Lessons of a CEO #8

16/12/2016

A year in review

Sometimes in life, we come to appreciate things gradually. Other times, the obvious strikes us more unexpectedly.

It took a brief trip this week to our Singapore office for me to truly realise Zegal, the business that I started in my living room (we don’t have garages in Hong Kong) is not just a company anymore. It’s not just a thing that was formed to house an idea, or a money producing machine designed for relentless growth. For the team of 50 or so that call Zegal home, it is a part of their life. A big part of it in fact. It is responsible for forming friendships that may last for years. It will be responsible for forming memories both good and bad.

How did this not occur to me before you might ask? A million and one reasons I guess. We often talk about building a company culture and for sure we think about individually rewarding and taking care of our people. But do we ever spend time considering the relationships that are formed when people are thrown together in an environment where pressure and expectations are hourly?

Much like that first year at university, the startup environment doesn’t offer a security blanket. We join, we are wound up, pointed in vaguely the right direction, and left to sink or swim. It is natural that in an environment like this, people form bonds. They form ties through learning, through impressing one another, bonding because they are the same age. Heck, because they share a love of pole dancing. Many reasons.

Related reading: 5 Ways to Incentivise Employees Without Burning a Hole in Your Pocket

pd happy holidays

Why does all this matter and why do I mention this in my year in review? Simply put, I look forward to the end of the year. Not just because it’s the one time of year I get a vacation, but because I know I can legitimately spend time in the office reflecting, and not just focus on the unending list of things that need fixing. It would not be an understatement to say that Zegal has had, by any standards, an amazing year. More than 6,000 businesses now use the service. We have expanded our coverage to 4 countries. We have rattled through so many new versions of our software that today’s release is Zegal version 2.7 and almost unrecognisable from version 1.0 released back in May 2015. Our business has grown by 400% again. Our Singapore office, which we launched at the beginning of 2016 has grown by 1,000%. The list goes on.

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But why is my Singapore moment of clarity so important? Because it reminds to me to focus on the why, not the what. The what is in startup terms, of course, great success. The why, is us, it is the seventy eight people who have each built a little piece of Zegal this year. It is the mornings when we have not wanted to get out of bed because we were so exhausted and hated the thought of doing it all again. It is the evenings when we sent messages to each other asking for reassurance. It is the weekends when we worried we had made a big mistake. And it is the Tuesday afternoon in December when we release the latest version of our App to a chorus of live chat approvals from every last Dragon with a phone in her hand. It is the Friday night in Hong Kong after RISE when the sales team can no longer remember their own names through a mixture of 2 parts work exhaustion to 1 part alcohol consumption (a mix ratio that forms the basis for most of their subsequent drinks. It is the moment we find out our Co-Founder is having his third child. It’s the sad moment when our people move on – because they will do. We make them great and they go off to be even greater. It’s the Saturday morning when I fly back to Hong Kong and I meet my children off the first ferry. It’s the month that things go well, and it’s the month that things go badly. It’s the morning that we think we can conquer the world, and the night hours when we wake up and question, question, question. With no answers.

It is these moments, and these friendships that make up the why, that make up the year, that make up Zegal. What a strange thing it is to be responsible for some of this; and what an amazing honour to witness this journey.  Happy Christmas to you all and a very happy new year.

Daniel Walker

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Read the series:

Lessons of a CEO #7: Scaling Up
Lessons of a CEO #6: A Room With A View

Lessons of a CEO #5: Screen Time
Lessons of a CEO #4: Sit down next to me
Lessons of a CEO #3: A Brief History of Thyme
Lessons of a CEO #2: Fashion Foreword
Lessons of a CEO #1: Lessons I’ve learned

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