In this episode
Mike Potter, the founder, and CEO at Rewind shares his story of how always being the back-up guy led him to create Rewind, a rapidly growing platform that allows companies to secure their SaaS data. From plastering his walls in rejection letters in the early days of his career to now leading a company where one of the key goals is to make it a great place for employees to work, Mike is all about creating opportunities for his team that will ensure that everyone can grow alongside the company.
Tune in to this episode to hear:
- Rewind’s journey from an evening and weekend project to a company enjoying 70% annual growth
- Why it's important to be respectful towards people even if you're about to reject them
- How to form company culture from merging together both positive and negative experiences from previous roles
- Why giving employees time to reset through shorter work weeks are beneficial and outweigh the drop in short term productivity
. . .
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In this episode
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Transcript of episode
Cassy Aite: Welcome to the Culture Builders Podcast. We interview people leaders about how they're building a culture that fosters employee growth. I'm your host, Cassy Aite, the founder and CEO here at Hoppier. Thanks for joining me today, Mike. Why don't you start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Mike Potter: Sure. My name is Mike Potter. I'm the CEO and co-founder at Rewind, which is an online platform to help companies secure their SaaS data. We've started by doing backups for customers that are using Shopify, BigCommerce, and QuickBooks online as their platform of choice for eCommerce or accounting and we're growing very nicely these days.
Cassy: Great, and you started the business three years ago now?
Mike: Five years ago, time flies when you're having fun. My business partner, James Ciesielski, and I started it in June of 2015. We had worked together at a previous company here in Ottawa. I really liked working with James, and so I approached him, I think it was the winter of 2014 actually, and said, "Let's do something. I got a little bit of time on my hands. I want to start something in my part-time and work with you again."
We started working on actually a different idea before Rewind and did that for most of the winter of 2014 or the early winter of 2015 and it just wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't getting any traction. I approached him and I said, "No, we've got to think of something else. We've got to do something else." He said, "What do you want to do?" I'm a big backup's guy. I've lost data before. I've had that sinking feeling when you turn your hard drive on and it doesn't work anymore and you get that error message, it says like everything's gone. I've had that before.
I thought, "Let's do backups for Shopify." We're in Ottawa here and it was growing like a weed, five years ago, let alone today. Maybe if we build this, we can get their attention and hopefully get the job there. That was actually how it started five years ago. Just a little nights and weekends project that we took on, and now we're serving like 15,000 customers all over the world.
Cassy: You started several businesses, this isn't your first one. What was your first one? You started it in university, right?
Mike: Yes, the first one I started in university. I've always been a big believer that you can't wait for jobs to come to you, you have to go and make your own jobs. I've actually taken that lesson to my son these days. He's 12, and I've got him and his brother mowing lawns for the summer. My two kids are starting their own business at the age of 12 and 11.
My first business was started in university. It was first-year university, I remember sending out a ton of job applications to people. This was back-- it was before email, it shows how old I am, and send out letters to all the engineering firms in Ottawa, trying to look for summer jobs. I got so many rejection letters. This was, again, back in the day when they used to actually email you or mail you a letter to reject you from the application. I plastered my whole wall with all these rejection letters. I had enough to wallpaper my entire wall of, "Sorry, there's no position for you."
I said, "Well, I can't do nothing for the summer." I started a business, it was called the Internet @Home. This is sort of the mid-1990s and I would go in and teach people how to use the internet in their living room rather than them having to struggle with how to figure this stuff out, I would go to their house and I'd explain to them how the worldwide web worked or how email worked and get them up and running so that they could actually use the web. That was my first summer job in my first year of university.
Cassy: Do you do rejection letters at Rewind now?
Mike: I really do try and get back to people, anybody that applies I do, we do try and get back to them. We haven't been doing a great job with that lately because luckily for us, there's been an influx of people that are looking for work these days and we're just so busy running the business that I haven't had time to.
I think it's important to make sure that you treat people respectfully when they're applying for your job. Some of these, not a fit,we'll try and write them back and say, "Look, this isn't a good fit for you right now." Part of the problem we've got is that as the team has grown, the software that we've got hasn't. We don't really work with a really good piece of software.
