We have mentioned before that startup culture may not be for everyone. It is difficult to maintain this type of culture while growing exponentially as a company. This is often because most managers need to set specific boundaries for their teams and the larger the team grows, the more inflexible those boundaries become. However, with managers like Jim McDonough on board, Hathway is able to maintain a productive workplace and still keep things flowing creatively. So how does Jim do it?
“I’m not the typical 49-year-old suit-and-tie guy which is why there is a cultural alignment with Hathway,” said Jim, “They’re not your typical company, either.”
“Plus I really love ping-pong.”
Jim’s Journey to Hathway
After years in the Coast Guard and then working for Hewlett-Packard, Jim yearned for more forward thinking creativity in his everyday job. He began working for a streaming media startup, Zing Technology Corporation, that focused on audio and video long before YouTube existed. They were acquired by RealNetworks so Jim took his leave and joined Web Associates, a startup of only 6 people when he arrived, and 100 when he left. He joined a startup golf apparel company which was then absorbed into a larger sports apparel brand. Jim then went on to join a kickstarter project for mobile phone kiosks but soon realized the market was much too small.
In 2013, Jim joined Hathway and quickly realized he found home.
“Three years ago, mobile was not the thing it is today… we were about to see this huge wave of mobile coming in,” Jim recalls.
“I thought, ‘This is a team that can really ride that wave’.”
When Startups Grow, Innovation Suffers
Jim’s history shows he has a love for startup culture, but businesses are rarely able to stay that way. As startups become bigger and more successful, there is a tendency to turn towards a more bureaucratic management style. Jim has found that pressure from the outside and boards of directors often stifle the creativity and innovation that flourishes in a less rigid environment.
When Jim joined the Hathway team, he realized the potential for the company to grow and expand, without losing their current culture. This hasn’t changed over the past three years.
“I see us having to do some things to create structure in our desire to become bigger and better, but I’m also trying to block certain bureaucratic structure to help us keep an innovative mindset.”
In other words, more employees obviously means putting clear-cut management systems in place to keep everyone productive and moving, especially when dealing with big brand clients. However, Jim’s goal is to keep staunch bureaucracy at bay as much as possible.
“We need to stay innovative and agile.”
Using Startup Culture to Create Something Great
When Jim came on, he gave Hathway the ability to expand the bottom line exponentially by improving staff efficiencies, which allow for more revenue generation. More revenue opens the door for growth across the board, but Jim and the other Hathway executives were determined to stay loyal to their roots. This may appear unstructured to outsiders, and can be off-putting to some.
“Anybody who’s looking for a checklist of items to do every day is going to be out of place here, and lost in our startup culture,” Jim says. “As an agency, we are constantly dealing with ambiguity and knowing which decisions will lead our brands to success — and maybe there’s not even an ideal result, but you just have to make decisions.”
This commitment to a dynamic workplace while continuously growing has led Hathway to be listed on the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies two years running, as well as obtain big brand clients such as Jamba Juice and Transamerica, among others. Getting caught up in a corporate mindset would have kept Hathway from getting where they are today.
“The worst thing you could do in our world is be struck by the analysis paralysis.”
Three Tricks for Thriving in Startup Culture
- Confidence: One of the best parts of working at a startup is that everyone’s opinion is welcome. The youngest person in the office has just as much of a voice as executives. “No matter where you are: the hallways, meeting rooms, etc., if you have an opinion or insight, speak with confidence; don’t be shy about it.”
- Knowledge: It’s important to back the aforementioned confidence with true knowledge of the subject. Saying “social media impacts healthcare” is great, but means nothing if you can’t follow it up without knowing what is going on with social media and healthcare across the board and how to implement it for a specific client. “[Formal] education is great, but self-education is better.”
- Flexibility: Working at a startup means being able to roll with the punches. “There are times in startups where there are ups and downs, and you have to think positively about when it’s going well and when it’s going bad or it can wear you thin.”
Overcoming Obstacles and Reaping the Rewards
Jim’s management style has definitely paid off. About a year ago, Hathway was facing a large dropoff in business, possibly due to normal turnover and timing. “It wasn’t a bad thing, just a big change,” he said. The team decided to take the opportunity to dig into staff to create opportunity for new business; and then Jim received a call from a client asking for help with a complicated project.
Some team members didn’t want to take on the project at first, thinking there was no way they could pull it off. Jim reminded his team that this was exactly what they needed, and they knew there were going to be some growing pains to take them to where they wanted to be.
“We knew it was going to be a huge team effort, we didn’t have adequate amount of staff, and it wasn’t even in our scope of work. However, the entire group came together… It took us from a small team to growing into something spectacular.”
“Companies that were TOO large turned [the client] down, but we didn’t… and we succeeded.”
Jim relishes the sense of accomplishment. “We are bigger and theoretically better for the experiences we have and are getting recognition for,” he says.
Despite not being as involved with day-to-day interactions with clients as he was in the beginning, he enjoys having his hands in more projects than he would at a larger company.
Looking Forward: The Next 3 Years and Beyond
“For me, growth is first, but in that I’m looking forward to building my team to being more hands-on, with me being more of the facilitator; team results versus individual,” Jim says about his future plans for Hathway.
Jim wants Hathway to continue to be different than other agencies, and continue to have an edge in the market; to be niche, especially in the mobile world.
“My greatest fear is Hathway evolving into something that already exists.”