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Growth Stories

Maijke Receveur
Chief Growth at Lightyear

 

From 5 to 120 people in two years

25 founders came together at Scale Up Academy, an initiative from Accenture Innovation Awards. Together with the audience, Paul Musters interviewed two special guests from extraordinary companies, in this interview: the Chief of Growth at the developer of the first production car that is powered by the sun: Lightyear’s Maijke Receveur!

By Marijke Zeevenhooven and Paul Musters (Fortify)

Paul: Chief Growth, that is one cool title, what does it mean?

We started Lightyear two years ago. We were with 7 people, and of course there were some gaps that all starting companies have. At that moment you fulfill 10 different roles if it isn’t more, and so did I. We started hiring our first employees. Quite unexpectedly, we received many responses from all over the world from people who would like to work at our company!

The positive thing at that moment was that we grew really fast, but we also found out the risks. We started to need the right resources to facilitate that growth. So forming HR, office, and production buildings, the right culture, and values that we can build on. Therefore it became a proactive role in facilitating the company to grow.

Paul: I know you had your own company. You were a well-paid strategy consultant. Why did you choose to work for Lightyear?
Because of the shining eyes, I would say. It was the energy I got from the company and the mission. That inspired me. Most of the time of my week I’m spending on work, and in the end, I want to be fully energetic about the work that I do. And I like to support this mission because we genuinely aim to mean something good for our world. That is something I hope everybody can support.

Audience: Are you planning/managing to grow internationally or nationally?
We have just one office, in the Netherlands. But we do have 12 nationalities from around the world working at our company. At the moment we have no concrete plans on moving internationally jet.

“The most time of my week I’m spending on work, during that time, I want to be fully energetic about what I do”

Audience: Earlier you mentioned that you were doubting about having growth as a goal Do you feel constraint in your role as Chief Growth?

Some people think it’s a goal on itself to grow. Actually, I don’t believe that’s the thing you should do. I sometimes have the feeling that I even have to temper the growth, instead of pushing it. When you go too fast, people tend to lose the connection, communication gets hard, and that makes it hard to keep your culture fit. So, therefore, it’s something we track continuously with Fortify’s Company Culture Scan. That is our main focus, and we believe that’s the only way we can build a strong team. If we’re growing too fast, maintaining a pleasant atmosphere would not be possible.

Paul: You made a goal out of hiring the first 100 people. Some people said, maybe that’s not the best goal to have, but how did it work for you? Did it work well and till what point did it work well?

We had the campaign to hire the Lightyear’s first 100. What we wanted to state is this: the first 100 will be the backbone of the organization. So that will be the people that actually build the organization and grow with the organization. So it wasn’t about stating that we wanted to grow to such a high number, it was about ‘do you want to part of this small group of people that actually build this great company?’. That’s how we positioned it. I must say that in the beginning, we were terrified because we had to grow seven times as big as we were at that moment, and we had no clue where it would result in. But I must say that it actually went quite well.

Audience: What is the average age and do you have statistics about how many people come and go at Lightyear?

When we started, we were around 26-27 years old on average, and it grew to 31-32. We hired more medior and senior people. And regarding people joining and leaving the company, we hire around 10 people a month, and it’s about 5 people that left in total, due to different reasons.

“I don’t believe growth should be a goal on itself. The challenge is to keep hiring people with a culture fit.”

Audience: We’re talking about growth in terms of people, but as Growth Manager, would you say you always need to hire more people to grow? Because I see that growth also can be achieved with reducing your team size.

Yes, that’s possible. For me, growth is more about organizational development. I once had my biological lessons about the difference between growth and development. Growth is something that stays the same and only gets bigger, were something that develops also can blossom. So I think it’s more about development. Where we develop the processes, the structures, the way of working, and our culture, it all helps to build our company. Growing in terms of people isn’t necessarily needed to improve your business.

Audience: You mentioned you are mostly the facilitator of the growth process, what are the things you would say need to be facilitated for healthy growth.

