How an evolving culture helped this start-up scale successfully
At a glance
Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewee:
- Make sure your values count every day – not just at the beginning
- Recruit right for the business culture – not just for skills
- Be innovative – use tech to connect
- Don’t be afraid of change – while values remain, culture should be dynamic
“Law is not traditionally a sector that uses tech in innovative ways and it tends to rely on old-school business models that are quite risk-averse,” explains Alex Solo, co-founder of Sprintlaw.
A founder or small business owner walking into a law office, Alex says, will feel a big gap between who the firm is and what services they need. Lawyers are often seen as too expensive, time consuming and confusing. Indeed, Alex and fellow founder Tomoyuki Hachigo’s research showed that around 80% of small business owners don’t see a lawyer when they have a legal problem.
The pair, who had become friends as graduate lawyers working at ClaytonUtz and shared a background in tech, saw an opportunity to combine their skills and build a different kind of business model, which would help small businesses in new ways.
Their goal was to build a lean, innovative, tech-enabled legal service business that operated almost entirely online, offered a range of productised services, and put the customer front and centre.
An innovative, always-evolving culture that stayed true to its start-up mentality would be critical to their success.
Nearly five years later, with a staff that has grown from two to almost 40, and with a raft of awards, Alex and Tomoyuki have made it happen. We caught up with Alex to find out how.
Build culture into your business
“Culture isn’t something you just do at the beginning when you create the company and then it’s done,” Alex explains. “It should be a system for evolving. Culture is dynamic, and allows your business to stay agile and not be left behind. For us it means not becoming the kind of legacy legal business we were trying to disrupt in the first place.”
For Alex and Tomo this involved creating a new kind of business model based not on tradition but on customer feedback.
“We actually tried to ignore law firms as much as possible and take our inspiration from tech start ups,” says Alex, explaining the name ‘Sprintlaw’ – the ‘sprint’ comes from a tech-favourite agile project management approach of developing products over a series of iterations, in manageable ‘sprints’.
“You just go out, try something, get feedback, and evolve,” says Alex.
Putting the customer first, building a culture of innovation and agility around integrating their feedback, has remained central to Sprintlaw’s success.
“Our philosophy is that there is never a reason not to get a five-star review. We are always collecting as much feedback as possible, tracking that feedback, then creating roadmaps to respond to it,” Alex says. The result? “The business looks different every six months. It’s constantly changing.”
No empty words: making your values count
“Values always seemed to me like some cheesy corporate statement that didn’t really mean much,” says Alex.
From this starting point of what they didn’t want, Alex and Tomo built values that had to be meaningful and stay meaningful as the business grew.
“Creating a shared set of principles by which the company is run is especially important as you grow,” Alex explains. “When it’s just a small group of you hanging out together, it’s easy to talk about your values. But when you grow and have more staff, you don’t want to be micromanaging them. They need a framework of tools and values they can use to make the right decisions.
“And you have to talk about your values a lot. They can’t be something you bring up once during the induction process and then never mention again.
“We have monthly meetings where we cycle through each value and talk about examples of them in practise. It’s about showing concrete demonstrations of how those values are playing out at work.”
Sprintlaw’s values also inform the recruitment process – candidates participate in a skills interview and a values interview.
“It’s about filtering in people who share our philosophy and will take part in continually reinforcing it.”
The challenge – and fun – of building a culture online
Nurturing a culture that continues to resonate with Sprintlaw’s founding philosophy of being agile, lean and always evolving has presented some challenges to a growing business that operates almost exclusively online.
Alex and Tomo recognise that it’s important to still have in-person meet-ups so people can make connections that will last in an online environment. While restrictions have recently made that hard, getting the team together from all over the country always proves valuable. It’s also been important to recruit people who can thrive in a work-from-home environment.
“Some people rely on work to constitute the majority of their social life,” explains Alex. “Because Sprintlaw operates online, however, we need people who can work independently and are comfortable not seeing their colleagues eight hours a day.”
That independence is also reflected in how staff competency is measured.
“We try not to think too rigidly about role descriptions and focus more on outcomes,” says Alex. Clear, outcome-driven targets are connected less to the number of hours worked and more to goals met. Staff know what their measure of success is, and can meet it in whatever way works best for them.
“And it means you can be both high-performance and empathetic because achievements are based on objective targets but staff are empowered to get there in their own way,” Alex says.
Their tech experience means Alex and Tomo also relish the opportunity to come up with creative social events – like virtual office hangouts with avatars that meet for a virtual trivia session.
“A bit gimmicky but it’s good – there’s definitely a role for fun!” Alex says.
And Alex’s top tip for creating and maintaining a solid culture through growth? “There’s no one real magic answer,” he says. “But you do have to treat culture as part of the operations of your business.”
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