The Yeomen crossed the two-year mark in August. We’ve carefully grown the company. Instead of fueling “hockey stick” growth, we adopted a rhythm of growing and plateauing. During a growth spirt, we would test our systems and mind our culture. During the plateaus, we’d evaluate and iterate. This circuit of grow and reflect, grow and reflect, has given us the space to ensure that our community doesn’t lose sight of what’s important to us.
We’ve had our share of victories. The Yeomen hit the break-even point in 18 months. We’ve maintained a healthy growth curve while staying profitable since that point. We rolled out 24-hour support and localization of support in Europe and Australia. Our clients continue to grow their teams through us, our teams continue to take on more responsibility in their respective queues. Speaking of The Yeomen team, we’ve successfully doubled the size of our team each year *while* growing throughout the world. Having a distributed team seemed to be a disadvantage at first glance, but we’ve come to realize it’s actually an advantage. What we’ve lost in the traditional experience of working in a building each day has been replaced with a level of flexibility that allows for a more balanced life and a happier team. We universally agree that flexible work is the best way to approach work.
We’ve also faced crossroads and challenges with grace in the last couple years. Our services have evolved as we learned about our clients. We’ve navigated the struggle to fund growth while keeping the soul of our company strong. The Yeomen offer a common service in an uncommon way. Communicating this has been a struggle at times. While we are an outsourcer by definition, we are very different in practice. We’re getting better at showing others why that makes us special.
As a former preacher, former teacher, and Tumblr alum, I’ve had to learn a good deal about myself and entrepreneurship in the last couple years. Here are a handful of lessons from a novice community builder:
They are not joking about starting a company on your own
During the first season of the Gimlet Media’s StartUp podcast, Alex Blumberg talks about the moment when, as a single founder, he was over his head and needed help. There’s an entire episode dedicated to courting a partner. It was the only part of the season that I really couldn’t relate to. When I started the Yeomen, I did it because I believed I had vision for how to deliver authentic, quality support and how to build a company that embraced Midwest values. As a matter of fact, the catalyst for The Yeomen came from a conversation with my wife about my frustrations with my previous three careers. I was lamenting the fact that each of my careers had this ceiling; there was always a point where my vision of the work met some sort of resistance that wouldn’t let me go forward. My wife looked at me and said, “you know, Jim, you’re not going to be happy unless you’re running it yourself.”
When I started the Yeomen, all I really wanted was to see a vision through, from concept to fruition, with only myself as a limitation. It has been both a blessing and a burden. I have had the opportunity to bring my vision to fruition. The Yeomen community has embraced this crazy idea that we could help others, work from the place that’s most comfortable for each of us, and let “work” and “life” have a healthy relationship. I’m happy to report that our community has taken this seed and made it something I couldn’t have envisioned myself.
Having this freedom of creativity also means that I am responsible for the product, the good and the bad, through feast and famine. I worked for months without ceasing. I relied heavily on my wife and our network to help keep everything outside of the sphere of The Yeomen going. Each new member of our community adds to the weight of responsibility that I feel as we move forward. I wouldn’t go back and change my mind, though. Is going it alone the right decision for you? It’s not my place to say. But consider the responsibility that comes with flying solo.
The hardest thing for a founder to do is to get the fuck out of the way
Not sure who said this to me early on, though I’m sure I’ve heard it a couple of times and in a couple of different ways. Be that as it may, it is an undeniable truth. I feel lucky that someone shared this piece of wisdom with me because it is a lens through which I have approached the building of my company. Every time that I’ve worked on a new piece of The Yeomen (Finances, HR, Operations, Sales, Community), my goal has been to set it up to be handed off to somebody who’s more capable than me. I’ve been honest about my strengths. I build communities. I can see the potential in people and help them to make it real. So, I focus on creating a strong foundation and finding cable people to take that foundation and build on it.
I try to “get the fuck out of the way” every day. I look at my list and find the places where I’m impeding progress. I get out of the way. I trust the people around me to use their talents and make us better. Not an easy thing to do when you set out to found a company on your own, but it’s essential. When you find people who are talented and trustworthy, it lessens the grief that comes when you hand over responsibilities. It’s rarely easy, but it opens the space for co-creation. Let’s be honest: as founders our ideas are always young and impressionable; they must evolve and grow to survive. Surrounding yourself with people who you enjoy creating with is really satisfying.
We are co-creators of the world around us
Even though I made the conscious decision to be a solo founder, I have always known that it would take on a life of it’s own once our community began to co-create with me. Helping The Yeoman become it’s own entity, shaped by the experience of people who work together each day, is the most satisfying part of these last two years. We decided from the beginning that work would be different with The Yeomen. We made conscious choices to allow for work to be different at our company. By living those choices, work became different.
We decided that the way that we treat each other every day had to model the way we interact with the customers we serve. We’re committed to a level of humanity and compassion with each other. We strive each day to live those qualities which other. By living these choices, we are a happy group of people who care about each other. Our customers are happier, too!
More than at any other time in the history of humanity, you have the very real power to create the world that you want to live in. That’s not to say that it’s an easy task. It’s not to say that you will always be successful. Success rarely ever manifests itself in a way that you originally expected. This is the beauty of working in community; it becomes something that no one person could have created on their own.
Patience and Persistence
This last one is an old lesson that I learn again and again. I’ve been a part of institutions that were terribly slow, and I’ve been a part of companies that moved blindingly fast. I wasn’t satisfied in either of them. My approach with building The Yeomen has been to be patient and persistent. Nothing goes as planned, so you have to be patient when faced with disappointment or a change in vision. Since the company is always evolving as it grows, you also need to be persistent with the things that are most important. The values that bind you together as a community really need to be at the center of each and every one of your decisions. Persistent commitment to that core will always steer you in the right direction, even if the route isn’t the one you expected.
Also published on Medium.