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Finding Leadership Excellence by David Deacon

Technology, Manager, Diversity & Inclusion...

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AS OUR ECONOMIES COME BACK TO LIFE, WHAT I LEARNED FROM THIS SCALE-UP CFO WILL BE OF VALUE TO LEADERS OF EVERY COMPANY

"In the past, we used to think that entrepreneurs would benefit from learning about the leadership skills and experiences of leaders in bigger, longer-established enterprises. Now we are starting to recognize a new reality – that leaders in start ups and scale ups can teach leaders everywhere about agility and adaptability – and resilience – all things that pretty much every company in the world needs now. So with this in mind I am seeking out the leaders who are blazing a trail, whose wisdom might help as we look for our own paths away from the depths of this crisis.

One such leader, who I spent time with virtually very recently, is Deepak Jayaprakash, CFO at Moteefe. Two things to say up front: the business model is fantastic, compelling and so well conceived. And Deepak himself is just a pleasure – charming, thoughtful, understated, genuinely an authentic and personal leader. And what I really loved about all this, is the link between the commercial model and the personal style, which is intertwined and connected in so many ways. Here’s what he told me.

THIS BUSINESS MODEL GETS BETTER AND BETTER THE MORE YOU LOOK AT IT

So before we talked about culture and leadership and things to think about, Deepak and I talked about Moteefe. Like I say, the business model is fantastic, a business model for our times, and the commercial design itself just might tell us something about the future.

They’re an e-commerce platform, enabling people who want their design on a thing, to have that done. They supply, print, ship and support. You bring the design and they do the rest. They have created local production in around 20 Global sites accessed through

a global platform, to make fulfillment easy and quick; you design the look and create a market for your products, they manage everything else for you.

How’s it a model for our times? A few things: the sourcing and production is local, regardless of where in the world you are, so it’s a sustainable and surprisingly short supply chain; production is flexible and scalable, they’ll make one or 100,000 depending on how big your demand is, and they will change and reiterate and adapt to your changing designs as many times as you need, so you can test and learn until you hit the demand you deserve..it’s print-on-demand, so no inventory to be built up, no waste, and no capital investment in your part; and they deliberately and by design distribute value across the supply chain such that everyone makes money – it’s a business model based not on taking advantage, but on sharing benefits.

In short, Moteefe are simplifiers of bringing a retail product to market. Give them your design, define your targets, market accordingly, let Moteefe handle the production, fulfillment and aftercare. It’s brilliant. Got something you want created, to your design, quickly, flexibly, without capital investment and without headaches? That’s what they do, for a fixed fee. Around the world. Oh, and at every stage of the supply chain, the service provider makes money. The printers, the material suppliers, the order fulfillment companies. Everyone gets value from being part of the process. It’s sustainable, scalable, smart, ethical. Think of Moteefe as an enabler of e-commerce in a good way, creating opportunities and possibilities for anyone with a great design and a target market to offer it to. Other than fintechs, they are the fastest growing e-commerce business in Europe according to Deloitte and their “Fast 50” study.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS: PLANFUL, PRINCIPLED, MODEST

The Founders are still very visible as leadership team members, but they have taken on specific management roles that suit their skills and styles and they are bringing-in other expertise they need – including CFO Deepak who had Skype, Expedia and SilverRail on his cv before joining. And they are clear that as they grow they will keep flexible and stay quick – they plan to scale fast (and recently completed their latest funding round in support of that growth) but not damage their culture. Distributing decision making and avoiding

creating structures and hierarchy that will slow them down, will be a challenge. And of course, giving up some control without building bureaucracy is every Founder’s dilemma. But before that can be a focus, they needed to survive the pandemic.

Planning for the worst, planning to be ready

The leadership team has been pragmatic and swift in their response to the crisis, as befits an organisation where decision-making still sits with a small number of people. Even though they were in the midst of a fund-raise, they put aside the recently-inked business plan and in its place built multiple scenarios – including worst cases as well as more benign versions of the future – and reviewed possible actions to mitigate the issues. This preparation and planning means they are more resilient, because they’ve really thought this through, and they know what they might have to do.

The chances are they won’t have to act on their plans – the business model turns out to be relatively pandemic-proof so far, but that’s not the point; they have considered all the possibilities, thought through all the scenarios, so they are prepared. If they have to act, they will be able to act quickly. Investors appreciate this too; it means that the leadership team is on top of the risks and can deal with challenges.

Connecting with teams and the ecosystem.

