How to Scale Your Business: The Importance of Delegation and Leadership with Aron Clymer
This interview is a transcript from Inter:views, Cracking The Entrepreneurship Code, with Aron Clymer, Founder & CEO of Data Clymer. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Many entrepreneurs get stuck in the day-to-day operations of their businesses and struggle to take their skills to the next level. The reason? They have become the bottleneck in their businesses.
Growing your company and scaling yourself out starts with hiring people and delegating to allow yourself more time for strategy and identifying opportunities in your way. Initially, you must handle most of the work and leverage your network to build strong relationships and expand.
However, to scale your business, you need a leadership team that can take the work off your plate to give you more time to focus on research, strategy, and preparation. As an entrepreneur, time is a precious commodity, and doing too much can leave little room for doing things that matter to scale to the next level of growth. Start hiring a management team, and position yourself for scale. Growth and scale are inherent parts of your vision.
Join the conversation with Aaron Clymer, the founder, and CEO of Data Clymer, a Next-gen data and analytic Consulting firm that empower every client's success by unlocking the value of data. The Data Clymer team helps their client get data-driven answers quickly, write data silos, address a lack of reporting capabilities, and provide more data engineering resources.
You come from the corporate world and had no experience running a company. I remember when we first met, you said you didn't have any roadmaps, “I don't know what I'm doing”...
Yes, there was a much clearer roadmap for product companies that I much better understood. I’ve worked at product companies my whole career. But for services, it was different.
I figured I would play it by air, literally. So, I did have a couple of clients. I was doing most of the work myself. The vision from the beginning was a full-stack data engineering service. That means that from the backend database, data warehouse, and backend code to the front end, to the user interface, a business intelligence tool that can usually do analytics, reporting, and dashboarding. And that whole stack is usually three, four, or five vendors sometimes, and it's a lot of different kinds of code and approaches.
I was more of a front-end person. I knew I was better at visualization best practices at rolling out a tool like that to people, training them, and getting them to use it and adopt the system. So, I knew I needed to hire a backend person to do more data warehousing, code data pipelines, etc. And I could quickly hire somebody I'd worked with at Salesforce before.
At first, he was a contractor, so it was straightforward to go step by step, slowly. And I funded everything from cash flow from the business from day one. I didn't have to invest because I initially had cash flow.
So, I had enough cash to hire him, and we did some projects together. Just enough to build up enough money to engage the third and fourth person.
I would happily have five or eight people on the team for the first few years. I thought that was a big success for me. And I did; I got four, five, or six people, something like that, in the first year or year and a half. And that was relatively easy because I'm hiring the same person. I'm hiring engineers.
But then I started to scale myself out, and then you start thinking about, oh, there's a whole other set of roles I've got to think about hiring, and when do I hire them? And how many and how do you model the business? I had to learn all that myself as I went.
How has it been going so far, then?
Well, it's been amazing, and I'm always wondering if I have a guardian angel on my shoulder. I feel it's gone very well, and I've enjoyed the ride. Now it's not perfect, and it's not been linear. It's been up and down.
I mean, the first biggest test of the company was when Covid hit, of course, like every company was tested. Luckily, I'm a visionary, so I'd already had a remote-first company when we started, and so everybody was already remote. Suddenly, that business model was very well adopted during the Covid years.
We didn't have to do a layoff or anything, but business did slow down that summer, and then it started to pick up again. I could hire leaders I knew could take projects and the whole thing themselves. I would think of them almost like partners in a way. They're not true partners because they didn't own the company, but I brought them in to take a piece of the business and run with it. Take some clients to sell, but also roll out projects, run them, and do the whole thing.
So, we could scale to about 20 people with me running the company and some projects and having others run other projects. Until, again, I felt like I was scaled out. I was working 80 or 90-hour weeks and working a lot. I enjoyed it, though, because I've always enjoyed data. I love learning. My whole point at the beginning was to learn as much as possible. So, I was learning a ton and becoming an expert. The first three or four years were all about learning the technical aspects and, yes, how to run a company.
It was more than just managing a certain amount of people. I had built teams and supervised people before. That wasn't really a stretch. It was more figuring out when we reached a specific size where I was ultimately scaled out. Now what do I do? How do I actually scale myself?
I want to return to when you move out of the corporate world. If other people from the corporate world wonder whether they should make the move, what would you tell them? When did you know that it was time and you had to do it?
Sometimes there's a forcing function. Sometimes you're out of a job, and everybody has probably that trigger of you're just not enjoying yourself enough, you're not experiencing enough joy in your life, and you would attribute it to your job, I guess.
I had some pretty terrible bosses. I wasn't enjoying working for some of the organizations longer term that I'd worked at; that was one thing. I felt I had enough experience to leverage to start something like this then.
I had a network that was big enough that I thought, okay, I can leverage my network for a while because when you start, you're going to need your network; that's how you're going to succeed at the beginning, so I just felt that it was the right time for me.
Also, I had two children, and at some point, if you have small kids, most people are like, I'm not going to start a business right now. I've got two kids; I can't do that. However, I hear plenty of stories that people do. But my kids were a little older and a little more self-managed, so I also felt like I could start a business now.
I didn't invest cash in the company. I had enough money to survive for a few months. So, it's not like I had deep cash reserves, but I got a client within about a month of starting the business and started looking around.
That's just because I had a great connection with a technology vendor who was also a startup. So happy to work with an individual consultant like me. And I already had years of experience with that vendor too. That was the other thing. I'd become an expert in that technology, so they trusted me too, so it was easy to get one or two people who trusted me to say, yeah, let me introduce you to a couple of our clients. I had to take it from there, but I convinced them I could help them.