I'm the one that's interfacing with all these people, replying to them, not necessarily the one that is determining whether or not they're moving forward with the interview, so that makes the process a bit cumbersome. I think it's important to get back to somebody and tell them whether they're a fit or not, not just to leave them hanging. We try and do as best we can. Although, lately, I will admit that we haven't done a really good job on that.
Cassy: Yes, I think people really appreciate that when they're giving their time to apply to your company. Maybe they'll even interact with your solution at some point and they could be a customer or use your product or service at some point, right?
Mike: Yes, you never know. You know what, it's a small town, right? Ottawa is not a big city and you never know when you're going to run into somebody or whether they're going to exactly become a customer or a potential partner or potential employee down the road. I think it's just a matter of again, treating people the way you want to be treated to be honest with you, right?
If you're applying to a job, you don't want to just sort of send it into a black hole, you want to get back to people. Like I said, unfortunately, I think lately we haven't done a good job with that, but I have tried to do that in the past and I've gotten that same sort of feedback that you mentioned like, "Hey, thanks for writing me back and maybe down the road, there's another fit sort of thing." I think people do appreciate it. You've maybe given me a to-do for this afternoon or this evening to get back to some of these people that we're not looking to hire.
Cassy: For the people that you do end up hiring, what is it like to work at Rewind for them?
Mike: Well, I'm heavily biased, so I'll say it's great. In all seriousness, I think we really do try and focus on maintaining a really good work-life balance at Rewind. We've always focused on making Rewind a great place to work. That's been one of our corporate goals and objectives since we first started the company.
We started this, like I said, as a part-time endeavor, part-time gig. In order for us to leave, what at the time, were really good jobs that both James and I had, we wanted to make sure that we were leaving to go to a company that we would want to leave. We were leaving really good jobs, so let's make sure that wherever we're going is somewhere that we would like to work. What we've tried to do is take the best pieces of all the places that we've worked and bring them into this company.
Right from the start, we said, "Let's focus on building a great place to work," because I think if you can build a great place to work, you can attract great talent. If you can attract great talent, regardless of whatever the problems are in front of you, you can work together to solve those problems. We're seeing a fantastic team now, and we're executing really well and the results are showing.
Generally, people appreciate the work environment that they've got. We encourage our employees to work 40 hour work weeks. We're not trying to make them work 50 hours or 60 hours a week, even though we're a startup. I'm a big believer that you can get all the work done that you need to get done in those 40 hours. It's also important for you to get away from work, to clear your head, and to solve the problems that maybe you were struggling with.
I think we've all got countless examples and I'd be happy to give you a bunch from my own personal life of times when you're struggling with a problem and you just continue to work harder, continue to work harder, and get more tired, and more tired, and more tired and you're not really making any progress on solving the problem. You stop, you go you take a break, you refresh your brain, you go sleep it off, come back the next day. Well, problem solved, right? You just need that time to get away and to refresh.
I think, for us, personally, we find that's really important. We encourage our employees to make sure they get away to do other things outside of work, get involved in their community. In the summertime, we do what we call summer hours, inspired by the guys at basecamp and the team, 37signals.
We take every second Friday off in the summertime. Every other week employees work four day work weeks rather than five. Again, to give them that time to enjoy the nice weather and get outside and refresh themselves. There are a lot of benefits, I think like that that people who work at Rewind really appreciate that it's a fast-growing company, we're doing really well, but they still have the opportunity to get away from work and to enjoy life outside of their 40 hours that they put into the company.
Cassy: Have you ever considered going towards a four-day work workweek?
Mike: Yes, we've considered it. I don't think we'd go full four day-- I actually think it would be better for everybody to go to a four-day workweek, 52 weeks a year to be honest with you. I think there's a lot of benefits to that, both economically, socially, stress levels I think there's a lot of benefits to that. We've decided to take baby steps towards even just doing it for the summertime. Well, they said we do it every other week in the summertime. I think we're finding that that provides a good enough balance.
