In the fast-paced world of tech, change is constant. I’ve seen this firsthand over the past four years as we have grown our campaign software platform, SwiftFox CRM, from start-up to scale-up.
Back in the earliest stage of the pandemic, uncertainty fuelled panic in the tech industry. But this was short-lived and quickly replaced by renewed optimism. Soaring valuations, endless investment, mass hiring - many of the bigger tech companies were truly great places to be.
Tech companies vary in origin, but traditionally, someone comes up with an idea, they evangelically sell the vision, and a bunch of brilliant innovators set about building it. Often, you get to wear a hoodie while you're at it.
These startups evolve into established companies with financial backing, much of which is invested in hiring staff on top salaries. Many tech companies then enter the arms race for the title of ‘World’s Best Workplace’. These lists are always dominated by tech, and it’s easy to see why when they're such exciting places to work. Hubs of innovation and collaboration filled with enthusiastic (and often young) people wanting to create something special. Hierarchies are loose, benefits are the kind you want to tell your mates about, and talent is rewarded.
Tech thrives on momentum and positivity, and for many, it can be an intoxicating environment. I was lucky enough to visit one of Israel’s biggest companies, Monday.com, earlier this year. Floor after floor of amazing offerings for their staff – cafes, VR rooms, theatres, meditation spaces, a whisky bar, and a huge kid's playground overlooking Tel Aviv. The trade-off is the Monday.com team work phenomenally hard; they build a great product, and their office makes it hard to leave.
Within our own ecosystem here in Australia, you walk the streets of Melbourne’s Cremorne, and everyone is selling and creating something new. There is a tendency when things are going well to look into the future and assume there'll be more of the same. That success is guaranteed if you can maintain the hype, the innovation, the people - your future and growth is assured.
Backed by big capital, I’ve seen many up-and-coming Australian tech companies drive themselves towards those dreams of grandeur with little restraint. Gyms, rock climbing walls, off-sites in exotic overseas locations. For some in this industry, it’s not good enough to be big – you must be seen to be big. By your team, the media, your investors and your clients. The risk with this approach, though, is that the lines between aspiration and overindulgence can become blurred.
For smaller start-ups, this presents a massive challenge. You are offering employees the chance to grow something, learn fast and be integral across the business. Your competitors are offering not just a job but a lifestyle and a brand. ‘I work at Google’ immediately makes an impression - even if you are one of 50,000.
But there is a natural market for these things, and as the economy ebbs and flows, so too do even the most well-meaning outfits. There is a course correction underway in tech, one that is having a real human impact. Recent headlines talk to global layoffs, a shift of priorities and workers having to return to the office. People once promised a job in the world’s best workplace are facing an uncertain future, all in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.
There are many reasons for tech’s current challenges, and one of those is the industry’s pursuit of relentless growth. But investor money is not free money, and if your staff café is not converting into customer dollars, then issues emerge.
For whatever reason, the previous tenants of our current SwiftFox HQ in Cremorne had to vacate. The thing I saw when inspecting the space back in 2018 was the abandoned ping pong table. The thought of it has stayed with me as we have grown our tech company, which creates campaign software for clients who talk to their audience at scale. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for a bit of fun - and I like to think that at SwiftFox, we balance the importance of culture and celebrating the wins with getting results for our clients and runs on the board.
We continue to allow our team to work from anywhere, letting flexibility and trust guide our workplace culture. For us, balancing family and life outside of the workplace is just as important as getting the job done.
We offer our people a chance to learn as much as they can on the job, to nurture their development through mentorship and company-backed training opportunities, and to be part of a collective vision to create the world’s best campaign software.
Our purpose is to enable our clients to deliver positive and sustainable change. This is only delivered when we ourselves are sustainable, and that comes from your culture rather than your cafes. After all, it's Melbourne - there are already six coffee shops within a stone's throw.