As your company grew, are there any people that have made a big difference when you hire them?
I'd almost say everybody we've hired has made a big difference because we are a people business. That's what we do, and everybody makes a considerable contribution.
There are a couple of key people along the way, and you don't know this right before you hire them, but plenty of engineers have made a massive difference in the level of service and kept making clients happy.
I think the one pivotal moment in the company was when I had scaled myself out. I knew that I needed more of a leadership team. It wasn't just going to be me leading the whole company anymore, and I needed to be able to delegate a lot of what I was doing so then I could start focusing more on strategy.
So, my Chief Operating Officer came in, that was a fantastic hire, and the funny thing was I wasn't even necessarily ready to hire at that moment. I had been thinking about it, but he came to me, wrote his job description, and talked his way into a job. He did a pretty good job.
I knew I couldn't sustain this level of work because I was working so hard. I also wanted to continue to grow the company, and there was no way I could grow it anymore by myself.
That's another thing for an entrepreneur especially; time is so valuable because you are trying to do so many things, and you don't have time to do a lot of deep research or preparation for certain things. And so, you get excellent at identifying opportunities.
When an opportunity comes up once you have some experience, you can quickly say that it is a great opportunity, and you can make a decision fast. Right? Another nice thing about being a sole founder is that I didn't have any partners I needed to run my decisions by, so I could make a decision quickly.
So, when my COO presented this opportunity of hiring him and then taking over all of the operations was the original plan, immediately I could tell that it was a big opportunity.
Now I don't have to spend months searching right for that role. Which I knew I would have to do at some point soon. And I had already worked with the guy; I knew we could work very well together.
What were the main stages of your entrepreneurial journey? How did you scale your business?
At the very beginning, I'm an individual contributor. I'm doing the work, and then I'm managing people. So that first stage is just that growth stage where you do all the work. And then I'm running the company too.
I'm doing everything, invoicing, payments, watching utilization rates, and hiring, and I've got to be scrappy with how I hire. I can't necessarily work with expensive recruiters, so I'm finding my little programs to engage in, like data training programs or schools or what have you. So just getting scrappy about everything and building that.
Then, when you can hire managers, you can start scaling yourself. You can begin to delegate a lot of that work. And then, once you get a management team in place, you're more ready for the scale phase.
And so, the scale phase is where we can continue to hire all the roles we've already engaged, and we have a hierarchy, we know what the org structure looks like, and now, we can keep adding more people as long as we can grow.
I guess what I would say, though, is we're funding everything from cash flow and operations, so that's a tricky thing too. There's not a lot of wiggle room sometimes, so you have to watch that, too, and ensure you can always be profitable.
So, what's the next step?
As we scale further, can we prove that our org structure can scale the way it is? Or do we have to refactor our entire org structure? The other thing is that services have at least two business models.
One is more of a partnership model where you split up the business by partner, and then a partner essentially runs their own business. So that could be a region, it could be vertical, it could be a specific solution.
And then you can scale that way. Many traditional large consulting firms do that, but we're going in a different route. We're going a little more like a product company where we're just one.
We have sales, marketing, delivery, HR, and operations, and the question is, can we scale that? How far can we scale that until it's a problem? And I think by far the hardest thing to scale at a services company is the actual size of the delivery team. For every new person you hire, that's one more calendar you must manage and one more thing you must figure out in the puzzle of all the resources that go on. Which clients and when, and sort of scheduling and capacity planning is a complicated thing to do.
So, I got to figure out how to scale that, and I'm not saying we've completely figured it out, but we're getting there.
Looking back at the six years that you have been a successful entrepreneur, what have you learned about yourself?
I think I've learned that I can handle a lot more uncertainty than I thought. When I had a payroll of five people, tens of thousands of dollars a month, that scared me, right?
Now, I'm responsible for all of these jobs, and every month I have to make sure I can make payroll. So, I remember the weight of that; it was terrifying. Well, now our payroll has quadrupled that, and so it's still scary, but it feels more manageable because we have more experience doing it.
I think I was risk averse to a certain extent, and now I'm much more risk loving, and I've learned to lean into my fears, face them, and then I usually can figure out a way to get over them.
I've also learned that I love the position I'm in now. I love figuring out how to crack the code on the next thing for the company, on the strategy, and on maintaining and scaling a culture, too; that's also a tricky thing to do as you grow and support this incredible culture that we've built here.
To have our people feel like they're well taken care of because they are our top priority. Again, we're a people business, not a product business, and people are essential.
In the beginning, I thought more about becoming more of a technical expert, right? And now, I am not a technical expert anymore necessarily because I'm not doing the day-to-day technical work, but I'm enjoying running the company even more.
Like most successful entrepreneurs, you always talk about the importance of people...
One of our values is people. Because it's just been ingrained in everything we do, it's all about relationships and people. Even all the data out there, right? Data is never successful without people passionate about it, both on the client side.
Another thing when we think about people, we think about our clients, and we want them to be successful in their careers because they worked with us. So again, it's more focused on the people and the success of the people than the data.
Take all your experience now and summarize it into one practical recommendation for other entrepreneurs or wannabe entrepreneurs. What would it be?
I think that would be to face your fears. Do it. Head straight into them and do it. It's taken me forever to fully understand why great leaders almost always say they want to work with failed people because failure is where you learn the most.
And people will come out of failure, have learned so much, and you're going to fail at some things no matter what. But again, if you can accept that, face that fear, and just do it, you'll learn so much. There's no reason not to do something you think you might be passionate about.
Just do it. Just try it.
Connect With Aron Clymer:
Company website: https://dataclymer.com/