I think the next step if we ever wanted to expand that, would probably be to extend the length of time that we would do those four-day workweeks every other week as opposed to only in the summer but that's something we're always considering. We're always looking and saying what do employees value? What do they like about working at the company, and how do we enhance those benefits to make them even more attractive?
Cassy: Interesting. I definitely see the social aspect and the aspect of just employees being happier. If you were to recommend to another company, how would you think about the economic aspect? I think a lot of people are going to be concerned about the productivity and the impact that it might have, right?
Mike: Yes, even our own employees are concerned about productivity, to be honest with you. We've had those conversations with employees who were like, do you worry that in the summertime we get less done or do you think we can get less done I guess would be the question that I've been asked in the summertime as opposed to the wintertime? The answer is, absolutely.
If I was to answer you and say, "No, I think we're as productive in the summer as we are in the winter," it's basically saying that when you work 9 days a week, you're as productive as when you work 10 and that extra day doesn't really matter. For sure, over the winter months we get more done. There's no question about that. I think it's just a matter of do the benefits of getting people outside their comfort zone or outside of work and getting them to just clear their minds and focus on something else, do those benefits outweigh the costs.
For us, especially lately, with what's going on with this pandemic, we've seen our stress levels going up. We've seen happiness at work going down. We measure those on a weekly basis with a tool that we've got. The summer hours provide a real good way for people to just get away and reset themselves. We typically try and line them up to [unintelligible 00:12:39] we've got throughout the summertime. They'll make two, four long weekend, kind of the August long weekend and then Labor Day.
You've got the Friday off and then you've also got the Monday off if we can. You've got four days there to really get away from work and decompress and then come back a little bit more energized. We don't really measure productivity for our employees if we're not looking at the amount of code that somebody is writing or what they're doing.
All I can tell you is that from a business perspective, we've always had really good results in the summertime. We don't really notice any difference from working those shorter weeks in the summertime compared to what we do in the wintertime. We do equally well throughout the whole year. I think we're generally happy with how the business progresses. It's not something that we're interested in changing right now.
Cassy: I think it really is something that makes employers stand out is having that, especially in a place like Ottawa where I think it's the coldest capital of the world on average, right?
Cassy: Definitely it's a nice thing to have, especially in the winter, our summer is so short.
Mike: I think that goes into it for sure. I'm not sure that the benefit is as valuable if you're living in San Diego or Hawaii as it is when you're living here. That summer is really from, what? Middle of May till the end of August kind of thing. That's really when the nicest weather is. By providing that extra day every couple of weeks, it's a way for people to go out and enjoy the weather and really get outside and get some fresh air and get some exercise and do something that's not cooped up in an office.
There's enough winter months here and darkness, from September to April that lasts for a long time, that I think it's definitely appreciated. I think you're right. It's probably appreciated more here than it would be somewhere else. At a talent level, we're competing with some really strong companies in the city that are doing really well.
Obviously, Shopify is doing really well, but there's a ton of other people and companies that are doing just maybe not as equally well, but doing really, really well as well. The guys at You.i TV are doing fantastic. Ross Video I think is doing really well. Fullscript is doing really well. There's a lot of competition for talent in the city and having something that differentiates you over those other companies is certainly something that we keep in mind as well.
Cassy: You mentioned that you and James, you've wanted to focus on creating that great place to work. Aside from having that balance, what else does that mean to create a great place to work?
Mike: For us, that means somewhere where people can come in and grow in their job. It's important for us that there's constant learning. We provide our employees with a benefit that allows them to enroll in other courses to enhance their professional learning. We've had people take some product management courses. We've had a couple of employees that enrolled in the Reforge marketing program. We've had some people who have taken on technical instruction to up their technical skills.
Our designer recently took a design MBA and graduated from that program, so she enjoyed that benefit. For us, a great place to work is somewhere where somebody can come in, they can execute their role. They can do a really good job in that role. They can grow in that role. They can get some understanding and really develop an entire career at Rewind.
