Don’t panic! And other sound learnings for fast growing businesses
From one of the humblest state capitals in the world to the tech big league in Seattle, Clayton Moulynox’s story is that of simply giving things a go and finding himself aboard one of the most exciting startups this decade.
Moulynox started his career as a franchise manager in Perth, Western Australia training new business owners. He’s managed an MSP, spent six years at Microsoft in different channel management roles before moving to Auth0, which last year became a US billion-dollar company.
If there’s a man who knows about scaling this is he. In his time with Identity platform Auth0 the company’s staff increased a whopping 2000 per cent in less than five years. Bringing Moulynox, as Head of Culture, along for a wild ride.
Understandably, such an expansion brought with it a myriad of challenges and new focuses.
New aspects of business management came into the foreground out of simple necessity. Moulynox said that while the company never lost the flexibility of experimentation, some of the feeling of being a startup shifted to make way for greater formality.
This included an greater investment in its HR function, now Auth0 were dealing with more than 500 employees, and a closer look at the legality of opening up branch offices in different countries.
Procedure around role functions also shifted. It quickly became more important to identify each role’s responsibilities and organizational placement.
“That was actually a really interesting shift, when we did move from everybody being a generalist to realizing that [we] needed specialization.
“In the early days of the startup everybody was wearing all sorts of different hats and doing a lot of different things. There were some people that really enjoyed that, and there were others that really required more of a pigeonholed job description to operate effectively.
As Auth0 matured, the company found it needed to implement more tools that provided insight and transparency into each employee’s day to day role.
Those tools served to help understand staff performance, to ensure everyone in the company was able to perform well in their role, or to identify positions where an employee might feel incorrectly placed.
The transition was not without difficulty, even Moulynox himself admitted to suffering from “imposter syndrome” and found the hardest part about the change was recognizing where his own ability lay.
“I think a lot of people in the company had that same thought process and realization… Perhaps some people felt a little bit lost during that period.”
Despite Auth0 making the shift from a generalist mind set, Moulynox said it was not necessary that everyone became a specialist, but rather everyone had the chance to thrive.
“[As a manager I was thinking] can [I] give some of those people the opportunity to do those things that they loved, even though they might have been a little bit out of the bounds of the normal job?”
One of the biggest challenges business’ face during periods of rapid growth is the massive hiring process. Doing this well is key to future business success.
“A natural thing [to do] when you have this overwhelming sense of so much work, and needing more people, is to rush in and hire people that aren’t a great fit for the organization.”
“The most obvious advice I’d [offer] is not to panic and rush because hiring the right sort of people is the most important thing.”
“One of the mistakes we made was going out and hiring people before we’d even queried internally in the organization whether somebody could already do that… Often we’d have three people that could be doing a similar role because that’s what happens when you grow quickly.”
It was one of Auth0’s early engineers that set the tone for the company’s future hiring practises. Moulynox said this particular employee’s successful pivot into engineering, from a career in accounting, encouraged the Auth0 team to hire a diversity of thinking.
“We always had that opinion of hiring talent no matter where they were. So, we started off as a very remote company… We didn’t necessarily hire people in Seattle and in Bellevue – where we’re located in Washington – we hired people all around the world based on the talent that we needed.”
Inevitably, more people can mean more opportunities for conflict. While conflict is often viewed as a negative product of a negative environment, Moulynox has realized its benefits as a healthy chance to explore making changes.
“You don’t want to be in a position where everyone’s agreeing with you and saying yes, because you get some great ideas and great clarity when people challenge you.”
“It [conflict resolution] all stems from… ensuring that there are clear objectives. And what I like to call ‘the most important thing right now’. I think that really helps align a lot of managers.”
In the early days of startup, Moulynox admitted to placing a great importance on building the look of an org chart simply because managers were so used to seeing it.
But, at the end of the day an org chart is of little use if staff lack an understanding of how functions and reporting works within the organisation.
“As a manager, you can assume a lot of things and you can have this perfect chart of how you think things should work. I think some of the best intel you can get is just directly from your staff and your reports and asking them how things should work in their world.”
It became pretty clear to the business world that Auth0 management did something right when it became a unicorn company in 2019, just six years after being founded.
Frank Llama’s Functional Five with Clayton Moulynox
1. What do you need to stay functional?
Sleep – I have a terrible habit of not sleeping and I very quickly become dysfunctional when I realize I have not had enough sleep.
2. Who has inspired you?
I admire any CEO and senior executives in fast growing startups. Some big, fast growing startups in the US are even companies and I admire the way that they’ve built their organizations.
3. What is your favourite work design hack?
Genuinely just sitting with a team and asking them what’s working and what they enjoy doing and what we’re not doing correctly. I think that can be a quick shortcut to getting rid of a lot of work that you don’t need to do.
4. If you could make it all over again, what would you choose to break first?
Not making a lot of assumptions about how customers use our product.
5. What is one nugget of information you can share from your experiences?
To not be afraid to experiment and make mistakes.