Editor’s note: This is a series of stories brought to you by Julius Bachmann, a Berlin-based founder coach, and Joyce Mackenzie Liu at Pegafund, providing hands-on advice for how to build and define a startup’s operating model — feel free to reach out to them if that’s something you need. The articles are written exclusively for Tech.eu and edited independently by our team.
For scale-ups wanting to establish a presence in multiple markets, a strong operating model provides a great blueprint. Your operational design can guide your growth, and give your teams a clear strategy for pursuing opportunities in different parts of the world.
Recently, we sat down with Sander van de Rijdt, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of construction documentation and task management platform PlanRadar. PlanRadar is a 125-person company with annual recurring revenue of about €10 million, and over 8,000 customers. We discussed how PlanRadar’s operating model has helped the company set a strategy for international growth and build a workplace culture reflecting their global focus.
Sander had a lot of helpful pointers for growing scale-ups, from ensuring a local focus in sales and customer engagement to tracking company growth with the right set of metrics and KPIs.
We started by talking about Sander’s experience bootstrapping in PlanRadar’s early days.
“The moment our organisational design became important”
Like a lot of companies, PlanRadar started out as a scrappy outfit looking for a way to establish a customer base.
“In 2015, we built our first 300 customers,” says Sander. “Then, we started to hire people and create positions. This was our bootstrapping-to-startup phase. A year later, we started some online advertising, and suddenly we had customers in Australia and the UK. That was our big window of opportunity: we realised the problems we were solving with our product were really international problems, and we could solve them in other countries too.”
For Sander and the PlanRadar team, this realisation changed everything. “This was the moment our organisational design became important. We made the transition from startup to company, and we had to build our departments to reflect our new focus. In the beginning, we were just sales and product development. Later, we had to differentiate our teams to grow the way we wanted.”
As Sander explains, this growth led to some new challenges. “At the start, communication was easy. Then, as our organisational chart started to grow, we had to become a lot more deliberate, because it became more difficult. Now, we have monthly meetings between all team leads, and buddy systems between different departments to strengthen our culture.”
Another key tactic? Having co-CEOs focused on the two sides of the business.
Internal vs. external: PlanRadar’s Co-CEO approach
A lot of scale-ups struggle to dedicate equal amounts of time to the internal running of the business and the external push for market visibility. At PlanRadar, Sander and Co-CEO Ibrahim Imam came up with a novel solution to this problem.
“As Co-CEOs, we separate all the external-oriented departments, like marketing and sales, and the internal stuff like finance, operations, HR, and management,” says Sander. “Ibrahim takes care of the external side of things, and I take care of things internally.”
This might sound like a complicated approach, but for Sander and Ibrahim, it works well. “We each have our own specific area of focus, but together, we’re co-leaders. We’ve been working together for more than 15 years now, and we really understand each other. With strategic decisions, it’s always a shared discussion, and a shared agreement.”
This approach has helped PlanRadar to set a clear strategy for global growth, and to build a local focus into the way they serve their customers.
The importance of a local customer focus
PlanRadar’s customers use the platform for construction documentation, task and defect management, and complying with processes such as audits, reporting, inspections, approvals, and due diligence certifications. As Sander explains, this requires a local touch.
“In our industry, construction and real estate, people can be very old-fashioned. Right now, we have more than 8,000 customers from 45 countries. We were able to convert a lot of these international customers using our online channels. But these are mainly small and medium-sized companies. When it comes to the big enterprises, you need people on the ground to meet them face-to-face.”
“That’s why we focused on building our presence in different countries. Right now, in addition to our HQ in Vienna, we also have offices in London, Zagreb, Paris, Stockholm, Warsaw, and Moscow. In the next quarter, we’ll also have offices in Italy, Spain, Romania, and the Netherlands.”
According to Sander, this also helps the company to know how to offer the right support for different markets. “In the UK, our customers have already adopted digital tools. In other markets, such as South-Eastern Europe, it’s more of a green-fields situation. They have a lot of projects, but they’re not as far along in terms of digitisation. It’s important to help these customers define what they need.”
How PlanRadar’s operating model guides daily decisions
As Sander explains, PlanRadar’s distinctive operating model influences team decisions on a daily basis.
“Our operating model is based on our shared company values,” says Sander. “The most important thing is that we’re very results-driven. At the end of the day, we’re focused on what we’re achieving for our customers. We also want to solve problems when they arise, instead of aiming for perfection right away. That’s a really important mentality for us.”
At PlanRadar, this shared value is reflected in how every team approaches their work.
“We want our people to prioritise the most impactful decisions,” says Sander. “That’s how we make progress - we want to move quickly. It’s not a working culture that comes naturally to everyone, but it’s how we’ve been able to grow our business. We’re focused on execution above everything else.”
“For example,” says Sander, “one way we integrate this culture into our everyday work is that whoever comes up with a problem is also expected to present a possible solution from his or her point of view. This helps us focus on making progress and moving forward.”
Setting clear metrics to guide company growth
As a results-driven company, PlanRadar tracks its performance closely using tailored metrics.
“We set clear metrics to establish what we want to achieve,” says Sander. “On top of the standard SaaS KPIs we use tailored KPIs to measure the success for each team. The most important KPIs are even shared on a weekly basis between the team leads.”
“In finance, we’re looking for example at cash efficiency, and how much we spend against our revenue and our growth. In terms of HR, we look at our turnover and how to keep our churn at a very low level, including how we optimise this in different regions.”
“We also look at our tools and processes, how many support tickets we’re covering, and how quickly we’re responding. In terms of sales, we want all sales enquiries to be handled in less than one hour. We take these very seriously, as well as our customer satisfaction rating.”
Fortunately for Sander, this approach has led to some strong results. “Right now, we’re doing really well in terms of our recurring revenue churn. Yearly, this is less than 6%. When we look at our enterprise customers, our churn since 2016 has even been 0%. That’s a great result.”
Another way PlanRadar has achieved these impressive results? Focusing on the right priorities at the right time.
Don’t focus on HR too late
As Sander explains, a key to PlanRadar’s steady growth was focusing on HR nice and early.
“In the beginning, we had only our back office team next to the sales team,” says Sander. “But as we grew, we needed to specialise and define our processes, as well as our HR. Most companies focus on HR far too late, when they already have 30 or 40 people. If you can get your HR team in place earlier, when you’re around 20 people, they can take care of onboarding, training, and finding the right people. It’s a lot smoother that way. When you have your HR team in place, you will realize how many things you just neglected before.”
The same goes for software tools. “We now have a tools and processes team, which takes care of our knowledge management and knowledge transfer. This has been really helpful, and ensures we’re paying attention to what people need. It also makes sure we’re streamlining our tools and not duplicating anything.”
What scale-ups are getting right about their operating models
To finish up our discussion, Sander offered a few thoughts on what the best scale-ups are getting right about their operating models.
“The best scale-ups are the companies with the deepest understanding of the market,” says Sander. “They understand what their customers need, and they reflect this need in every part of their operating model.”
“You need to develop a really simple and easy-to-understand product. This is always scaleable. With software, if you have a simple product that works for a hundred thousand customers, it’ll work for a hundred million. You just need to find the right product.”
“That’s the reason why some people can scale like crazy,” says Sander. “If you crack the code, you can scale.”