Small business: SMEs hiring staff - Shona Grundy

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Shona Grundy, CEO and co-founder of Trigger Happy

Shona Grundy of Trigger Happy.
Shona Grundy of Trigger Happy.

Trigger Happy develops platforms for people to create and enjoy digital experiences and social experiences on mobile devices.

Trigger Happy was formed in December 2010 and TOON HERO is to launch worldwide in 14 languages in early August. TOON HERO is a first of its kind platform for the iPad which allows people to create and share their own animated stories, greetings, jokes and more using world famous characters. TOON HERO will start with the brands: National Geographic, Jim Henson Company, Hero:108, Mukpuddy and Trigger Happy.

Prior to starting Trigger Happy, three of the four co-founders, Shona Grundy, Karl Butler and Cathy Butler, were key executives at Kangoo Animation, producers of the Gingerbread Haka. The other co-founder, Israel Cooper, was previously a director of finance for Massive Software, the Intelligent Crowd Simulation software created for The Lord of the Rings, now used in the feature film and advertising industries.

Trigger Happy won Company of the Year, Pre Commercialisation at the recent NZ Hi-Tech Awards. In the space of 12 months, Grundy has secured two rounds of VC investments and substantial government grants, growing the team from four to 18 full time staff.

What was your approach to recruitment at the start of Trigger Happy?

After the first round of funding we went from four to eight staff. We wanted to build a strong team but also needed to be very careful since we had limited dollars and needed needed strong and fast results. We needed to know how much they would return on the investment. We were recruiting on a skills base, we couldn't take on juniors. Anyone we hired had to be experienced and had to be able to deliver plus be a team player and believe in what we were creating. We recruited three software engineers and one animator. We had never hired a software engineer so we enlisted a friend who had been in the industry and he sat in on the interviews. At that stage we had not developed what our culture and values would be but knew this was something we wanted for the next stage of growth.

What was your recruitment approach after the second round of funding a year later?

This round of investment allowed us to expand and develop the company the way we always hoped we could. We went from eight staff to 18 in a matter of six weeks. We also moved into bigger offices at this time so there was a lot of change really fast.

Before we hired all this extra staff we talked about the kind of people we wanted. We said: "We really want to build a great company. After all it is where we spend the majority of our lives. We are not only working hard but we are in love with what we are doing."

We hired more engineers, animators and added marketers and a office executive. We were looking for people who were multi-skilled and who were not precious if something was not part of their job description. We wanted to build a team of great people that were excited to be part of our journey and coud really add value.

One of the senior engineers wanted to contribute to the growth in his industry. He said he'd really like to mentor a graduate so we did hire one junior engineer. This hire has been a great asset to the team.

Once we had hired a good porportion of the team, we set about developing a culture and values of our company.

What was your background in building a company values and culture to help with recruitment?

I had done a lot of reading on it and had a vision for the kind of company I wanted to have. By then our vice president of marketing, Kelly Jones, had started with us. She is experienced in building brands and had been part of building and maintaining the values and culture in some of her previous roles. Kelly and I talked about what my vision was and then she led the charge on developing Trigger Happy into the company we could all be proud of.

We knew developing the culture and values needed to be a process developed by the team so that they all felt that they owned it and most importantly, lived and brought alive the values. We wanted our team to be our brand ambassadors. So the first step was holding a fun brainstorming session to determine the type of place we wanted Trigger Happy to be and also what we didn't want it to be.

There were about five key points that came out of this session and that is where our values where born: People, Passion, Purpose, Productivity and Personality. We then refined these with a small number of the team from each area of the company and then presented back to the team for final sign off. Plus we have tasks associated to these values to make sure we are living them the way they were designed.

Having a defined culture and values really help us in our recruitment, it is like dating, someone can be great on paper but if you don't have the chemisty, it just isn't right!

Was growing the staff so quickly a challenge?

A lot of people said to us growing so fast can be painful, so much so it can break a company. We embraced that, took on board all this reading. One bad apple can spoil the team, we realised, so we said: "We are going to hire people completely on their values and on their cultural fit with the company. Of course their CV must stack up but ultimately if we had two or three candidates and one was a good personality fit, we would go with them." We had an HR consultant help us keep to our goals. And the result is we have the most amazing team and it was not painful at all. The results have been spectacular. I love each member of staff they have done so much for this business.

Have you done any other hiring for the business?

We have hired a PR agency based in LA, Bender/Helper Impact. This team are an extension of our marketing team ans are such a asset to have. They have similar values to ours and really believe in what we are trying to achieve.

We have also hired two independent directors for our board - a chairman, Malcolm Johns who is deputy chair of Tourism NZ and we have Darren Green, co-founder of SmallWorlds. We truly have a wealth of knowledge to tap into with our board and who extremely supportive, encouraging and are there to help drive our goals.

Next week: You would think that any company which has fast growth has nothing to complain about. But sometimes very fast growth can bring a business to its knee if they don't have the systems in place and the advisers on hand. Tell us if you have had the good fortune to be in this situation and survive.

- NZ Herald

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