Bootstrapping a Thriving Global Company: Part 1

By Bjorn Reynolds, Chief Guardian & CEO

You have to be a little nuts

As an entrepreneur, I am often asked about the spark that led me to create SafeGuard World International. The answer is simple: I found an area of the payroll market that was just emerging and focused on that.

But creating a global brand with no money isn’t easy. To make it work, we would have to truly do something no one else was doing. So we pointed the business into providing payroll services that extended beyond the U.K., where we were based, and launched our global payroll product.

 

Planning even in the early stages is valuable

We started out with a two-year plan. It would be impossible to predict the true evolution of the market, as the market itself was still evolving. But we knew we had to fund the engine, so our two-year plan kept us focused on the sales and delivery to drive further funding and business growth.

Knowing we had to be self-sufficient and have a clear plan of attack provided the clarity we needed to hire the right talent to execute.

 

Look for talent, not necessarily skill

Everyone wants to be able to say they made a difference in their careers and feel like they achieved something. I had a big vision of what we could look like one day, and that attracted like-minded people.

It’s a big responsibility to ask people to leave the comfort of their established careers. Though there were skill requirements for particular roles, I ensured that everyone we selected in the early stage was a good “athlete.” I sought people with solid problem-solving skills, good communication and strong leadership over those with just a highly developed skill set.

One of our largest challenges in the hiring process actually helped improve our business. Recruiting and paying people in many global regions was really tough to figure out. So we were able to use our struggles—and our solutions—to inform and expand our business services. It’s why we make expansion easier for our clients—we experienced the pain ourselves.

 

Culture is important

As we began growing our team, we saw culture as a differentiator in our company. We were defining a market. We needed dedicated and passionate people—who are also a bit nutty (in the best possible way)—to drive the kind of innovation our business demanded.

We made our values a foundational framework in the organization:

  • Work hard
  • Be caring
  • Stay passionate
  • Make history
  • Enjoy the journey

Our cultural values are a big part of what we do to this day. I will still take dedication, passion, smarts and a little nuts over a more skilled person who has less of those things.

 

Prove you can deliver value—then deliver

I was the first salesperson in the company. We were lucky in some respects, as we learned pretty quickly that we were providing something special. We didn’t have a sales problem—we actually struggled to keep up with the demand. Quickly, our issue became about delivery and expediting our operations. This is an entrepreneurial problem of a different kind.

If you blow your opportunity to deliver, someone will come right behind you, learn from your mistakes, and steal the market from right beneath you.

 

You can’t pretend to be global

We started in the U.K., but we knew we needed to get global quickly, especially in sales and delivery. It didn’t take long before our largest customer, a U.S.-based company, challenged us.

They asked us how we could call ourselves a global payroll company without having a physical presence in the U.S. This struck a chord, because I knew a majority of the multinationals in the world are headquartered in the U.S.

We embarked on recruiting a leader in the U.S. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), we chose the wrong guy, and six months later I flew to the U.S. meet him and part ways. I decided to stay for a short time to find a new leader and build out our U.S. presence. Nine years later, I am still here and we have built our headquarters in the U.S.

 

Understand your strengths—and weaknesses

“Hindsight is 20/20” had to have come from an entrepreneur. Any company founder who says they focused on all the right things from the start is probably not remembering things accurately. Trying different things isn’t a bad approach, but you have to minimize distractions to make progress.

In the early days, I spent time on growth activities, which is my sweet spot. I could do this because I had a really good No. 2 who took care of operations. The valuable lesson for me was always to understand your strengths and weaknesses and hire people that complement your weaknesses.

My frustration has always been around the pace of growth. Growth is about moving into new markets, and it was always so complex and time consuming. I wish SafeGuard had a SafeGuard to rely on for help in the early days!

 

Coming up: In Part 2 of our “Growing a Global Company” series, Bjorn explores the next stage of growth for SafeGuard.