Illustrations by Emily Melhuish (yes, she draws and engineers!)
It’s strange to think that it was only a year ago that we officially started Multitudes with a full-time team. Since then, we’ve gone from a small alpha product with a handful of customers to a beautiful, snappy beta product with over one hundred users. Our small team of four has blossomed into a team of eight - and continues to grow, as we welcome two summer interns and hire for other roles!
We’ve learned a lot over this time – maybe even a little too much 😅. So we thought we’d share our key learnings from our first year in operation.
We’re a remote-first team, operating across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. We’ve learned that regular catch-ups for work and fun are the key to making remote-first a success. For us, that includes daily stand-ups and stand-downs to bookend the day, virtual team lunches, fortnightly lightning talks, and donut chats.
Getting together in person is important too - each quarter, we fly (COVID-permitting!) everyone to the same location so we can do quarterly planning and (just as important) reflect on our culture, do some learning as a team and have fun.
Diversity, equality and inclusion is at the heart of what we stand for - it’s woven into our vision statement and values, our systems, and how we operate. Everyone has more room to excel at work and in life without oppression getting in the way.
It takes effort and commitment - for us, this looks like learning about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and colonization in Aotearoa New Zealand, creating data principles to guide our product decisions, and actively screening for commitment to DEI in our hiring process.
Many people think it’s not possible to make time for DEI at the beginning - perhaps because they have a small team, or are still finding product-market fit. Conversely, we think this is the best time! At the beginning, you have an opportunity to work with a blank slate and set the foundations for the future of your organisation. Ultimately, studies (and our own experiences!) have shown that DEI work equates to building a stronger team and better product - it’s worth the effort.
Alongside building a great culture, we’re also laser-focused on building a great product - and it’s essential to know what is and isn’t working for your customers. We’ve implemented weekly user testing, and show prototypes early - so early that we might even be a bit embarrassed, but we’ve found it invaluable to get constructive feedback before venturing too far in one direction.
In one instance where a feature didn’t pan out the way we thought it would, we’ve swallowed our pride and moved quickly to rework or remove it - despite the fact that the infrastructure and code took two weeks to build!
Don’t be precious about things - hold true to why you’re doing the work, but be flexible with how you get there.
As developers, it’s easy to revert to building cool tech to solve your very complex problem. In reality, your very complex problem has probably been solved by a whole team of developers that focus solely on that specific issue.
We didn’t want to deal with credit cards or auth, so the next best thing was to pay someone else to do it. Our core offering is providing team analytics - that’s what we need to be amazing at. So, we focus on that and outsource anything that isn’t key to that objective.
In a startup, there’s so much to do and a finite time to do it all - so prioritise the things you want to be amazing at.
That said, sometimes you do have to build things. With building comes endless possibilities: maybe we should build our APIs in Golang since that’s the current fanciest pony in the ring, or perhaps .NET since that’s super stable? Maybe even blockchain?
In the end, the best advice I got was to ‘build what you know’. For us that was Node.js and python. We were able to go from zero to hero extremely quickly as the whole team was familiar with this stack. A year on, our stack is stable, maintainable and constantly improving – we feel it is exactly fit for purpose!
When we started Multitudes full-time, we had some funds in our bank account and a strong vision; we just had to build the team and product to execute on that vision. At this point, we only had one AWS account, some flaky lambdas, and a very manual deploy strategy.
We decided to dive straight into building up an epic CI/CD platform and deployment strategy. This was the best investment we could have made at the beginning of a shiny new stack. Our strategy includes using terraform for infrastructure; multiple, segregated accounts in AWS; automated test suites; and CircleCI deployment pipelines.
Now we ship code frequently and reliably with ease. Not only do our developers feel safe and happy to deploy code changes, they also have the ability to make infrastructure changes and test them fully in dev/staging environments before rolling out to ✨production ✨.
And on that note, always 👏 separate 👏 your 👏 production 👏 environment 👏.
We have a lot to do and a small team to do it with – which means that there have been some areas where we lacked experience, and it would have taken us too long (and been too risky) to learn it ourselves.
Our solution has been to bring in experienced people to help. We have benefitted immensely from a broad set of contractors who’ve helped us get work done and taught us along the way – covering everything from Typescript to Webflow development, Google Data Studio to recruitment, and more.
And sometimes, the contractors end up coming on full-time – which we love!
Mistakes happen - no one likes them, and certainly not when they impact a customer.
We’ve learned that the best thing to do is acknowledge, apologise, and take action to rectify it. When we’ve done that in open and honest ways, our customers have always been understanding. We run blameless post-mortems and have clear incident documentation so everyone feels confident diagnosing and rectifying the issue. This gives us space to reflect on what happened and identify improvements so that we can minimise the risk of that mistake happening again.
Startups are hard - there are high highs, but also low lows. It can feel relentless, both with everything to do, and the constant feedback, good and bad.
Equally though, we think it’s worth it - we love the learning, the adventure, and the sense of community that comes from working in a small team that’s facing big challenges.
It’s important to remember the value you can bring and keep going. You’ll get there eventually.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and how much there is to do, so we’ve found that it’s important to make time to pause and celebrate the wins.
We have channels on Slack for appreciating others (#appreciations) and for celebrating our own wins (#wins). We also do team celebration dinners during our quarterly team weeks, where we like to ask reflection questions about the growth we’ve had as individuals and as a team.
As you can see, there have been a lot of lessons. It’s been full-on at times, but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved as a team and grateful for the learnings.
I’m excited to see where we are a year from today – bring on year two!