That's what we've tried to focus on, is making sure that the employees that we've got have an opportunity to excel in the role that they're currently in, plan for what they want to do next and as the company grows, they can grow along with the company. That's the intent of what we've got is we want people to be around for a long time to actually look and say--
If generally in technology your turnover rate is let's say 10% year-over-year, if you can build a company where your turnover rate is half that, it's 5% year-over-year, you actually got a pretty good competitive advantage over any of your competitors in the space because they're having to refresh their talent on a regular basis or having to retrain all of those employees.
For us, we've always looked and said, I think that level of movement in the technology space and how people move from company to company, we've looked at that as an opportunity to differentiate the business and to say, "Okay, let's make a place where people really want to be, where they really enjoy working, and hopefully they stay for a much longer period of time. By them staying, we can actually do better than other technology companies where people are leaving on a more regular basis." That's the reasoning behind setting it as a great place to work, as we think it can be a competitive advantage.
Cassy: It makes me think of like the-- I heard this one concept, it was just around business being a game of probabilities. If you think about just increasing your probability of success, one thing that you can do is decreasing your turnover. I heard someone that said, "There's serial entrepreneur, and for every company they would start, they would hire a talent leader within the first 10 employees."
I thought it's crazy to hire a talent leader or a people and culture leader in the company, their sole focus is going to be around people when you're so early in the company and you might not have even found product-market fit. They said, "Well, I'm working on a really big idea. I know that we're going to grow really fast, we're going to continue to hire fast. If I can improve my probability of hiring a great person or by improving my culture by X percent, I'm increasing my probability of success by this much."
It's interesting. I think especially to your point of competition and competing with others, do you think that still holds true in this environment as well, given-- You're competing for some of the best talent right now. For recent hires that you've made, even in the current market conditions, are you finding it still challenging to find great people?
Mike: I think it's always challenging to find great people. I don't think that the recent market has changed, although I do think there are some companies out there that have struggled in this pandemic and who have had to let some really good talented people go. I think there are some more talented people available or more willing to change jobs or to accept an invitation to discuss an opportunity than maybe there were previously when they were at a company that they liked with a full-time job.
Definitely, we've seen more experienced people applying to the jobs that we've got than we previously had in the past. We have more applicants that are applying to the positions that we've got than we've had in the past. I think generally the level of talent is extremely high for what we've seen and who we've ended up hiring for.
I think that's one of the benefits of running a company in a fiscally responsible way like we've done is, as other people struggle, if their business hits a bit of a downturn, we're able to take advantage of that opportunity in the market and hire some talented people that might not otherwise have been available a few months ago. Definitely, we've done that in the last few months as well.
Cassy: What do you look for when hiring? Is there a magic formula at Rewind?
Mike: Every role is different. I think some of the stuff we're looking for are people who are generally self-starters, so we're not typically a company that is micromanaging people. You need to be fairly independent in order to succeed at Rewind. You've got to be a driven individual, entrepreneurial certainly helps. Different roles require different skill sets.
We're hiring a support person right now, for instance, so somebody who is empathetic to the needs of the customers is coming to mind as well. Technical knowledge is obviously really important as we deal with the APIs, [unintelligible 00:21:42] platforms that we support, Shopify, BigCommerce, and QBO. Every role is different. I'm not sure that there's a secret sauce to any-- I don't know if we've figured out an attribute that everybody who's at Rewind has. There, all the roles are kind of different in that way.
Cassy: I know there's a thing around cake and you are the king of cake. What is the deal with the cake at Rewind?
Mike: All new hires are required to bring a cake on their first day of work. It's actually written into our employment agreement that employees sign, Section 2.5. It started with James. James was the one that brought that tradition from one of his previous places. I think it was from his previous places of employment. It just became a thing, to be honest with you. The first few people did it.
I remember when he came full time four years ago and brought her three years ago, I guess now and brought cake and then we just started requiring all new employees to bring a cake on their first day of work. It's been fun watching how everybody's put their own twist on the cake. We've seen some amazing cake designs. I remember Dave North, for instance, who's our Amazon expert brought this cake that was a tape recorder with a pencil in the tape and he was Rewinding the tape. It was all fun and it looked amazing.
