Michel Feaster | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Michel Feaster

Background:  

Headquartered in Seattle, Usermind is a platform that helps businesses connect their enterprise systems to gain better customer insights. The company recently closed a $23.5 million Series C round led by Northgate Capital.

The Mistake:

Scaling too quickly.

When my co-founder and I started Usermind, we put a little bit of money in the company, raised a Series A, and then had to figure out how to hire a team and build a product. I knew our idea was really good –  we were getting all this traction and excited feedback from our customers – and I think I felt some internal pressure to move as fast as possible. In particular, I tried to grow our engineering team too quickly, before it had really gelled.

Our first three or five people were working really well as a high-functioning team. But I decided to keep hiring. When I noticed people weren’t delivering code fast enough, I thought the solution was to hire even more people. It wasn’t. One big problem we faced was lack of communication, and it caused dysfunction.

When an engineering team isn’t functioning well, it impacts everything. The architecture of your software is often a reflection of your team’s structure, and our architecture was impacted.

Sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up.

The Lesson:

When your existing team doesn’t have a healthy dynamic, you’re onboarding all the new hires into something that already isn’t working well. And when you have a larger group of people participating in that dysfunction, it becomes harder to diagnose the problem.

That’s the situation in which we found ourselves, and that’s why it took us a long time to diagnose and correct the problem.  

Sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up. I think Usermind would have been much more successful, faster, if I had taken a second to ensure that our early engineering team was running well. But I didn’t, and some potential problems ended up becoming problems.

Eventually, we brought someone in to help us look at the team and its process, and change some things around. The resultant team we now have is very high-functioning – but took us a while to get there.

Follow Usermind on Twitter at @usermindinc

Photo courtesy of Usermind

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