Lee Mayer | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lee Mayer

Background:  

Founded by Lee Mayer and her sister, Emily Motayed, in Denver in 2014, Havenly is an interior design startup. It matches customers with interior designers and offers a home decorating discovery engine and online interior decorating packages starting at $79 per room.

The Denver Office of Economic Development named Havenly to its list of “Denver Gazelles” in 2016, putting it in the company of other local startups considered to have the potential for job creation and fundraising.

The Mistake:

I’ve made a bunch of hiring mistakes. Some of them are immediate; you feel bad when you put the wrong person in a job, and you can just tell it’s not a fit. That’s definitely an error in the process, and you shouldn’t let yourself get caught thinking, “We can develop this person.”

It’s harder to see the other kind of hiring mistake, the people who you hire who are a great Employee No. 3, for example, but aren’t so great when you’ve got 50 employees.

Here’s a good example: I co-founded Havenly with my sister, who I'm still very close with. She was actually pretty good at our current stage, so I don’t necessarily think she hasn’t been good at scaling, but she didn’t love working at a bigger version of our company as much as she loved starting things from the ground up.

Ultimately, she got less involved with the company – her heart wasn’t in it anymore – but we should have addressed that sooner. As we grew, I should have sat down with her to talk about how she felt working in a bigger company.

When you are one of the first employees of a startup, it’s all about trying stuff and getting it done. You’ve got to be scrappy and try a lot of things. It can be crazy because you probably haven’t worked out a lot of processes and lots of stuff gets done ad hoc.

The people that succeed in startup environments are really comfortable with that. Hopefully, they love it and feed on it. They will love to try new things, explore things, and they won’t let perfect be the enemy of good. That’s the perfect attitude for an employer because when you’re a startup, there’s nothing to harm. When you get customers, develop a brand, gather investors, and build a team, a lot of those same people aren’t comfortable making the jump.

This has happened over and over again at Havenly as we’ve progressed through different phases with our company, especially with early employees we’ve asked to manage other people.

They will love to try new things, explore things, and they won’t let perfect be the enemy of  good.

The Lesson:

For us, the solution came late. We brought on a COO who is really process-driven and better equipped to scale this business. This person is better positioned to help us grow than my sister and I were, even as a team.

It’s difficult to see when people are not scaling with the business. Part of it is taking that hard look at what you want to be doing and what you are doing. Another thing I do is, whenever we are hiring someone, I ask myself if I could I see myself asking this person to manage someone else. In other words, are they ready for management? That’s all about someone being able to scale themselves.

Another big thing we did was hiring a head of people. She’s really good about keeping us honest on those hard questions: Are you happy here still? Are you still the right fit? Do you even like it here anymore?

You have to have those tough conversations with people. You have to make it OK for people to say “no,” but you also have to give them a chance to pledge to work harder and ultimately succeed.

You can follow Lee Mayer on Twitter at @ellemot and Havenly at @theHavenly.

Photo courtesy of Havenly

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