Some of the other designs were just as good, but everybody puts their own little twist on it. Some people have brought two cakes, one as a backup cake, for instance, which is kind of play on what we do. Somebody brought a server, a cake like a metal server for us to serve the cake with. Now we've got an engraved three [unintelligible 00:23:44] serving spoon that we can use.
What I've really most enjoyed about it honestly, is just seeing how everybody takes this simple thing of like, "Hey, on your first day of work, you need to bring a cake into the office." Just seeing how everybody act like they just do their own thing. It's neat how everybody puts their own little spin on it and has their own little twist on what was a simple tradition.
I was actually just asked because we're still in the middle of hiring, and I was asked by one of the new hires, she was like, "Is this still a thing? How do we do this? I have to bring a cake to work, but we're not going to the office. What's the deal with the cake thing?" I'm like, "No, no, no, the cake thing still applies. Even in a pandemic, we don't get rid of the tradition."
I go, "You might want to make just a smaller cake because there's not going to be 30 people around to eat it. You might want to consider doing something smaller, but absolutely, still, on your first day of work, even in the middle of a pandemic, we still require you to comply with the employment agreement that says, 'A cake must be delivered on your first day of work.'" Until everybody starts to make it at home, takes a picture of it, and uploads it so the team can see that.
Cassy: What's the largest orientation cohort you've had to do so far?
Mike: I think we did three people in one day. It was a bit of a sugar rush on that one. I think it was three people we did one day probably about a year ago now. I think that was the largest one day hire that we did. Luckily, we would have been, at the time, maybe 24, 25 people who were around to eat three cakes.
Cassy: Rewind is now almost about 40 people?
Mike: We're getting there. We're probably 33 or so these days. We've got a few people that we've made offers to, and extended offers to that are starting. We've got a support person that's starting next Monday. We're waiting to hear back from an HR perspective on an HR manager role. You were talking earlier about when do you hire that culture leader?
For us, it's around 30 employees or so. We've got a product manager that we're looking to bring on and a product marketing manager as well, and then a number of developers throughout the summertime. We'll be 40 probably around August of this year, and we're somewhere between 30 and 35 right now.
Cassy: You worked at Adobe before, which was about 20,000 people. Very, very different. Would you say there are any similarities? I think it's easy to think of the differences, but any similarities or any differences between the culture at Adobe versus Rewind?
Mike: That's a good question. Adobe was a really great place to work. It's almost consistently at the top of the list in terms of software companies to work at, or companies to work at in the Bay area. I really loved my time at Adobe. I was lucky enough to have been there for about five and a half or six years. One of the traditions that we took was from Adobe actually.
At Adobe, after you're there for five years, you get a four-week sabbatical. We brought that same benefit to Rewind where when you're at Rewind for four years, we give you a four-week sabbatical. We thought five was just a little bit too long. We shortened it down to four. I think the culture at Adobe was one of really organized focus on executing your objectives. I think we've got that same level of focus at work.
When you went to Adobe, even after they bought Macromedia, they had two offices in the Bay area. They had Adobe's traditional offices in San Jose, which were three towers in downtown San Jose that were mainly filled with individual offices. It was a very corporate feel to that building or those buildings, I guess. When they bought Macromedia, Macromedia was a little bit of a, I don't know if cooler culture is the right word to use, but it was a little bit more relaxed, a little bit less formal.
The Macromedia office in San Francisco was wide open, an old warehouse with old wood brick and wood beams. It's a beautiful, beautiful building but more open, wide open desks, more open-concept spaces, certainly some offices for some of the senior executives, but far more open and more collaborative.
In neither of those buildings would you really have found a lot of, I don't know the right word, but like startup type, non-work activities. There was no ping pong tables or foosball tables or stuff like that. It was a serious place. You go in, you work. There was cafeterias for food and things like that, but it wasn't a place where you went in and played video games and fooled around.
We've tried to maintain that culture at Rewind, where when you come in although it's a startup, to us when you're at work, you're at work. We don't fill an office space with places to play games or anything like that. To us, work is a place where you work and you want to play games and play video games, you can go home and do that and do that with your family and your friends and stuff like that.
