Tech City Life: The right kind of chatter

Flubit's Bertie Stephens on the importance of effective communication and why he maintains an 80/20 rule when sharing information with his team

We all like a good chat about things we’re passionate about. For me, that’s Haribo, orange juice and technology – a winning combination, I think you’ll agree. I have been known to talk a little too much about Flubit to friends and family, but the world of start-ups is an exciting one.

The past 12 months have been particularly staggering for me and the rest of the Flubit team – including our best ever Christmas performance, beating 2013’s numbers by a country mile. It’s incredibly humbling to see a little business idea start to reach its full potential, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.

I’d love to tell you about some of the big meetings I’ve had recently, but I can’t – client confidentiality and all that. What’s harder is working out what and when to tell the team…

The balancing act

We all know communication is key, and quite often we don’t do enough of it – in relationships or in business. I like to maintain transparency in business wherever I can, as Flubit’s talented and hardworking team members deserve to know what’s coming next and how the company might change. Open communication between CEO and team – not just managers but also contractors and, yes, those awesome interns too – is great for motivation and staff engagement.

However excited I get about new opportunities and business meetings, it’s not professional of me to share my enthusiasm too prematurely (although I’ve been known to crack). Confidentiality is a crucial factor here, but it’s not the only one. However confident I am going into a big meeting, there’s no guarantee anything will be agreed. I don’t want to tell the team about what’s at stake at each meeting, only for it to fall through. Raising hopes only for them to be dashed can kill morale. The team could lose their faith in me and others that work towards creating new opportunities for us.

The right communication

So, staying silent is bad for morale, and saying too much can be just as damaging. What’s the middle ground?

At Flubit, we have what we call ‘demo days’ – informal staff get-togethers once a week on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, where we have a chat and catch-up, share ideas and give updates on new projects or site features. I do all I can to be included in these, even if it means an early wake-up call when I’m on the other side of the Atlantic (it’s not just an ego thing I promise)!

At these meetings I don’t talk in figures generally – I like to share a few stories about my travels and share photos and videos of things I’ve seen while out and about. I think my favourite anecdote has undoubtedly been when, on a trip to New York, I bought the first tube of toothpaste I saw in the store, went back to the hotel and brushed my teeth… only to find that I had actually bought denture adhesive cream instead. It’s not a mistake I will be making again, got me into a sticky situation… literally. I don’t go looking for the anecdotes, I think just working two time zones and having no sleep when abroad, the weirdest things can happen from time to time.

Throughout the team, sharing funny photos and stories has become the Flubit way of staying in touch without giving all the details away. I think most people know now that whilst I’ll say 80%, generally there is 20% I’m not saying – not because I’m being elitist, just because it’s something I’m still working on and will reveal later when it’s more developed. I like to think people actually like that… knowing that whatever has been said, there’s actually a little bit more they’ll find out soon.

I know communication is important – and I never want team members to feel isolated or even annoyed that I’m not keeping them updated on what I’ve been up to. This approach works for us. It means I can share my excitement about my travels (and potential business deals) without having to make false promises or breach client confidentiality.

Start-ups live in a fast-moving world, and finding a way to share and maintain enthusiasm as a team is important if you’re to maintain your momentum and reach your full potential.

Bertie Stephens is chief executive of demand-driven marketplace Flubit.com. Read more of his blogs on running a tech start-up here.

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