Oct. 1, 2013, was a fateful day for Elytus, a growing software business. Five chains went live as new customers on the same day.
President Matthew Hollis says as the company’s salesman, he only had himself to blame — even though he’d planned on spreading it out over several months.
“Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, a couple of them got severely delayed and a couple of them needed to move forward, and the next thing you know, all of them settled on the same date,” he says. “They didn’t know that we were implementing four other chains at the same time. You couldn’t change it. You had no choice. It had to go live, all on Oct. 1, but that was not the way we planned or designed it, by all means.”
Elytus helps large national chains manage their waste and recycling in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico, using its proprietary web-based platform.
As a result of more than doubling the business in one day, Hollis says they put an 18-month freeze on new customers and sought to better manage the growth.
Elytus has undergone most of its growth over the past five years. It now has 25 employees, around $30 million in annual revenue and just moved into a renovated zero-waste facility in Germantown.
A mechanical engineer by training, Hollis has faced a significant learning curve, while getting help from his business partner and the company’s new board of advisers.
“I used to be very proud of the fact that I could sit back and say, ‘Well, there’s nothing in the company that I a) don’t know about and b) haven’t done myself,’” he says.
Hollis had to learn to delegate and hire people who were experts in human resources, finance, etc., in order to get Elytus where it needed to go.
Also, Elytus didn’t have much overhead with its handful of employees, so Hollis says they developed the pricing based on those costs. The new deals didn’t account for the additional managers and space needed to manage them.
“The big struggle was you’re signing all this new business, and now your costs are escalating,” he says.
To help deal with this, Elytus’ leadership froze sales that weren’t already in the pipeline. (New business was still coming in because the company has an 18 to 24 month sales cycle.) Then, it looked at every business process in order to find efficiencies.
“We basically sat down and said, ‘How is it that you do this, and why do you do it this way?’” Hollis says. “And we got the whole company engaged.”
For example, at the time five people were dedicated to paying invoices because Elytus pays bills on behalf of its customers. Hollis says the technology and payables staff developed new technology to manage the process, and today paying invoices is no longer a full-time job.
Throughout this process, he says nobody was displaced. Open positions weren’t filled and other employees were retrained and redeployed into positions that better matched the growth.
Hollis also became an advocate of pre-hiring and being a little overstaffed.
Elytus has very nontraditional job titles and functions. For instance, the manager of solutions realization is half customer service and half problem-solving, Hollis says.
“When you go out into the industry to hire people, what do they look for? They look for traditional job names. They look for traditional job descriptions,” he says.
Hollis says the job descriptions and titles are still unusual because they fit the company, but that means it’s always going to be hard to hire. To counteract that, Elytus constantly looks for candidates.
“If we find a good one, even if we don’t necessarily have the customers or ‘capacity,’ we’ll hire them — just because we’d rather get them in and get them trained, than be hoping to find somebody down the road that’s not as good of a fit,” he says.
Remember your passion
When you experience rapid growth, Hollis says it’s easy to focus on what’s breaking. Remind yourself that this is a great problem to have; it’s confirming your business and sales model.
You also can’t forget your passion. For Hollis, that’s his personal and business philosophy — waste nothing.
“When you have a million operational issues sitting on your desk, it’s really hard to remember why you do what you do,” Hollis says. “But when you do, and you can say: ‘I can get through this. I can help myself waste nothing. I can help my customers waste nothing.’ That’s really what I was passionate about. It’s the passion that will push you through it.”
At the same time, don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers.
“Don’t be embarrassed about the fact that your business doesn’t have it all together,” Hollis says. “Because you know what? Nobody does.
“Everybody has got issues. Don’t fake it. There’s no need to sit there and say business is great and everything is fine. You can say, ‘I’m in over my head and I’ve got a lot of issues. If you’ve got some advice, it’d be great.’”