I think that's one piece of the culture that we've tried of maintain is that focus on work when you're at work and it's something also, I think comes from the guys at 37signal and the philosophy that they have towards work and the work environment. Like I said, I really, really enjoyed my time at Adobe, I think it was a great company and I feel very fortunate to have spent time there. A lot of the benefits that we have, we've tried to model after what is available at Adobe. I think there's a lot of Adobe in our company to be honest with you, probably more than I even realize.
Cassy: Interesting. It's like a collection. I think I've noticed this with a lot of really strong leaders, it's that you collect all of these different experiences and you take-- There's, of course, good and bad, and what you're building today is like an accumulation of everything that you've learned and experienced for the last number of years, right?
Mike: Yes, I think that's true. I've got whatever, 20, 25 years of experience at companies of all sizes. Yes, when we started it, we tried to take, "Okay, what are the best aspects of work that I remember? What did I really enjoy about working at Adobe? What did I really enjoy about working at Halogen? What did I really enjoy about working at Signiant?"
Let's take the best pieces of those work environments and then say, "What did I really not like about working at these places?" Let's make sure that we try not to bring that aspect of that business, of that work environment into this company. I've got my experiences, James has his experiences from his time at Amdocs and other companies like that. Sean and Julian, who are part of the founding team, have their experiences that they've got at the companies. I think those early employees are really critical in developing the norms for the company and the standards that are set.
When people come in now, they are like, "Oh, I see how they do things. This is the way that things are done at Rewind." It might be different than what they've experienced in the past, it might be the same, but everybody's experiences helped shape the way the company operates right now. We've tried to just take the best of what we've seen at other companies.
Cassy: I've heard this notion of once you get to about 20 people, then it starts to feel like a different company, or it's not within-- The group just gets-- It's bigger so that you don't have as much control or you're not involved in seeing everybody on the day-to-day, and you probably won't have conversations with certain people for weeks or potentially even months, right? Is there anything that you've done or that you're thinking about now, as you're growing even further, that you're thinking maybe, what do we want to make sure we maintain, or what do we want to keep in mind while we scale to about 100 people now? What are you thinking about?
Mike: I'll just to try to answer your first part of the question there. Is there a difference at 20 employees? I think there was. Certainly, early on, I was involved in almost everything that we did. Early, early on, I was writing code for better or for worse, and the guys will probably tell you for much worse, but I was writing code, I was selling the software, I was doing the marketing. I wasn't really doing a good job at any of that, doing customer support.
Then, I remember hiring our first salesperson, and be like, "Wow, he's doing such a better job," because he can focus 100% of his energy to selling the product. He was doing such a better job than I am. I hired a marketing person. "Wow, she's doing such a better job than I am," because she's able to devote 100% of her attention to that, or for our support person. Same thing, she's doing such a better job at support, because that's all she's focused on.
To me, that's the part that I really enjoy, was not having to do those activities anymore, because I'd hired really talented people who are able to just focus on their specific activity. My job was more making sure that they understood what the goals of the business were, what their guardrails were, and allowing them the freedom to try and hit those goals and achieve those objectives on their own.
That to me, that's the funnest part of running the company is watching the employees that we've hired be put into situations that I think are extremely difficult in some cases, and watching them just exceed the expectations and crush results. Right now, we're growing about 70% year-over-year. There's not a lot of companies that grow 70% year-over-year. We were 8% month-over-month last year. There's some companies that are happy growing 8% year-over-year, and we're doing it on a monthly basis.
There's certainly companies that are growing faster than us, but I think it's a really difficult work environment to be in a company that's growing that fast and to be learning that quickly. It's fun, to me, to watch people that you've hired excel in that environment and come up with these amazing ideas that help you grow faster and increase the business. They do such a great job of whatever it is that you've asked them to do.
That to me, I don't know, I just find that really inspiring to watch these people grow in that way and to execute against these objectives that we've got and then to succeed, and see them, seeing the results and seeing their satisfaction of, "Wow, we did this. That was really hard to do, but we did it." Now, "Okay, let's go out and do something else." That's been really fun to watch. That's been by far the most rewarding part of starting this business, has been watching the employees come in and just execute at a really, really high-level and watching them grow as the company has grown.
