How I Succeeded is a regular series on Lifehacker where we ask business leaders for the secrets and tactics behind their success. Today: Peter Forbes, CEO and founder of HROnboard.
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
I use Evernote to organise my life with different notebooks for work, planning, meetings, finances, hobbies and holidays etc. At work I've always relied on Confluence by Atlassian for documentation, processes and general know-how. We’ve been using it since about 2003 and the “wiki” (as it’s known internally) has become a valuable repository and tool.
What social network do you find the most useful?
I try to avoid screens when I’m not at work and be present with family and friends. In business I find LinkedIn and Twitter to be the most relevant for discussions, news and learning about the industry and trends.
What were the most important lessons you learned while growing your business?
From a founder perspective, the most important lesson is to blaze your own path - decide your own direction and approach. In the tech startup world there's a lot of focus on raising capital, being born global and the go hard or go home mentality. But that approach may not actually serve your business, lifestyle or market you're in.
With HROnboard, I realised we could build a great company focused on the ANZ market, grow at a steady pace (40% YOY), and choose our capital wisely (we were funded through my other business and some debt financing). Our office is in Ringwood (25 mins from Melb CBD) is not your usual startup location, but it's close to my home. Once I accepted, I didn’t have to follow the usual startup path it reduced my stress levels, focused our strategy and meant I could spend more time with my wife and four young children.
Ultimately, it was the realisation that a founder creates a business for their own personal reasons - whether its financial, to build a lifestyle, solve a problem or wish to change the world. So, remember your story as an Australian founder building a business can look different to the Silicon Valley playbook and still be highly successful.
What has been the most surprising part of your business journey?
It has been the enthusiasm and loyalty from the amazing team of people I have the pleasure to work with. I keep hearing about the war for talent and how hard it is for other tech companies to hire and retain developers. Our developers, like the rest of our team have stayed loyal and passionate and remained with us on this journey for more than seven years.
What advice would you offer to other businesses on how to succeed?
It’s all about your people! Be relentless in only hiring people who align with your values and are excited to work in your business. Use the probation period and don’t be afraid to exit people who don’t fit. Invest in people’s development and measure people on output not time spent at a desk. You can’t mandate a great culture, but you can nurture it through living your company values and the leadership walking the talk.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
One of my strengths is the ability to systemise functional areas. This involves creating repeatable, streamlined, well understood (through knowledge bases) functional engines that continually improve. The key is continuous improvement, little changes each day. Over time these functional engines make it easier to scale, bring on new people and assist with managing more complex work.
What's your sleep routine like?
I’m pretty consistent in getting seven hours a night, making sure I wind down before bed (no work an hour before bed). I think founder health is really important, as you have lots of people relying on you. A happy, healthy founder/CEO makes a healthy and calm company. I try and lead a balanced life - help out with the kids, exercise regularly (I just received my black belt in karate in December), no work on weekends, date nights with the wife and spend one-on-one quality time with my four kids.