Augnet is a VC backed, London-based technology start-up, set to revolutionise the SMS and messaging space. Founded in April 2018, Augnet is the brainchild of CEO, ex-Skype / Microsoft Senior Manager and Angel investor Daniel Gill, who developed a unique disruptive technology to address the global problem of lack of governability and traceability in SMS messaging.
Dan talks about investment, growth and culture in a start-up delivering innovation to global customers.
What are you most proud of?
The decision to step away from the security of Microsoft. Microsoft as an employer is fantastic and provides very well for its employees. I was leading a high-performance team, with a budget of $250 million with aggregated revenue of $1 billion. I was really in a great space professionally and thoroughly enjoying my role, at the point when I decided to exit the company.
However, I saw the need and opportunity to transform the SMS space which led to the founding of Augnet. We secured a high-profile angel investor early that gave confidence to other investors. We went on to secure investment form Triple point Ventures a rare achievement as a pre-revenue company at the time.
What is more important, to hire or retain talent?
It depends on the stage of the business. In the first 12 months the quality of hiring is hyper crucial. The credibility of your early hires sets the pace and capability to attract the best talent as you scale, creating a “talent vortex”. Your first hires become advocates to secure the best. Retention then becomes key. I like the theory of Reid Hoffman. “The first 150 hires are your cultural co-founders. It’s up to you, the founder, to get every one right.”
What leadership challenges has Covid 19 presented?
As a team we had previously operated on a flexible office/home basis, so initially remote working presented no real challenge. However, over an extended period we started to miss human connections and the increased creativity it generates.
We value face to face collaboration that develops collective thinking, ideas, innovation plus the informal conversations that lift energy and sustains the team.
The top 3 things you look for when hiring?
- Work ethic – start-ups can’t afford to carry anyone so you need driven, committed individuals.
- Flexibility – start-ups really do require a flexible mind-set because you need to be able to do a bit of everything. Your job specification is only half of what you will end up doing because while you might technically be in sales, you’ll also have to input into marketing and customer retention and a plethora of other parts of the business, which to my mind makes things more exciting everyone.
- Creativity – Problem solving is at the core of everything we do at Augnet. I launched the company because I saw a problem in the industry and wanted to find a creative way to solve it. And launching a start-up as a challenger to well established logos requires creative thinking on how best to approach the market and how to leverage your position in a David vs Goliath environment.
How do you describe your culture?
Culture is difficult to define in a start-up – often it reflects the personalities of the founders, and that is about how you communicate.
It is important to consciously build diverse teams. Homogenised hiring creates risk of ‘group think’, which limits creativity. As a result, it is important to accept that your culture will evolve.
Interestingly I have learned that as a start-up, we must be agile internally but externally, due to the nature of customers (global tech giants), we have had to accelerate the adoption of sophisticated processes.
Identify early adopters. Allow a graceful fail. Share problems and ideas.
Similar to the approach of Brian Chesky of AirBnB fame, who was advised early on in the AirBnB journey, to travel across the USA to meet their hosts and customers. To understand not only why they had booked but what it would take to increase their rating. When a customer thought they had a great experience and gave 5 stars, Brian asked “what would it take to get 6 stars?” It prompted the customer to think beyond their expectations. “What about 7 stars”? … and so the conversation continued providing a plethora of ideas to help the AirBnB brand grow
Who would you like to have join your leadership team?
James Dyson. A British inventor, industrial designer, and entrepreneur who successfully manufactures innovative household appliances and became a determined campaigner to restore engineering and technical innovation.
He operates with a laser focus on meaningful innovation. He genuinely re engineers’ things.
What advice would you offer your 21 year old self?
That you cannot please everyone. When you are working to achieve change, human nature often finds the process uncomfortable. To deliver improvements you must often select which stakeholders to satisfy (likely your early adopters) and accept that others will detract. You cannot please everyone.
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