Cassy: You coach your kid's minor hockey and baseball teams, right?
Cassy: Are there any similarities in coaching minor hockey and baseball to leading a company?
Mike: Yes, I think so. One of the things that I try and encourage as much as possible is this notion that you should be encouraging people to make mistakes. I find, especially with kids, they are in some cases, so afraid to go out on to the ice-- I'll say, "On to the ice," because you find this more in hockey because I think the pressure is more in hockey than it is in baseball or in soccer, whatever else I've coached.
I think in hockey, the kids feel like they've got a lot of pressure on them. You want to really make sure they feel like they're in an environment where, "Okay, you can go out. You can go out, you can make mistakes." To me, the best thing is having a kid go out, make a mistake, come back to the bench and then look at you and say, "Yes, I know what I screwed up. I shouldn't have passed the puck in front of the net. I should have run it off the boards."
I'm like, "Great, you've learned. I taught you how to recognize when you've made that mistake. I don't need to worry about you not understanding." I know you understand and maybe the kick was not to make the same mistake on the next play, to be honest with you. That's super frustrating, but at least they understand what they should be doing and they could work on it. They don't need you to be coaching them and telling them what to do.
They just need to be coached so that they can recognize what's the right way to do things, and what's the wrong way to do things.
In some ways, that's really similar to what the environment is that we've tried to create at Rewind, which is, "It's okay to make mistakes. We encourage you to make mistakes." We're growing 70% year-over-year. I think in our second year, we grew 400% year-over-year. We doubled in six months and then we doubled again in the next six months, which is incredibly difficult to do. You don't get that level of growth without starting over or making mistakes, and we've definitely made mistakes.
You need to make sure that you're learning from those mistakes and not repeating them. I think we've done a really good job of doing that. We've tried to build that culture of, "Go out, try your best, try new things. Don't assume that what we're doing is the right way to go about it, but also recognize your own behavior. Recognize when you're succeeding. Recognize when you're not so that when you are succeeding, you know what you can double down on. When you're making mistakes, you understand that those are mistakes that you shouldn't be making again.
I think as long as you're developing that culture, whether it's in sports or whether it's in business, that's a really good place to be because you've got employees who can understand, "Here's what I find was working, and here's what I'm going to keep doing, and here's the mistakes that I'm making." I remember taking a lot of golfing lessons when I was growing up. I would love taking just one lesson from the pro to learn my swing, but the important part for me, when I was getting the lessons, was to feel what I was doing wrong so that when it happened again, I could feel it.
If the pro wasn't there, or my coach wasn't there, I could feel what I was doing wrong, and then I could correct it on my own because they've given me the tools to correct it. They can't be there 24/7, right? As long as you've got the tools to do that same thing, you can recognize when you're making the mistake, or recognize when you're doing well and then continue on. That to me is the important part.
It's kind of like when you don't have to be coaching them in some ways. The kid that came off the ice who passed a puck in front of the net and comes back and says, "I made a mistake," he doesn't need me to coach him. He knows. It's the same thing with employees when they're coming back and they're saying, "Hey, you know what? I tried this thing. I tried this new online ad platform. It didn't really work out." "Great.
I don't need to spend more money on that platform. Let me try this other platform. I found this one that's working. I know I'm going to double down now and spend more money on this platform because we're generating more customers from it." That, to me, is the similarities that I find between coaching and running the business.
Cassy: For all of our listeners, we have a lot of listeners that are entrepreneurs starting companies or in the early stages of their companies, what kind of advice would you give to them for those that have aspirations to maybe make their first hire or start building their initial team? What advice would you give them and things maybe would you do differently or just general advice would you give them to focus on when building their teams at the early stage?
Mike: Every company is different, right? I'll give you advice for my experience, which has been building a software company. I think in building a software company, one of the things that made us successful this time, and this is my second startup. The last startup that I ran was definitely not successful, and I think I learned a lot from running that one. One of the differences that we made in this one versus that one was this one we stayed in our jobs as long as possible.