Moteefe has about 100 employees and there’s a lot of contact amongst them, especially now that everyone is working remotely. Each team has a really regular stand-up, even if there’s nothing new to say. Probably because the leadership team has stayed positive, productivity is up and motivation is high. There’s a strong sense of connection between the teams and the leaders, lots of visibility and involvement, tons of transparency about how things are going. And really regular pulse surveys, so that there aren’t too many assumptions being made, and the transparency is about data as well as thoughts.

Something they do that I hadn’t come across – they’re rolling out a platform called Donut which randomly selects someone to have a one-on-one with; as a way of turbo-charging teamwork and internal partnership, it’s proving pretty powerful.

They have also recognized what many of us are starting to only think about – their entire ecosystem is not just important to their business, it is their business. So right now there’s a weekly event with the entire ecosystem: suppliers, printers, sellers. No one is getting left behind. They are being intentionally and deliberately transparent, engaging, inclusive, and supportive. For Moteefe, it’s the right thing to do; it’s also a smart thing to do.

Calling out the Culture.

Like pretty much every start-up on the planet, the style and ethos of those who created the business is deeply engrained in how things get done. Here too Moteefe are engagingly different: whilst the Values statements are unsurprising (Entrepreneurship; Teamwork; Drive for Results; Partnership), much less common is a tone from the leadership which is modest, almost understated. To be clear, they are excited and motivated, but this is not an ego-first culture.

Of course, the importance of entrepreneurship, of teamwork and of partnership are clear because they are built into the business model; but it’s the low-key, principled and determined leadership style which really intrigues me. They are intentionally making their business a meritocracy, led by the right people, built on expertise. There is maturity and wisdom involved in what they are trying to do, and I have the sense that there is something special here; this is a great business by design, but impressively it is lead with generosity and care, as well as drive and flair. I’ll bet that the people who work at Moteefe like working at Moteefe, not just because the company is a positive influence across the entire value chain, but because it is also genuinely well-lead. A lot of places tell you they are like this; I feel good about Moteefe because they don't feel a need to shout about that.

Recognising that culture and people both really matter.

Like every start up, the entrepreneurial culture and fluid, flat, and fast leadership style is valuable and something they want to preserve.

So they are really focused on maintaining a squad-based mentality, recognizing that efficient communication and coordination is a function of the number of people on the team – and beyond a certain point, more structures and processes are needed to get the right results. So for now they are building teams, looking to keep them to around 10 people. If commercial success means in the future they have to confront the scale issue of needing bigger work groups, they’ll tackle then the changes in leadership style and work practices that will be needed. What impresses me is that they are very alert to this, and have something of a trigger for when they will start building structures around their teams. Again, it’s pretty mature management thinking for a company of their size.

There’s an important lesson here too about hiring; as they grow, they know that they will need more and more people who can think for themselves and don’t need too much direction: they need people who can figure it out for themselves. And in this they recognise that being a little low-key and modest can hinder their efforts to hire those special people who will help them – their brand as an employer reflects the purpose-first approach of the founders and so they need potential recruits to really pay attention to what they do and who they are; not easy in a crowded market, and one where the “war for talent” continues almost unchecked. But in their principled leadership of the value chain, their high-ambition/low ego leadership, their resilience and adaptability which is built into the business model, there are lessons here for us all. My prediction is that having Moteefe on your cv will be badge of honour in the years to come.

So what lessons do I take from all this?

  • I take that the value of scenario planning is on the process of planning not the outcomes per se – and that leadership teams and stakeholders all benefit from the readiness that comes from that planning..
  • And that starting with your ecosystem in mind is a smart and differentiating business strategy, not an optional extra.
  • And that recognising what truly differentiates you (modest leadership style in this case) will help you remain true to your values and principles as you grow, and that your hires must be congruent with your style, even if that makes them more difficult to find and attract.
  • And that a compelling business model, when twinned with principled and authentic leadership, is a joy to be part of.

For all these reasons, I am looking forward to seeing Moteefe go from strength to strength; it’s like a blueprint for doing well and doing good, and there is much there for the rest of us to admire and maybe even copy."

By David Deacon, The Talent Office and in association with Spinks

 

If you are interested in working for Moteefe, or want to learn more about how they are scaling their talent talent acquisition using a pop-up “virtual on-site” capability, contact the lovely people at Spinks to find out more.

This interview is part of a series of interviews exploring the challenges leaders face in a fast growth environment– if you are a leader of a tech business that would like to share your story and experience of leading through change, please contact me at david@thetalentoffice.org.

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