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How FareHarbor scaled to 135 employees by staying true to their culture & hiring smart [Podcast]

For this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we spoke with Lawrence Hester, Co-founder and CEO of FareHarbor, an online booking platform for tours and activities.

Here’s a quick company overview:

  • Founder experience: 4 years
  • Team size: 135+ team members
  • Traction: 3,500+ clients, $3 billion in total ticket sales in 2017, $50MM+ in revenue
  • Company founded: 2013 (4 years old)

It’s safe to say that FareHarbor has seen considerable success over the past four years, but it hasn’t always been easy. The FareHarbor team has put in the hours and gone above and beyond to get the company where it is today. This speaks volumes for the culture they’ve built from day one, which has been recognized by Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Hear how they’ve built the business and scaled their culture in the full episode below!


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Episode Highlights

Have managers work together to solve problems. Lawrence’s job is to be a referee when there’s conflict. Otherwise, there’s an expectation that everyone is working towards the common goal of improving the customer experience and that managers are working together to make that happen. Beyond team managers, the rest of the company is structured as a flat hierarchy.

Prepare to switch to specialized roles at the 35-40 person mark. In the early days, it makes sense to hire generalists because you’re all working together on the same projects. Everyone does what’s necessary to move the company forward. But as you grow, this becomes confusing and unorganized. To scale, you need specialized roles focused on improving specific metrics. Plus, people are happier and more productive when they have clear expectations and know what they’re supposed to be doing and focusing on every day.

The transition to specialization is scary and difficult, but you just have to do it. How you communicate with the team during this transition is important. Explain why you’re making the shift, why it helps them individually, and how it benefits the long-term success of the business. Then just pick a day to do it.

The challenge will be employees hanging onto old tasks. To overcome this, Lawrence suggests checking in with your team members the following weeks, months, a year after the shift to make sure they’re happy. If they’re unhappy, ask them what they don’t like about their new role and what they’re missing.

Keep your individual and team KPIs flexible. While there might be the one goal the company is continuously working towards, what teams and individual people are working on constantly changes. Because each team has slightly different goals, they re-evaluate how KPIs move the organization forward about once per month. FareHarbor’s leadership explains to the team that although they set KPIs, if the metrics aren’t driving the business forward or helping the team grow professionally, they’re going to change.

Find the personality fit for each role. “There’s no bad personality, there’s just bad fits for certain personalities,” Lawrence quoted their consultant from Culture Index. They had their team take personality tests three years into building the business and were able to apply those learnings to employees’ progression in the company and find the best roles for them.

Let your values and personality as a founder lead your culture. Lawrence and his Co-founder (and brother) Zachary’s scrappy and highly motivated style led to the company’s motto of “DWIFT: Do whatever it fucking takes” in the early days. Being founded in Hawaii, they’ve also always had a sense of Ahona, which is “family” in Hawaiian. They’ve held onto these values because they start at the top and trickle down. They lead by example.

Hire people better than you and smarter than you. Lawrence says this is the trick to letting go of your old responsibilities as CEO so you can lead and manage.

Not everything is going to end up on your desk - talk to your team. It becomes impossible for the CEO to manage everyone after 35 people, but not knowing everything that’s going on is the scariest part of transitioning from maker to manager. Talk to your team members often to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Once you see that everything is running smoothly, it will become easier to let go.

Designate someone to put together a company-wide report. In addition to talking to team members, having a snapshot of how every part of the business is doing weekly will ease your mind and help you to spot and solve problems faster.

Encourage work-life balance for team happiness. One of the most difficult things to do as founder and CEO is to lead by example when it comes to work-life balance. But if you show your team that the world doesn’t stop when you take a vacation or take an hour to surf, they’ll follow your example and be happier and more balanced. For FareHarbor, this also means that the team has to step up occasionally to DWIFT. But a flexible working style balances that out.

You have to love what you’re doing. If you don’t truly care about what you’re working on, it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to stay committed and to lead by example.

Growth isn’t necessarily exponential all the time, be patient. Similar to what Sharon from Mobilize said on our last episode, there’s an expectation that you have to always see exponential growth. But Lawrence said that not growing by 1,000% every day doesn’t mean you’re not a success. He added, “success doesn’t come overnight so just breathe and understand that it’s a process, it takes time.”

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