With software, you are able to do that. You can work on your nights, and you can work on your weekends, building something in your part-time without removing your day-to-day paycheck from your life. If you quit your job early and you have no income, and you're like me and you've got a mortgage, and kids to support, and luckily for me, I've got a wife that has a really great job and is working, but that additional pressure of not having any income, I don't think helps you solve problems and build the business.
We were talking earlier about how you need to get away, need to clear your head, and the best way to solve problems is to have some time away and not thinking about work 24/7. If you have no income, and you're solely dependent on your job-generating that income, there's an enormous amount of pressure on you to succeed that I think may actually inhibit you from succeeding, because you're just constantly worried about, "How do I make things work? I have to make it work."
I get that there's a part of you that needs to be driven to have that pressure, but personally, I have found it was better when I kept my full-time job and worked nights and weekends. Then only once I had enough money was I able to then quit my job and then move full-time and then grow it. That would be one aspect I would say first of all is if you can stay in your existing job where you have a paycheck or a reliable paycheck as long as possible.
Another way I've seen people do that if they don't want to have their full-time work is generate some consulting income on the side while you're working on a potential software product. Another really good example of how you can take away the pressure off of the software that you're trying to build so that you've still got some income. It takes a while for software to generate revenue, especially in the SaaS world.
Cassy: Sorry to interrupt, but it must have been scary to hire your first employee then, right?
Mike: By the time we hired our first employee, it wasn't because we were generating enough income to support four of us full-time. Yes, we were generating enough income to support us full-time. I suppose you could argue that Sean and Julian, who were the other two that came with us, were maybe our first employees. Even when we hired them, we were generating revenue.
The way you make that less stressful is you make sure that your company has revenue before you hire your first employee. Revenue solves almost every problem you can have with a company. What can you do to generate as much revenue as you can and reduce the risk of starting a company? Whatever the piece of software is that you're selling, can you build a prototype? Can you get somebody to buy it before you actually build it?
We are doing that right now with our next product that we are going to backup is likely Trello. We have a landing page on our website with pricing and it looks like the product exists and you can request early access to it, but the early use of that page was to determine whether or not there was enough demand for the product. How do you generate demand for your product? How do you validate that there's a need there? Can you get people to pay for the software before you've built it, reducing your risk? To me that's important.
Once you hire that first employee, I think if you've got revenue-- I've never looked at that necessarily as a stressful situation. I think maybe we lucked out certainly because we hired people that we knew and we trusted and they did good work. Assuming that's the case where you've got somebody and you've done a good job in hiring them, I would look at that like a relief of like, "Great. Now I've got somebody."
My first employee is, let's say they're a salesperson like I said earlier. Now you can say, "Okay, great. I've got somebody who's only going to do sales. What a great position to be in. I'm going to write the software and she's going to do sales for me." That's a fantastic thing, because now I don't have to do the sales or I'm going to do sales and she's going to do support, or I'm going to do the software and he's going to do the marketing of it. Whatever it happens to be.
If you can make sure you're hiring really good people, then it should be a relief when those people are working on it full-time and devoting all their energy and knowledge into helping you advance it. To me, that shouldn't be a stressful time, that should be really an enjoyable time. The first time I did this whole thing and it didn't work out, it was definitely a stressful time. You're hiring people and you're not making money and the business isn't going anywhere and you're not doing well and it just kind of compounds on itself.
That's why I'm saying, I think as much as possible try and keep some level of income and reduce the pressure on yourself, that to me is a much better way of doing it. Especially here in Canada where we don't have the same access to early-stage capital as they have in the US, where you can raise funding on ideas on napkins and proof of concepts and stuff like that. Here people seem to need way more traction than you need in the States.
In Canada, I think, focus on getting that initial traction. There's a lot of stuff you can do building software in your part-time nights and weekends and you can get really, really far building a little simple piece of software that starts to get some traction and reduces that uncertainty of whether you're going to get paying customers or not.
Cassy: Mike, thanks so much for joining us on the Culture Builders Podcast. Is there a way that our listeners can keep in touch and follow you?
Mike: Yes, you can follow me @mikepotter, on Twitter. You can follow Rewind, @Rewind on Twitter as well.
Cassy: Great. Thanks for joining.