EVERY entrepreneur dreams of seeing the hockey-stick graph depicting a rapid upswing in revenue, users, or some other key metric, but almost no one thinks about what they’ll do when they actually get there. While hyper-growth is a welcome blessing, it also presents a serious problem: How do you maintain your company culture as you grow at lightning speed?
This is a question I’ve pondered in depth over the past few months, if only because it has so much bearing over my own future. My health-tech company, mClinica, just launched in Thailand, adding to operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. We are now looking into further expansion across Southeast Asia and a possible push north into East Asia.
Such aggressive growth is necessary. Since the beginning of this year, our newest platform, SwipeRx, has gained more than 55,000 pharmacy professionals, who together reach more than 70 patients a month. (In the Philippines alone, 1 in every 3 pharmacists is now an active user of SwipeRx.) Our users use SwipeRx to look up drug information in our registered drug directories, collaborate, network, and learn from their peers, and even take their continual professional development (CPD). In short, SwipeRx has grown so fast because we’ve touched upon a real market need for pharmacy professionals who want to better serve their patients in particular and public health in general.
That’s the good news. The bigger question is how I try to maintain mClinica’s culture, which has been so strong since the company’s earliest days and enabled us to get here in the first place, as we grow 50 times, 100 times, 1,000 times in size.
To give you an indication of how difficult this task is, imagine a Venn diagram with not two, but three overlapping circles. The first circle represents people who are passionate about serving public health. The second circle represents people who have domain expertise in a relevant field, such as health informatics or software engineering. The third circle represents people who are ready to thrive in a startup environment, where they may often have to get by on their own initiative rather than set direction.
To maintain mClinica’s culture, we need to recruit and retain people who land in the coveted bullseye of all three circles: They’re top-of-the-field domain experts who have a passion for public health and are agile enough to work in a startup environment. Finding these people out of everyone available on the job market, of course, is no easy feat. In fact, the need for us to hire is so urgent for some positions that the natural impetus is to extend a job offer to someone we assume may meet all three criteria, before validating whether they actually do.
To address this possibility, I at first tried to sit down and chat with every person we brought in for an interview, no matter how junior. My thinking went: If I was aware that we could lapse into lowering our hiring standards during our rapid growth, I could personally prevent it from happening. While I was able to onboard great people through this approach, interviewing so many candidates was exhausting and pulled me from other critical business functions. It was simply not scalable.
It was after one of these interviews that I chanced upon an even better approach. The candidate had stopped briefly on his way out and spoke with one of our team members, who then casually relayed her positive impressions of him not soon after. The idea came to me then: If mClinica is a rocketship, everyone on board has a vested interest in making sure the next person who gets on makes us go faster as well. People want to work with accelerators, not laggards.
This idea of whether a candidate is a “culture-fit” is nothing new, but interviews and tests aimed at gauging this still relatively are. A simple step I added to the hiring and onboarding process is putting the candidate in a situation that gives him direct interaction with a cross-spectrum of teammates from across the company. For example, when considering a new hire for our digital marketing, I brought him in for a meeting with several different product heads on where our brands currently stood in the marketplace. These kinds of organic interactions gave us an accurate picture of whether the hire is a “culture-fit,” or put more simply—whether we think we can create great things together.
I encourage other founders and entrepreneurs out there to also experiment with tests oriented toward culture-fit, particularly during times of rapid growth. If there’s one thing that beats the collective wisdom of the crowd, it’s the collective wisdom and shared mandate of the fast-growing enterprise.
Farouk Meralli is the founder and CEO of mClinica, a healthcare startup connecting pharmacies in developing countries through a common mobile technology platform. He holds a bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences and International Development Studies from McGill University and a Master’s in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard School of Public Health.