How To Build A F*cking Smart, Cheap and Agile Team On A Shoestring To Do Anything You Want

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I hired my first intern when I was 24 years old and built Studiobookers in 2011.

Google Search Result

And from that moment onward everything changed.

At the time I’d just received £5,000 from my Uncle for a 7.5% stake in the company.

This gave my fledgling company a £66,000 pre-money valuation. Not that I had any idea what pre-money valuation was (not sure how much this has changed in truth lol. Pre-money for me is it is worth nothing) back then.

What it did give me was an air of seriousness about my business – it made it feel like I was working on a real thing.

And I truly was – I really believed in the growth of Studiobookers.

The money was to pay towards building the first iteration which my good friend Nick Ellison did for £1,800.

And the remainder I used to build a really powerful PC which my now CTO Max Carrol at Word Pigeon put together for me several years ago.

Then I had some change for whatever else I might need for the business.

My income that paid my own (meagre) bills came from my recording studio Deep Impakt Recording which was still running.

And indeed that was where the idea had come from.

At this stage, I was looking at trying to find some people who were interested in having a meaningful internship experience that would provide them with a great learning experience, something for their resume and perhaps their first voyage into work.

It seemed to be a perfect balance.

And so I put out my first advert on Gumtree looking for an intern.

Marketing Intern Search Result

Of course, I had no money to pay them. Not really – I could perhaps cover travel and all but even this wouldn’t always be meaningful.

However, I could do other things!

We were to work from Starbucks in Uxbridge because working from my mum’s house just didn’t really seem like a viable option.

Coffee Shop

And as long as the coffee kept being ordered in Starbucks – the staff wouldn’t mind.

So this is how Adomas first walked into my life.

He was at university and was looking for an internship to help supplement his studies.

What I initially did during the interview process was to ask questions that would test their logic.

I took some interview experiences I had had during and post-university to get a sense of their ability.

In part it made them feel like they were walking into a serious internship programme. And on the other side of it, it was also a lot of good fun.

Adomas gave some excellent answers to my questions which ranged from:

‘How does a company like Ryanair make money when it’s positioned as the lowest-priced airline in Europe?’

‘What can British Airways learn from a company like Ryanair’

And if they answered these questions well I’d move on to Studiobookers related business development questions such as:

‘What market challenges and opportunities are there for a company like Studiobookers?’

And then we’d have a longer discussion about the opportunity, their skills and the jobs that were on offer.

Much of it was founded around what Adomas’ keen and key interests were and identifying how they could make sense within the Studiobookers company and make it make sense for us.

Once the offer was made, I had a 30-page internship PDF to share with them as well as a welcome letter.

It made the whole thing feel formal and gave them a lot of reassurance as to the nature of this opportunity.

For myself as well, I’m very big on education and skill sharing and was determined to help them make the most of this experience.

I say them because Adomas ultimately turned into several smart hires over time.

I’d work from the second floor of Starbucks whilst Nick was building out the app and put together a considerable amount of research data and preparation for our launch.

It was an impressive makeup with 7 of us sitting around a laptop island all wired in and working away whilst sipping hot cups of coffee.

Starbucks was winning, Studiobookers was winning, the interns were winning and so was I.

For someone like Lithuanian 2:1 Economics student Adomas – money wasn’t a concern at all. He had other means of savings/income that he could use to support himself. His primary concern was having an excellent internship experience.

And this my friends – is the key.

Over the years I’ve further refined and honed the process of finding someone like Adomas.

I.e someone who is young (or old – age doesn’t actually matter) – has the financial means to support themselves for a 3 month to 3-year period and ultimately is looking to aggressively learn and not suffer the woes of a well-paid but brain-dead internship experience.

For anyone who is looking to develop their career and has a high level of intelligence like Lydia, Ellen, Madalena and all the other members of my team doing an internship-type experience these are their primaries:

  • I want to learn really interesting things
  • I want to be challenged
  • I want the work to be varied
  • I want regular feedback
  • I want to work with a team

For me these are the ‘obvious’ hiring fundamentals:

  • I want someone smart, self-motivated
  • I want someone interested in the digital space
  • I want someone who is both proactive and reactive (big emphasis on the reactive actually)

Here are the ‘non-obvious’ hiring fundamentals:

  • Someone who is responsive on Whatsapp
  • Someone who keeps reading receipts on
  • Someone who isn’t primarily motivated by money
  • Someone who has savings/means of income/financial support

The reality is – is that you can find this mix on all corners of the Earth – and with proper due diligence you can build a team that is highly cost-effective (each of the people above cost <$1,000 a month) that are switched on, are on a career path and just like getting sh*t done.

