From cardboard box to 'office in a box'

tim-gouw-69753.jpg

Start-up growing pains

It was a dark, drizzly London afternoon in November, almost sixteen years ago. I was huddled under the awning outside our office, stressed, perplexed and sucking on a cigarette. Upstairs, waiting for me, was a pile of unpaid bills, incomplete forms and urgent unread emails.

A few months before, I quit corporate life to create my first startup. It was the early days of the Internet and our plan was to start putting parts of the financial markets online. We were lucky and after a few false starts, the plan began to work. Despite the Dotcom Crash, we started to win clients in the form of large banks in the City and Wall Street. We were actively hiring and growing fast.

The problem, and the reason for my stress, was that I had no idea how to run a growing business. We worked twenty hour days, wrote code and kept customers happy but our admin was chaos. I was the boss, so it was my job to fix it.

Everyone told me that doing a startup was hard but even so, the reality was a huge shock.

My filing system was a large cardboard box next to my desk. I threw unopened letters and bills into it, silently promising I’d attend to them soon. The pressure of work meant I seldom did. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I was hugely motivated and creative but my organizational skills were hopeless. Even worse, until that point, I’d only worked for big businesses where admin was all silently taken care of, so I had no idea of what it involved.

The solution

Finally, a colleague got so frustrated that they sat me down and told me that I desperately needed to get some help. The first step was to hire a Personal Assistant (PA). I agreed but it took a long time to find someone with the skill set we needed who was prepared to work for a startup or small business. I think it took two or three hiring attempts before we found the right person: Elizabeth.  Actually, Elizabeth still works with me now at Scriba and heads DA Services for us.

As soon as she arrived and rolled up her sleeves, things improved. Suppliers were paid on time, client meetings were properly scheduled and telephones answered with upbeat southern US charm. Very quickly we began to look like a “real” business.

I’d now recommend almost every startup and small business to hire a PA very early, perhaps as their first permanent employee.

The lesson for me was that I needed to admit I needed help sooner but also, that specialised and expert talent was needed to run the business, not just write code. I’d now recommend almost every startup and small business to hire a PA very early, perhaps as their first permanent employee.

It is a very important hire that must be done with great care. A good PA can become part of the soul of the business, setting the right tone with clients and staff and signaling constant reassurance that things will be taken care of and run smoothly. A bad or careless PA hire can be a disaster.

Making PAs our business

A few years later, we sold the business and I moved on to found my next start up. I called Elizabeth to see if she was available to ‘work her magic’ once again. Surprisingly, she was as she was desperate to escape her City commute. That particular start-up was a train crash.

But, in the process, we discovered we could help other businesses like ours. One day, I chatted with a friend who admitted that he needed good admin support to get his portfolio career off the ground. I offered Elizabeth’s help, part time. He then recommended her to others and it spiraled from there and Scriba was born. I’d formed another startup almost entirely by accident. Scriba now employs multiple assistants and provides support to clients from start-ups to global multinationals.

Our clients benefit from having talented and motivated support while reducing costs and gaining flexibility. They each get bespoke service and see the value in sharing a resource with other businesses.

Almost every business needs more flexible help with admin but hiring that help is hard. We help fix that, providing back-office muscle on flexible terms. By utilising technology, our Digital Assistants (DAs) can happily work remotely for a number of clients. Our clients benefit from having talented and motivated support while reducing costs and gaining flexibility. They each get bespoke service and see the value in sharing a resource with other businesses.

We’ve also grown beyond pure PA services – we still handle traditional diary management, travel booking and taking care of calls and emails. Increasingly though, we’re helping clients with social media management, marketing and publicity. We also design and build websites, do stunning graphic design and provide technical support.

What started as me desperately needing an assistant has now grown into Scriba acting as, what we like to call, an “office in a box”.

Scriba supplies complete support for any business. Our DAs not only provide unfailingly reliable administrative support but, working as a team, bring broad subject matter expertise to the table. We use this collective muscle to support our clients and their businesses in ways that your average solo virtual assistant can’t.

This mindset is reflected in our work and, because of it, we deliver exceptional service. From the websites we create to the meetings we schedule, we love what we do and it shows.

If you'd like to know more about my journey or what to look for in a truly exceptional DA, connect with me on Linkedin or get in touch