AWS Startups Blog

Talking ‘Disruptors’ and How to Solve the People Problem

Guest post by Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny, Co-Founders at The Hoxby Collective

We were taught by Jim Collins in his book, ‘Good to Great’ that “People are not your most important asset. The RIGHT people are.” It’s something we’ve always believed in, but as a small business, have not always been able to achieve. Like many startups who’ve come before us, when we created our first business, one of the biggest problems we found as we transitioned from startup to scale-up, was accessing the caliber of talent we needed, at the time we needed them. The challenge we found is; you might know what you need today, but you don’t really know what you’re going to need in a month, three months or even three years down the line.

It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find great talent; people who share your values, are invested in the mission and have the skills available when you need them. When you recruit people into the business, they may not be what you need over the long term, particularly as scaling inevitably brings restructuring and new demands for a greater number of people. The cost of hiring incorrectly can be huge too, and not only in monetary terms. Going through the hiring process takes an extraordinary amount of time and emotional energy, and even then, there’s no guarantee that things will work out to plan. As much as we approach the exercise with the best of intentions, when you need to let people go, such setbacks can be crippling for a small business.

The biggest thing we learned during this period was that a successful transition from start-up to scale-up requires a business to have flexibility in as many areas as possible. AWS created the cloud, and in doing so, opened the door for people to build and deploy technology from anywhere, any time. As entrepreneurs, this technology shift enabled us to reimagine what it means to work, without the restrictions of time or location, and inspired us to start The Hoxby Collective. Enabled by cloud technologies, it was an idea born out of our personal frustrations with the rigid 9-5 employment structure, along with the growing demand for flexible working and the rising gig-economy.

The use of people is the biggest consideration, and when considering people alongside the possibilities of what the cloud has made possible for us today, a whole world of opportunity exists. In recognition of the fact that times have changed, and that business models need to change too, we created a ‘People-as-a-Service’ workforce, where our community takes on projects on an as-needed basis, providing total flexibility for everyone involved. We give them a shared purpose, structure and culture to unite them into a Collective, and in return, our customers gain the flexibility to employ a pre-vetted, highly-skilled subject matter expert on a project-by-project basis.

Crucially, this flexibility has enabled us to rethink our allocation of work into people by tasks, rather than by employed heads – we use the right person for every task, wherever they are in the world. It’s a movement towards a new way of working that resonates with a huge number of people who’ve left the traditional work structure to fit their work around their lives. For startups where the battle for talent is quite fierce, it opens the door to candidates beyond their geographical limitations, allowing them to dip into a larger pool of qualified resources to often test and validate whether there’s a need for a permanent overhead. It’s a model that benefits everyone through unbridled flexibility, and it works.

This month we’re celebrating The Disruptors issue of Startup Stories: Notes from Founders. Having collaborated on the project with AWS, we were invited to write a guest blog to acknowledge these daring entrepreneurs who’ve no doubt experienced their own share of organizational change. We’re proud to be keeping such esteemed company. While at heart, we may be a scale-up striving to disrupt conventional workplace practices, but undoubtedly similar to these founders, we also like to think of ourselves as enablers, just as much as we are disruptors. Our focus and ambitions may be somewhat different, yet there’s still much we can learn from sharing our individual stories. So having built a workforce that’s continuously evolved thanks to technology, we’re happy to share our learnings around how successful startups can overcome the challenges of organizational and cultural change to build a workplace of the future.


Issue 2 of Startup Stories: Notes from Founders can be downloaded on our website, highlights of which include:


“Find your big idea”
The key issue for any startup is: ‘If I build it, will people actually want it?’ I think the biggest reason startups fail isn’t because they can’t build the tech or find funding or put a team together, it’s because they achieve all of those things but not enough people actually want the product.
Anthony Rose – Co-founder, Seedlegals

“Our biggest challenge so far”
It takes a lot of passion and perseverance when you’re starting out and you have to convince a lot of players that your idea makes sense. Whether they’re investors, staff or creative talent, it’s impossible to persuade them if you’re not passionate about the idea yourself.
Lea Lange – Co-founder, JUNIQE

“Israel’s business culture helped our company grow”
It’s no coincidence that Israel is a country of startups. We’re trained to think outside the box in this country and take challenges and treat them as just that, rather than as something un-doable. This is true in all elements of our society – from the smallest to the biggest business.
Gal Oz – Founder, Pixellot

“My advice to other founders? Celebrate the little things”
At Lunar Way, we also have to constantly remind one another that we’re in banking, which is probably the most di cult space to try to disrupt. It’s an insane challenge yes, but in the end, we’ll be the ones who have succeeded in a space where no one has before.
Ken Villum Klausen – Founder, Lunar Way

“Most days are a balancing act”
Some days, I manage the family and work balancing act better than others. It’s all part of life and it’s a decision you make if you want to be an entrepreneur. You need to run startups with great passion so I don’t like to separate work, family and life.
Melanie Mohr – Founder, YEAY