The facilitating part is something I found tough at the beginning, because facilitating assumes a reactive role, and waiting for the company to give a request, and answering that request by searching for a candidate of writing down the process. But what we’ve tried to do and what I’ve learned over the last few years; it’s beneficial to have the processes in place that you assume to be requested. When you grow really fast, you’ll be way too late if the request comes and it isn’t written yet. For me, that means I have to be aware of what is happening in the company. Together with my team, we speak a lot with people to get a feeling of what they need. It feels like a design process. Where you try to build a company that people will need in the future.

Paul: You studied industrial design. How does this help you to design an organization?

Really a lot. I first studied industrial design, followed by a master innovation management. The switch from Industrial Design to Innovation Management felt like a really logical step. Designing doesn’t have to be a product, although industrial design refers to a product. I think it’s more about the process of understanding your user. For me, this is the easiest way to design a company because my users are the people that are working at the company. So I’m in touch with my stakeholders continuously. I’m having at least the context of becoming the best designer possible, and now it’s up to the growth team and me to realize that.

Paul: Lightyear is a high-tech company. You’re building everything from the ground up. How do you know what kind of people and the atmosphere you need for designing a product that has no equal?

That’s a fascinating question. If I would have the answer… :-). Most important is continuously trying to hire the best people. And to do that, I think using your intuition helps a lot. My own background is a bit technical, but not as deep as the people that I interview. Sometimes you have an interview, and you know immediately that it’s the right person. Then I ask myself; how did I know this was the right person? Especially when everybody in our team is positive as well. The answer? I don’t know.

What can help is to do a trend analysis as you grow. Having good people in your company doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good in their technical skills, they need excellent communication skills and be able to interact with different departments. That is the essential competence we need to bring all the pieces of our whole complex process together.

Where we look at in our trend analysis, for example: how do they interact with specific challenges, we use these learnings in the interviews to check if we can find the needed type of people. But it stays challenging.

“To continuously hiring the best people, I think using your intuition helps a lot”

Paul: In a way, you want similar people. People with the same mindset. How do you make sure you don’t have too many of the same people?

When I mentioned similar people, for me, that means on the highest abstraction level. So people should be enthusiastic about the mission. Furthermore, people should fit our values, even when they’re from different cultures, they should understand why we put these as values in our company. In the end, we are building a hyper-efficient car, and therefore you need to have multidisciplinary cooperation.

The whole domain needs to be efficient. To accomplish that, communication skills are needed everywhere around the company. And at the same time, we use profile analysis of people, to make sure there is diversity to increase efficiency and increase the different characteristics or things where people are good at in a team. In the end, we pursue a perfect mix of similar, but different people.

Audience: What makes you very happy?

Beyond a lot of other things, reflecting like this is one of the things that makes me happy. Because when you’re growing really fast you work hard continuously. If you sometimes have a reflection moment, like this interview, you look back, and you realize what kind of steps you’ve taken.

Audience: What are the biggest mistakes you made?

A couple of times we tried to implement new processes because we thought we knew what people needed. We developed a new process for them, only to see that they did not use that process. We discovered two reasons behind people not using given processes. 1. Not the right timing: we were too early with bringing in a process, their way of working was still in development and a process would only slow down their work. Reason 2. We did not involve all stakeholders that could and should benefit from a more efficient process.

Audience: In your company video, your CEO described Lightyear as a high tech company that wants to create the first solar car to travel a lightyear. But would you also see yourself working on other mobility solutions? Where do you want to go with your company?

We want to reach our mission as fast as possible ´to drive a lightyear, purely on the sun.´ Which could be done of course by electric vehicles being solar powered by the grid. So, therefore, we are willing to help other interested companies, if it brings our mission closer. But we don’t want our success to fail due to that, so we will find a balance. But it’s not our goal to execute the whole value chain ourselves, we even questioned if we want to be a production company. Because there could be someone else, who is way better at that part. I think our strength lays in solving these complex problems and understanding the whole system. At this moment we need to produce to show the world that this solar car is really something. So, we don’t have any other option.

“In our multidisciplinary cooperation, we pursue a perfect mix of similar, but different people.”

Paul: How important is money for Lightyear? There are many car companies focussed on money, that want to be ‘as efficient as possible, to have as much revenue as possible.’ What’s the role of money for Lightyear?

