Keeping a 90-person family together
When I use a product and really happen to like it, I start wondering who makes that product. What`s really going on behind the curtains and how the machine operates in a way that this wonderful end result satisfies my needs. So I love Roobars and very naturally I was really excited to speak to Anita.
I am meeting Anita in a place we both love – the Factory “Rainbow” in Sofia, Bulgaria. We are drinking organic coffee and juices and are enjoying the sounds of Oratnitsa, so the environment is well supportive of our conversation-to-be. Anita is one of the 3 founders of Roobar. If you are a traveler, chances are high that you`ve tasted some of their raw energy bars. For only 5 years Roobar is on 4 continents and reaches 50 countries with a potential to grow massively this year (USA, Canada, Japan and China).
So my curiosity to find out what Roobar looks like inside is huge, and I really want to know how they managed to get from 3 or 6 people in the beginning of 2012 to 90 this year.
You are saying that Roobar is a family, how do you keep a 90-person family together?
Well, a 90-person family is really difficult to maintain because we are just now learning how to keep our team together. Until now, our teams were in different physical locations and it was a challenge to have administration in one place, production in another, it was a big obstacle. Or may be it was an excuse we had that things don`t work out as well. This year we brought them all in one place, so the whole family is in the house now. And I am a firm believer that communication is what can make a company flourish or fail.
Communication, physical connection and a good amount of praise for the work done. If anything is missing in a lot of workplaces, it is shown appreciation. Money itself is not the main factor that motivates people. Don`t get me wrong, we have many benefits for our employees as well – a place to eat called “Stolova by Roobar”, sports membership cards, additional health care, home office options. We try to be very understanding of the team`s needs. And what we expect from them is to be responsible, flexible and honest. It is really difficult when the company starts growing as you start not knowing them, you only think you do but in reality you communicate with only a small number of them daily.
Why do you think communication is so key?
When you have a close contact with people on all company levels you learn about different problems, that are so easy to solve. But they, for a reason, never become known to the upper management and founders keep living in the illusion that everything is working really well. As you know – the iceberg is bigger on the bottom, much, much bigger. With us, my partner Kalin started investing time into meeting with each person individually and holding a pre-organized conversation. Not just to ask them how they feel but really understand their situation. And many interesting things came out of these meetings. People are suggesting how to solve some of the challenges and make things better, how to increase our effectiveness and stop lavishing. It was great to find out that people are conscious of that, they were thinking collectively and suggesting what we need to pay attention to.
I see this as a big step for our company, we started with a team of 6, ourselves including. And then we started growing fast, we had deadlines, production and quality control craziness. So it was great to listen to people and more importantly hear what they say. Because that also gives them security and makes them feel good about their place in the company.
What is important for someone to have if they want to become part of your family?
First thing is the passion of the person who wants to be part of Roobar. We want people who have a burning desire to make things happen. I want to get excited people on board, enthusiastic people. The other thing is to take things personally, meaning being able to maintain a level of responsibility. People who are ready and want to grow, to work but also have patience, the patience to grow in a chaos. To feel that he or she can contribute to the development of the organization, to the structure of the company. We are only 5 years old. We don`t have a big history, a well finalized structure, very effective communication channels, we don`t have it all clear. And it will take time to get that in place. So the team shall not only be patient but also see their value in this process.
Not having a structure and clear way of doing things, a model, a firm process sometimes is a reason why good people leave startups. Many of the founders don`t see an issue. They simply rationalize their low retention levels with the excuse that a startup should be lean, otherwise no innovation will happen and it won`t grow rapidly. However, these two things are different. When people have no clear idea of their roles, tasks, responsibilities and contributions they lose their personal vision for why they are part of the company. And as many of the people who work in startups in general are more of self-starters, they decide to look for another place and make that decision fast.
When we spoke about the culture and the practices within the company, I was really excited to learn more about the Eatery “Stolova by Roobar” and this is what Anita shared:
Eating habits is something that is very important to me. So bringing everyone to eat in the “Stolova by Roobar” is not as easy as I thought. We only serve plant based food. People interpret it in different ways. I have no desire to change the lives and philosophies of everyone. It is just a dish we can all share together, in a place we have created and offers really good and healthy food.
Initiatives and simple practices speak much louder of a company culture than any words hanging on the walls, stating values and company mission. And internal initiatives shall not be showing a different attitude compared to external ones. When a company is selling a product, they add to the brand a value, a mission and they shall be aligned with what people feel inside the company. And in Roobar, the ‘Stolova’ screams so loud and goes hand in hand with their main operation – providing healthy choices for everyone. Because you should not focus on your customers more than you focus on your employees. After all they are the reason why you have customers at all.
I also asked Anita about her qualities as a founder, what makes a successful and effective founder of a startup? And she started off telling me about her partners. She did not stopped praising them – Kalin and Yani. She shared openly that if any of them is out of the picture, the company wouldn`t work at all. From this attitude of a founder you can understand the kind of humble person she is. And when she spoke about praise earlier, now I get a feeling that it is not just thrown out there because she read it in an article of do`s and don`ts when giving interviews. I asked about her main qualities again:
Intuition. Intuition is something that I have learned to believe in and follow. Sometimes I don`t have the most logical reasons to back up why something I feel should happen, should actually happen. But I believe what I call my intuition that there are many situations when we shall not be in a hurry. May be all these investors that are approaching us and want to invest in us is not a good idea for the state we are in as it would shake us up in the wrong way. I believe that a company needs to be mature first, especially when it has a family type of culture. When you let external elements in too early, that can create disorder in the house and you don`t know how to deal with it yet, you are still in the beginning and learning yourself. So instead of winning, I have a gut feeling we would lose.
Are there any decisions you have made and have not been accepted by the family?
Sometimes, of course. But I learn not to take it too hard. I am quite emotional and often take things too personally, which is a negative experience for myself. But these situations have taught me – it is not important exactly what the decision is, if you want to have people`s support, you need to make sure you invest time to prepare them for it, give them time to think and react, and understand what the reasons behind the decision are. And that way, backfire is much less and you get people on your side much easier.