The first year at Telcoin, turning a team of rockstars into a company.
As 2018 ends, I would like to reflect on some of the challenges we have been facing this year as we are now getting ready to step outside of the shadow and deliver our products to users who need it. It has been an intense, but fruitful year, and I am incredibly proud of the accomplishments of the small but excellent crew we have at Telcoin.
Growing a team of experts into a company is the subject I will address in this blog post, after describing the core functions of the company and their leaders.
The teams at Telcoin:
At Telcoin, Yacine — a great leader whose experience mostly involve working independently or running businesses — handles our marketing, community management, and communication with the outside world. His understanding of crowds and market dynamics comes as much from raw talent as it comes from work. Absolute swiss army knife of the digital communications world, he’s the reason why so many people are aware of what we’re building at Telcoin.
Naïm handles anything user-facing. An elite product leader with an experience combining engineering, design, and management, he already took a project from inception to exit in China, a market where foreigners usually can’t even scratch the surface.
Everything related to engineering belongs to Simo (whom we call Shimo in Japan because “Si” is hard to pronounce for locals). Self-taught genius, his experience ranges from very back end to very front end (had the second most used js lib on the web for a while), without skipping mobile (built an excellent mobile testing framework used by many companies). Great problem solver, used to work in small teams or alone.
Eric handles our COPS department (for Compliance and operations). A former fighting game professional (!), he spent a decade in top-tier investment banks doing regulatory reform, building trading systems, and leading compliance in Asia. That was before helping startups enter the Japanese market and running his startup aiming to bring arcade games to a whole new level.
Because we intend to build an entire ecosystem around Telcoin, our business development is handled by Alix, bringing a decade of Asia BD and investment experience on the table. He worked in large (like LINE, the messaging app / social network dwarfing Facebook in Japan) and small companies, mostly in the mobile game industry.
Finally, as we intend to reach users via their mobile providers, Paul, the other co-founder of Telcoin, handles Telco BD. Twenty years in telecom sales with 12 years at the head of his company and a deep understanding of economics and technology made him a brilliant and well-networked monster.
Even given all the experience this team brings, no team member had any experience doing what Telcoin needed to do, which is normal because nobody ever did what we’re doing here!
Bringing simple, accessible financial services via cryptocurrencies to people no matter their country of residence or wealth is a new thing, but we knew that together, we could make this promise a reality.
No matter how much you know about it, hiring is hard.
After the end of our token sale, it was time to make this crew evolve into a group of teams. The shared struggle faced during the ICO created a bond of trust among the team members, but it takes more than faith to grow, and it took us several tries before finding a system that worked.
It is very common for star performers to have a tendency to do a lot by themselves, and hiring and delegating is difficult. The loop is simple, you have a large amount of work, you can do it well, and as the workload keeps increasing, you know it would be great to have a solid team to delegate to, but hiring is tricky and therefore requires time, which will not be spent on your “normal” work, leading the workload to keep piling up.
A classic solution to this problem is to externalize hiring, but it doesn’t work as well in practice, as unless you work with an excellent pipeline, you still have to filter a lot, significantly limiting the time savings.
For the departments where this problem was present, we solved it by helping each other hiring.
It turns out that recruiting is something I’m pretty good with, and I’m lucky enough to understand a lot of what Telcoin does. I could, therefore, conduct tech interviews (which was more straightforward because I had worked with Shimo in the past), talk to people in marketing, and find an elite boutique consulting company that could help us in the COPS department, after reviewing quite a few. Being based in Japan, a country with a very flexible visa policy was beneficial in growing our potential talent pool.
If there’s one advice I would give to any founder in a competitive space, if you can and if it makes sense for your business, be in a country where you won’t have trouble hiring foreigners. No matter where you are in the developed world, the local pool is probably workable, but having a lower barrier to fly people in can dramatically increase the quality of your pipeline.
Not every team at Telcoin was facing growth issues though, some of us could tap in their networks and find talented and available prospects that they could turn into employees.
Internal communication becomes challenging as your organization grows.
Even though every executive was a friend of mine before Telcoin, they were not all friends with each other before, so I was the only one getting all the information (well, it’s also because I’m the CEO, but do not underestimate the importance of informal communication).
Many blog posts would let you think that you can throw everything into Trello and have it magically solved. The sad truth is you can’t.
At least, we couldn’t, and the best vectors of information were low tech: we used humans. Fred and I have been making sure everybody knows about most developments inside the company, to ensure fast iteration cycles on literally everything we do very quickly as the product, sales, and compliance were moving forward. A weekly executive meeting and weekly operational reports also came in handy. Even in this world of SaaS for everything, more often than not, we find ourselves using text documents and spreadsheets more than anything. They are just too good. Google Spreadsheets is probably the toughest competition to any SaaS product out there, and we’re happy with it.
Every department uses tooling of their choice for tasks, resources and project management, and meetings, reports, and daily talks make information clearer. A weekly team lunch has also been helpful in boosting morale and improving communication, even if catering to the dietary choices of a large multicultural group can be a challenging experience!
I will talk more about the hurdles of bringing financial inclusion to a mobile world, but that’s it for today.
The best is yet to come.
I want to thank our executives, employees, advisors, and community members for the continued support they have been offering in 2018.
Telcoin, now 20+ strong, will bring affordable and efficient financial services worldwide, and I feel blessed to have such a great team around me for tackling those challenges.
Please stay tuned for blog posts from our team leaders explaining the difficulties we have been facing during the year, and more updates regarding the availability of our products in various regions.