The traditional car companies have a large production and should focus extremely on their margins. At the moment we are more of a creative high tech company. For us, money plays a different role. It is our goal to continuously spend money wisely in order to generate maximum value with these investments so that we can continue developing. Therefore, creativity is needed. We believe that facilities enables a lot in our corporate culture and culture enables creativity.

Audience: You not only need powerful development, but you need to hit the market. You probably have a milestone, also to your investors?

Soon we’ll start our work on the second model. (The first model is called Lightyear one). Because we think there should be mobility for everyone. At the moment the sales price is too high to let it be bought by everyone. We will start developing a new model as soon as possible to decrease the price and to bring a solar car within the reach of many more people.

Audience: Regarding that, you have a high burning rate with 130 employees. Where do you depend on, besides investors?

Investors, cars sold en subsidies. Those are our three primary incomes.

Audience: How do you ensure everybody had the psychological safety we spoke earlier about. How do you ensure psychological safety?

What I see is that the safety is there because everybody in the company still believes in our mission and has trust in each other. If you look at how our business develops: The people working on building the car, they trust the investment team that they will bring in the needed money, And vice versa.

Still, we’re challenging each other, so if you have questions or if you think the work isn’t being done well, then this is stated as an open question; No burning down questions, always ask for an explanation. This helps us build the trust that you will be challenged and at the same time, being trusted in the work you deliver for the company. Trust in our company is really high. Even though we grow with a lot of new people each month. Psychological safety is one of the top scores in Lightyear’s company culture scan.

“In our company, psychological safety consists of trust in each other, combined with the right way of challenging each other”

Paul: What we often hear is that you have to be a role model as a founder of a company. What’s the effect of the founders now you grew from 5 to 120 people in 2 years? I can imagine that the role of the founder changed a lot. What is the effect of giving the example as a founder?

What I think is a really positive thing about the five founders we have at Lightyear, they can look at themselves and the company. They positioned themselves at different spots over time. So, at the beginning they were just with the five of them building the company and hiring the people, we’re now two and a half years later and some are positioning themselves in the managing board, some don’t, but some found out that they wanted to have a specialist role because that’s where their heart lies.

This helps a lot in growing the company because you will not be blocked by some people having this ambition or just having that position. But at the same time, they still are a role model, because employees know they are the founders and they will be seen as one of the first Lightyear people. So, the culture is in them.

Audience: From five founders to 120 employees, with no performance management or process in place, how did you come to where you are now?

When we were with 10, we had a more senior guy visiting us, and he mentioned the KPI system. And we were like ‘we never want to have such a thing.’ But at the moment we are in the phase where we want to have something like that. So, at the moment we are writing down all the processes.

And we’re implementing an ERP system, which helps us to get insight into the numbers, and then set the KPI’s. But we’re a bit hesitant on setting KPI’s if you don’t have the right data available. Because we first want to understand what we’re actually measuring. And then we should have a really good thought about it, to not push the company in the wrong direction.

Audience: Is there a structure in place where everybody has a manager?

At the moment, we’re working in it. Not because we believe in ‘managers’ but because we believe people should understand what their role is and what their responsibilities are. Therefore we did a trajectory together with advisors to get a structure in place. And I must say, you’re not looking too happy when I said advisors, but they did listen really well :-). In the beginning, we were a bit hesitant on having a structure, because it would break in too much on the needed creativity. But we now realize that with so many people, you need a structure to facilitate time and space for creativity. And we are keeping the incentive high on making decisions based on consensus, which is something we highly value.

Paul: We have one last question. What is the best advice you can give to this group of entrepreneurs and startup employees about Company Culture?

If it’s OK, I’d like to give a piece of advice that is broader than Company Culture: but we have a set of design principles for the company. For me, the most important design principle is, really straight forward:‘Important above Urgent’. If you’re growing really fast, then you, of course, have a lot of urgent things that may feel important. But if you have a good look and don’t focus on this specific issue, but solve the underlying set of problems. Yes, It can take more time and takes more people to convince, but still, this was our most important lesson to keep on scaling. Because otherwise, you are just firefighting. While you now have the focus to get closer and closer to our mission.

“A founder can be a role-model, by showing all employees that they keep doing where their heart lies.”

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