From this pool of applicants, I’ve gone on to find equity partners (Pei at Studiobookers), revenue share partners (Ellen/Lydia with Word Pigeon/Dr Hidden) as well as paid staff (Adina at Pearl Lemon) alongside full-time contractors (Semil at Pearl Lemon) and part-time contractors (Madalena).

So on the other side of it, there are bigger opportunities for everybody within this mix with a real chance at career progression.

In a worst-case scenario – as sometimes happens they get a very unique internship experience with Pearl Lemon.

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There are some key things here to consider when identifying people like this:

  • No smart person will do entirely process-driven work (you have VAs for that aka Khizzer in my team)
  • No smart person likes to stick entirely to one role (so I have every person working across multiple businesses)
  • No smart person likes to work alone (so Ellen, Lydia, Khizzer, Semil etc all interact)
  • No smart person likes to stop learning (this can come from business challenges to asking them to learn a whole new skill to execute something)

To make this more actionable I’ll go through the questions I’d have in my head if you were looking at this model and trying to understand it more:

Do you have contracts, Deepak?

Nothing especially formal. We have a WhatsApp agreement or a simple email that serves as our agreement

How many hours per week does Lydia work?

It’s not fixed. I say work a minimum of 25 hours per week or upwards – it’s Lydia’s choice

What kind of work does Lydia do?

She’ll update affiliate links on 7upsports. Update YouTube thumbnails. Keep a weekly blog. Write Quora answers. Identify content gaps across all of the company websites. Create profiles for Pearl Lemon/Deepak Shukla on various websites. Upload content to Pearl Lemon. Create Soundcloud playlists. Fill out my OCI card. Develop work for our VA to do if I give process-driven work. Edit these blogs and upload them to Send In Blue. Recruit for various roles within the business (she found Madalena and other interns we’ve worked with). Respond to various media requests. Email our clients 2x a month with Google Search Console reports. Record videos analysing their website + social media. And work on anything on the basis of voice notes I send across to her (which are plentiful) and often random as well.

WhatsApp Screen Shot

Where did you find Lydia?

I believe I found her through Angel. co. But you can try that as well as Gumtree/Craigslist/any classified ads site/indeed/work in startups and via a general googling of ‘ top internship websites’

Lydia Sims Profile

If you’re all remote how do you engage with Lydia?

Whatsapp and email and Lydia maintains a Trello board that she uses to organise her day

How does Lydia learn if you’re not directly teaching her?

Find someone who is interested in learning for themselves, who enjoys Googling and figuring sh*t out and having regular feedback as to how things are going.

Why doesn’t Lydia go find a job with 3x more money?

Lydia values experience over income and currently is also a full-time student (although Lydia is kind of superhuman). She doesn’t ‘need’ additional income today. She values the skills she is learning. And thankfully as she has said in the video she put up about us – she has learnt more in one month working with Pearl Lemon than she has during her entire degree. Furthermore, her work with us can count towards her degree credits and the skills she learns feedback into her degree course.

Outside of this Lydia knows Pearl Lemon put family and her personal life first so she works as and when she pleases with not a single ‘set directive’ from me. It’s exceedingly difficult to find a work environment where there is freedom like that – and often you get ‘more’ from your team when you give them the freedom to choose their hours and dictate their own speed and pace.

WhatsApp Message Screen Shot

Ok, guys I just realised I’ve written around 1700 words but I am passionate about this subject and want you to know that you can find your own Lydia.

Keep evergreen job ads up and put them into a funnel and have these applications ready for when you need someone – I keep my hiring elastic and hire as the needs of the business shift.

Much of this experience of hiring came from having been hired many many times over the years – and in the next email, I’ll walk you through the jobs I have had.

And the lessons I learnt from the 20+ offers of employment letters I’ve had!

See you then