#ElevateGrowth says nurturing company culture is key to success

elevate growth

This week, Elevate Toronto brought together thousands of members of Toronto’s tech community to learn and network. On day two of the festival, several tracks drilled down on different industries and topics, including FinTech and AI.

I was the emcee for Elevate Growth, which was held at the Toronto Board of Trade and focused on topics related to growing a company, including fundraising, international growth, and managing teams. The event featured a lineup of some of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, including Wattpad’s Allen Lau, Globalive’s Anthony Lacavera, and BlueCat’s Michael Hyatt. The event brought together over 200 entrepreneurs looking for advice on how to level up their business.

I chose to be involved with Elevate Growth because every entrepreneur needs to focus on growth, regardless of whether they have a services business like mine, a product business, or just an idea that they’re working on bringing to market. Here are the top five takeaways from the day’s packed agenda.

ABF: Always be fundraising

Lacavera, who has raised over $2 billion in capital over his career, talked about the need for entrepreneurs to always be fundraising.

He highlighted how most entrepreneurs will close a round of funding and then think they’re done until just before their runway runs out. “My biggest lesson in the career of raising money is you need to be raising capital at least one day a week every week,” he said, whether that’s touching base with existing investors or connecting with new investors.

Fundraising isn’t a start-stop endeavour; it’s a consistent effort on the part of a founder. While other speakers like TouchBistro’s Alex Barrotti echoed that sentiment, speaker Michael Hyatt said fundraising isn’t always something to celebrate. “You just sold part of your company and now you’re on the clock,” he said, encouraging entrepreneurs to instead celebrate milestones like key hires or big sales.

Culture is not a ping pong table — but it is key to growth

Revenue may be key to growth, but so is building and scaling an excellent team. In fact, one thread that ran through almost every presentation was the need to build a great team, to nurture the culture, and to train great leaders and managers to scale that team as the company grows.

Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale, the founders of management training firm Raw Signal Group and authors of How F*cked Up Is Your Management, spoke with Borrowell COO Eva Wong about why culture is important.

They highlighted that culture isn’t about ping pong tables or beer kegs on Fridays; rather, it’s about the expectations companies set out for how team members should relate to each other. The duo said it’s key to be loud about cultural violations, and to recognize that culture is like a river – it constantly changes and flows, so you can’t be attached to the culture you had at 10 people.

Being a great leader makes growth that much easier

The Nightingales spoke about the concept of “loudership” – leading by being the loudest voice in the room.

“Many of us have been in the room where it’s not necessarily the best idea, but who pounds the loudest on the table,” Johnathan said. In an age where companies (and their leaders) are always being rated, being a great leader is the key to success.

Hyatt defined a great leader as someone who could walk across to the street to a different company, and people would follow. “Show me the people that would follow you and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are,” he said. Part of great leadership is showing that the company is about more than just the bottom line, which is why I moderated a conversation about giving back with TribalScale CEO Sheetal Jaitly and Two Small Fish Ventures co-founder Eva Lau.

Both Jaitly and Eva have pledged to donate one percent of their equity to charity through The Upside Foundation. They said that incorporating a giving back strategy into their leadership has helped motivate their teams, and attract new team members.

The three key ingredients to building winning teams

Another thread that tied the day together was that behind every founder, there’s a great team — something Hyatt confirmed when he said every mistake he ever made was hiring, and every good thing he ever did was hiring.

Real Ventures partner Janet Bannister spoke about how to build winning teams, breaking it down to three key ingredients.

First, set out a clear and aspirational vision. Bannister spoke about how when she worked at eBay under then-CEO Meg Whitman, she constantly spoke about how eBay was changing people’s lives, and it made people feel like they were part of something bigger than themselves.

The second ingredient is diversity, which was a core theme at Elevate. Bannister highlighted that diversity is more than just gender, it’s about having a mix of introverts and extroverts, detail-oriented people and big picture thinkers. It’s about diversity of thought, and bringing different perspectives together.

Finally, she said the third ingredient is how your team treats each other. She said creating a culture where people don’t think about themselves first, but rather they think about the team — and they truly care about their team — is key.

Resilience is key to growth

The last key theme of the day was about how no company is an overnight success, and it can be a slow, steady, frustrating path to success. Hyatt, who has sold two businesses for a combined $500 million, said that he’s a 20-year overnight success, and that it doesn’t take brilliance to be successful – it just requires showing up day after day.

“You’re not going to land one big customer. You’re not going to have one precipitous event that’s going to make or break you,” he said. “Growth and success is nothing more than a consistent 20-mile march.” He spoke about the aggregation of marginal gains, and how as a founder, you shouldn’t be looking for huge wins, you should be looking for incremental gains. Several other founders, including Barrotti, spoke about how getting to that first customer or that first million in sales isn’t easy, and it takes resilience to be able to grow a company.

Other speakers at Elevate Growth included Intelex’s Mark Jaine, Shopify Plus’ Hana Abaza, and Xtreme Labs founder Amar Varma.

Photo via Twitter

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin Bury is a Co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform. Also a former Managing Director at Eighty-Eight, a creative communications agency based in Toronto. She was formerly the Managing Editor at BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter at @erinbury.