Welcome to Founder Fridays!
On Fridays, we will be asking founders, co-founders and startup specialists the questions we all want to know the answers too. We focus on a model of talent development at Future Arc and transparency to cultivate successful and driven teams. We therefore like to share our successes (and failures!).
This Friday, we have Matt Phelan joining us, who is co-founder and Head of Global Happiness at The Happiness Index. If scaling your business is on the tip of your tongue, Matt shares some insightful learnings from his experience in growing ventures. He discusses how to ensure you have the right team around you, why you should think about hiring people who are a cultural “add” rather than a “fit” and drops two brilliant pieces of advice. Keep reading to find out more!
Welcome to Founder Fridays, Matt – really excited to have you here today! Would you like to introduce who you are and what you do?
I think my entry to work is a bit of a weird one because before I did what I would call normal work, I was a farmer. So before I worked with human beings, so I worked with animals and my whole theory is that animals are better at communicating than human beings.
And if you don’t believe me, go and go and check your pets out, or you’re friend’s pets, cats and dogs. They’re so much clearer in the way they communicate. And I think human beings over complicate stuff with language. And, so my first entry into entrepreneurship was through digital marketing.
I founded a company called 4P’s, where we built up and sold that business. But we had an ethos at that business around employees come first – our mantra was that if we look after our employees, they will look after our customers and we will grow. And through that journey, we built an internal tool called The Happiness Index.
And then after we sold the first business, we took all the money from that sale and we reinvested it in our second business called The Happiness Index. And that’s what I do today. And that’s why I get to make up job titles like the Head of Global Happiness, which is a load of rubbish, but it just makes me laugh when I hear it read out to me.
So, I’m co founder and co-CEO and Head of Global Happiness and The Happiness Index.
Brilliant. And so with the vision behind The Happiness Index, talk me through some of the bullet points that were in the initial growth phase and, how did you know it was going to become what it was?
I think it comes from a gut instinct and a feeling that sometimes the business world can be quite a cold place that likes to tell people things like – for example – I was told in my career I was too emotional. But, if you can’t be emotional at work you are less productive. You’re not as good at problem solving. You’re not as good at memory recall, and it’s incredibly important to allow emotions at work.
So what it was really about is companies. Once they get too about a hundred people, they find it difficult to maintain those connections between people. So the bullet point would be around emotional intelligence at scale, and the market is called employee engagement. So people used to buy something called employee engagement and our solution to that is an employee engagement and happiness platform. So we say that we bring the emotions back into the employee experience.
That’s really insightful. Although, The Happiness Index, isn’t the first business that you’ve scaled. So I imagine there’s been a few challenges that you’ve faced. And what for you tends to be the most challenging phase of growth and how do you go about navigating that?
Oh, so many challenges, Kalina and so many mistakes. I was 25 when we started the first business, which now for some people starting is old! But I think in all walks of life, perception of who you are and what you stand for and unconscious biases is a challenge that everyone has, positively or negatively. But, I think the biggest challenge any company has as they grow is the cultural change. People used to talk about when you hire someone: “are they a cultural fit?”
I would challenge people now to think about, “are there cultural add?” – I think if you go for cultural fit, you end up for monoculture and you can actually remove diversity in a way. I think a mistake that I made was to say, how do we maintain our culture? Which actually creates a sort of an ‘us and them’ mentality between original employees and new employees.
So I would say it’s about how do you evolve and grow your culture? Not how do you hire a cultural ‘fit’ and not how do you maintain your culture, which are only subtle changes, but have a huge impact.
I imagine that a lot of our readers are entrepreneurs or people who are looking into scaling their business. So if you could give two pieces of advice that for you would be key to scaling a business, what would you tell them?
First, ask yourself why you want to scale it.
You don’t always have to scale it. Everyone’s obsessed with it, right. Remember why you started your business in the first place. Try and hold those, those values and ideas dear to yourself because it might not be the right thing to scale it. So first check in with yourself. Secondly, it’s around making sure that you are aware of what your weaknesses are as a founder and where you need to bring people in and help.
So I’m a disorganised mess, right? Absolute disorganised mess. So I have people around me that are really organised. I know that’s my weakness. If you look at all founders, they come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds. Some people are introverts. Some people are extroverts. Understand what your weaknesses are and also what you don’t want to do.
Like if you don’t want to do public facing stuff and interviews like this, don’t do it. Like when you emailed me Kalina, I thought, oh, that’s brilliant. That’s fun. But if that’s not you, then don’t do it. Bring people in that want to do that. And vice versa. Build a real team around you that, that, that can help and add to yourself as you scale.
Matt Phelan continues to excel as the Head of Global Happiness and has a wealth of experience in building businesses. Find out more about The Happiness Index and how it can help your organisation here: https://thehappinessindex.com/