’m more like also, they are very agile, you know like I know now…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: what we need is a marketing person because I can feel it on a day-to-day basis, probably, we should hire them but then we kind of don’t have the kind of we never allocated budget for it and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Probably won’t. But I know for sure that the next person we need to hire is a marketing person and…


Steph Thommen: It’s emerging. But yeah.


Chris Priebe: I know exactly…


Chris Priebe: what they need to do. Because I’m right now, feeling that pain, right? Yeah so yeah,…


Steph Thommen: You’re the one doing it?


Steph Thommen: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: so even like a hiring plan. It’s like Yeah of course. Eventually of course you have to you hire ahead of sales and they put the 20 sales people in a room and they’re gonna create a boiler room and they probably should be doing that eventually. but in our stage I feel like you know it’s just like feeling what the business is in right now where the need is and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: then I jump on it first and then I try to hire somebody can do it better and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah yeah and…


Chris Priebe: then I move on


Steph Thommen: this way you also get to feel for what the business needs it just kind of, okay so what does the business need to grow? What does do I want it to do which is also quite important and then you can better give direction to the person who comes in because what I’ve also seen happen, quite regularly is when you hire someone to to early. You don’t really know what you want them to do. So they have to figure it out.


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Steph Thommen: And it takes them much longer than you, because You have the, the knowledge of the business and they don’t. So they have to get the knowledge of the business, they have to get what’s in your mind and then execute from there.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, or worse. That is if they have that kind of mindset and conscience of doing that or worse, they make up a bunch of assumptions and…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: then do execute based on that and most likely those assumptions are wrong,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: they are probably based on whatever they did in their past company. Which was maybe a different market and a different country and different stage. So they just apply that and it won’t work out right.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Because how could it how this post to know your market and your customers and your product and your pain points.


Steph Thommen: Exactly. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: They don’t


Steph Thommen: Cool. I’m going to have to go because I’ve got a another meeting. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, I feel I feel the same. Yeah. We should do like a podcast or something where it’s just like a regular thing. We just talk about, I don’t know. I really enjoy it. I have to say.


Steph Thommen: I I think that’s that’s quite an interesting idea, have a look at the recording and see if we can post post snippets and…


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Steph Thommen: depending on what comes out of that, maybe we can do it once once every two weeks and just have a half hour of.


Chris Priebe: Yeah.


Steph Thommen: Hmm, how does that work?


Chris Priebe: Yeah and maybe we can like invite guests or something like an expert on.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: I don’t know. Whatever.


Steph Thommen: Just getting investment, what you probably the expert on investment. So


Chris Priebe: Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m an expert in anything. But like, yeah. Have a decent idea of some things.


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: But yeah, really, really enjoyed it.


Steph Thommen: Same thing.


Chris Priebe: Yeah, I have the recording. Let me stop this. You know. I need to find the button.


Chris Priebe: At Google’s user experience is not the best. It’s him,…


Steph Thommen: Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Okay? I stopped recording. Um, yeah, I really enjoyed it again. Back to the marketing point. Now, working up, these audio files, and splitting them and like that takes a lot of time.


Steph Thommen: Yeah. Send it to me.


Chris Priebe: So, but


Steph Thommen: I have some time at the moment. Yeah. Yeah.


Chris Priebe: Awesome. Yeah, I’ll send it over. At least we have this transcript already so we can probably run it through. Chat gpt. Hey, great greater blog or like a podcast summary and it’ll probably do a perfectly and yeah. Well, we can maybe follow up next week and…


Steph Thommen: Cool. Probably amazing.


Chris Priebe: kind of see what we can do with this. Awesome, really enjoyed it.


Steph Thommen: Same have a great weekend. Bye.


Chris Priebe: Yeah. Great, thank you. Take care. Bye.