By Jozef Kocur, Lead Product Designer, Azimo
Let’s start by looking back to the end of 2015, when I was in the process of leaving a good agency job, taking three months off, moving out of London, planning to travel and looking for a job at a company with fancy offices all around the world.
18 months later…
Well, I did leave the agency job, but that’s pretty much the only thing that worked out the way I’d planned. I didn’t take three months off, didn’t move out of London, didn’t really travel as much as I’d wanted and I don’t work in the fancy offices of a global giant.
In fact, I turned down a few great job offers, including the opportunity to move to NYC, to join a small FinTech company I’d never even heard of. Basically, I messed up my three-year masterplan for a start-up called Azimo.
So was it worth it? Absolutely. I don’t have a single regret and I can honestly say that the past 18 adventure-packed months have been incredible, teaching me so many valuable lessons along the way. Here are some of my key takeaways:
1. Start-ups change the way you approach problems
I was a UI designer for years, focusing on the aesthetic and visual side of the product. I was used to briefs such as ‘Just make it look great’ and I didn’t have to worry about the whole picture. But as Lead Product Designer at Azimo, I get exposure to pretty much everything that’s going on in the company and I need to make decisions based around that.
As much as I love to do everything properly and tend to care about the smallest details, the word ‘perfection’ has become obsolete. Instead, shipping something, learning from it and then iterating on the winning formula is the way to go.
I’ve also learned to deal with failure and take lessons from it. I can think things through without over-thinking them, and I’m fine with scrapping everything and starting over. And most importantly, I know that everything I do can make an impact – on our business and on users all around the world.
2. The importance of company culture
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you need to hire for the cultural fit – if not with the company as a whole, at least with your team. And if the culture’s not there, you need to build it! Great company culture is something that will guide and inspire your team, improve workflow and help with attracting the best new talent.
If I had to describe Azimo’s product team in a few words, I’d say we’re loud, awesome, unique and weird (the good kind of weird). It’s one of those teams where people take you for what you are and it’s OK to do or say the wrong thing now and then.
There are days when it feels like you’re just a bunch of friends trying to change the world together, days when you just need to be 110% focused, and days when you don’t really have a clue what’s going on. But the best thing is that no two days are the same and arriving at work every morning feels like an adventure.
3. Frustration is part of the job
Things don’t always go as planned and people get frustrated. But I’ve learned that it’s OK to be frustrated as long as you know how to get over it. A strong team culture helps enormously – change things and keep changing them until you find the winning formula.
4. Hiring the right people takes time
Finding the perfect match takes time if you’re picky – which you should be. Find your own ways to speed up the process, be flexible with the hiring procedure and compromise on the small things if you need to. But never compromise on the cultural fit.
When it came to hiring a designer, approaching people directly seemed to work for us. Evenings spent on LinkedIn and a couple of friendly messages got us some really talented candidates through the door.
5. Age is just a number
You should never dismiss someone as too old or too young to do a job well. Here at Azimo, I’m surrounded by so many talented young people who are willing to go more than the extra mile – or as one of my colleagues put it: ‘They can go the whole extra marathon’.
6. Don’t focus on competitors. Aim higher
I’ve learned to see competitors not as enemies, but as friends who push us to achieve the best we can by spurring us on to try new things and go out of our comfort zone. They can even teach us a thing or two occasionally, but we don’t look up to them. For that kind of inspiration, we focus on the greatest players in other industries.
7. Learn to say no
I’ve learned to say no to unreasonable requests. Instead, I prioritise the important things that are going to have a significant impact for the business. I once told my team to always consider whether something you’re asked to do can bring in an extra customer. If not, don’t worry about it too much.
8. The importance of bonding with other teams
Spending time with other teams is so important, whether you end up discussing your different roles, work issues or what you did at the weekend. So sit next to someone from a completely different department next time there’s a team lunch. A fresh mind can help you get a broader understanding of the business, look at a problem from a different perspective or help you with things such as proofreading or user testing.
Our whole engineering team is based in Krakow and befriending them over a few vodka shots last time I was there proved to help a lot with communication.
9. Put pressure on people. In a good way
People don’t like pressure, but it can help them to work wonders. So what’s the right way to put pressure on people? That’s a tricky one to answer as it really comes down to the personality and culture of your team.
Analyse the team and try to identify the people who tend to be burned by too much stress. Focus on them first, coach them and provide frequent constructive feedback. Break projects into smaller parts, have something positive to say after completing each part and remind the team that you’re one step closer to achieving a shared goal.
10. Start-ups aren’t for everyone
There are the eager ones who just love it, the ones who just see it as a job and the ones who simply can’t deal with a start-up environment. Try to hire people with an entrepreneurial mindset who can deal with the workload, don’t mind the change and can adapt easily.
11. Don’t limit yourself to one role
If you have the capacity to do things that aren’t in your job spec, go for it. Being proactive will help you build better working relationships, grow as a person and make a bigger impact on everything around you.
12. Embrace transparency
At Azimo, we all know what’s going on within the business. We all have access to the company performance data and even things like board decks and financial results. We all know what we’re doing and, more importantly, why we’re doing it.
This kind of transparency makes everyone feel more engaged and gives everyone the big-picture view. And ultimately, it helps with finding better solutions to the key issues.
As I said, start-ups aren’t for everyone. But joining Azimo was definitely a great decision that gave me a lot of valuable experience. If you feel like FinTech is for you and you want a big impact role, then join us and help us craft the future of money transfer. We’re always looking for talented designers and product managers.