Jul 8, 2021
5 mins read

Happy Birthday Payhawk #3: Four aspects of our company culture

Hristo Borisov - Chief Executive Officer at Payhawk corporate spend management solution. Hristo Borisov
Payhawk Team 2021
Quick summary

In the past 3 years, we went from 2 people on a shared desk to a team of 46 employees across 4 offices in London, Barcelona, Berlin, and Sofia. We are hiring 51 more like-minded people to join our growing team. The Payhawk card is swiped every second by businesses in 23 countries by thousands of users in more than 200 companies with a customer satisfaction rating of 96%. We have raised $24.1 million from one of the best fintech investors and executives in the world.

The first 3 years are crucial for the brain development of a newborn. Genes provide a blueprint for the brain, but a child’s environment and experiences carry out the construction. The same can be said for the first 3 years of a startup. The founders provide the blueprint for how the organization works, and create the experience in which the team operates. This is what we call culture: The way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way.

There are 4 aspects of our company culture that shape who will be hired, promoted, or let go:

#1 We grow natural leaders

Leaders are not visible on the org chart. These are the champions who people choose to follow because they lead by example, never stop learning, and do the right thing. They also understand that the captain of a team is not always the best player. It’s the one who can create situations for the best to excel. These are the people who thrive at Payhawk.

How do we do it?

  • Working in Payhawk is like a pro sports team, rather than being in a family. In a pro sports team, there is a fixed number of positions for which people compete.
  • Your sole responsibility as a leader is to help your team excel and move fast without blocking decisions or dragging the conversation.
  • Like in a pro team, you might need to wear multiple hats based on your skillset. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than being frustrated.
  • As a leader, you must keep the bar high on who you recruit, develop and cut. When in doubt, don’t hire.
  • If there is poor performance, seek to understand and help. The performance of the team is your responsibility. A poor leader points fingers and makes excuses, a strong leader takes critique, makes decisions.

Great leader vs. Bad leader

Great leaders set context and ask questions to guide you, bad leaders give you orders and no context.

Great leaders hire smarter people than them to help, bad leaders are afraid of good hires and hire subordinates.

Great leaders move fast and unblock the team to make decisions, bad leaders slow down decisions.

Great leaders focus on outcomes and thrive in chaos, bad leaders focus on activity and control.

Great leaders take responsibility and seek to understand, bad leaders complain and point fingers.

Great leaders wear multiple hats and use the opportunity to learn, bad leaders are frustrated and ask for job descriptions.

Great leaders speak with candor and directly express views, bad leaders avoid hard conversations.

Great leaders are not afraid to show emotions, bad leaders cut themselves from employees.

Great leaders don’t need titles to lead, bad leaders need titles to show authority.

Great leaders shoot for the stars and work relentlessly, bad leaders set mediocre goals and avoid responsibility.

Great leaders are not afraid to change their opinions, bad leaders are never wrong.

Great leaders are always asking for opinions, bad leaders are self-centered.

Great leaders embrace change and risk, bad leaders hate change and don’t take risks.

Great leaders are grateful for people being on their team, bad leaders think everybody can be replaced.

Take your career to new heights

#2 We set context over control

High-performance employees will excel if they understand the context. They will have the freedom to make a series of decisions and learn without your involvement.

How do we do it?

  • Best managers get great outcomes by setting the right context, rather than control or limit their people
  • Don’t blame an employee if he does a stupid mistake, ask yourself what context you failed to set.
  • When you are tempted to control somebody, ask yourself what context you can set instead and let the person perform.
  • If you feel like you need too many processes and controls to ensure an employee performs – you’ve got the wrong employee for the job.
  • If people don’t understand the context, ask yourself whether you are inspiring and clear enough about the goals and strategies. Maybe they are wrong.
  • To provide high-level context, we have a company-wide OKRs dashboard where everyone can see the strategies and results we expect from all teams.
  • Tight control can only be important in an emergency situation. Data leaks, security breaches, incident responses, and so on. In that case, take control, communicate clearly who does what, and execute fast. Decisiveness trumps creativity and freedom in crisis.

#3 We have high-talent density

A top-performing employee can outperform a mediocre employee up to 2.5x on mechanical tasks, and 20x on creative tasks.

How do we do it?

  • Your number one goal as a leader is to develop a work environment consistently exclusive of top performers.
  • We always pay people the maximum we can for the given role and stage of our company. We don’t pay bonuses but rather bake them in base pay. Intelligent people are not driven by a carrot on a stick.
  • Always hire people with the potential to grow 2-3 levels above their current position.
  • If you are recruiting somebody and won’t feel comfortable with this person to be your boss in one year – don’t hire them.
  • Hire people who you will be extremely excited to work alongside, rather than people who would just get the job done.
  • In a high-growth environment, what made you successful in the last 12 months might not work in the next 12 months. Raw talent can learn and evolve with the job.
  • Always hire for great potential rather than the exact experience. If things change, the experience can quickly become irrelevant, and the employee obsolete.

#4 Everybody is customer success

We are in business because of every single customer who trusts us to deliver. Converting prospects to raving fans is our daily mission.

How do we do it?

  • You treat every customer equally important regardless of company, deal, contract, etc. You should support a customer as your jobs depend on it (it does). Losing a customer means we have failed on multiple occasions, and we should learn from this experience as fast as possible
  • Everybody at Payhawk has two titles: Customer Success and something else. Talking regularly to customers, resolving issues, monitoring failed transactions, reading support threads, feedback sessions and win/loss analysis is part of everybody’s job description.
  • You should always strive to deliver more than expected in every conversation or touchpoint with customers regardless of your role or function.
  • If a customer has a problem, it’s your first and foremost priority. If you cannot help yourself, assist the customer to find help. Always follow up to make sure the help was provided in a timely manner.
  • If there is negative feedback from a customer, remember that there are 9 other customers who don’t bother to even share this feedback with you.
  • When working with a prospect, try to understand its context and the problem they want to solve with Payhawk. Being genuinely curious and excited with a prospect will make the difference between a happy customer and a lost prospect.
  • If you come to work and cannot get anything else done due to customer support, you have had an amazing day in the office.
Hristo Borisov - Chief Executive Officer at Payhawk corporate spend management solution.
Hristo Borisov
Chief Executive Officer

Hristo is the compass guiding Payhawk's journey. With a rich background in engineering аnd product management he is a stalwart advocate for our products and customers, bringing a mix of innovation and user-centricity to everything we do. Outside the office, you'll catch him enjoying camper and sailing trips, shredding slopes on his snowboard, or simply soaking up precious moments with his family.

See all articles by Hristo →

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