Things I wish I'd known...

Roly Walter
28th July 2021

Building Appraisd - 5 lessons learned

It was back at the very start of my career in HR at Goldman Sachs that I first began to think the whole approach to appraisals wasn’t working. What I saw was managers and employees going through the motions with neither side invested in the process or getting much out of it. The result was a once a year tick box exercise that everyone dreaded. I thought there had to be a better way to go about things, that would actually produce real value for everyone involved.

Turning that initial thought into a successful business has taken a long time and there have been numerous ups, downs and about turns along the way. It’s taken a lot of determination and hard work (and a smattering of luck) to get to where we are today. What I’ve learned is that you have to accept that many of your predictions will be wrong and your progress will be slower than anticipated. What you think should only take a few weeks, may sometime take years to get right. It’s easy to get disheartened but have faith you’ll find a way through. My number one lesson to aspiring entrepreneurs is simply to try and stick at it for as long as you can. As they say, you learn so much from your mistakes so give yourself plenty of time to make them and learn from them so you can get it right next time.

Lesson one - don’t rely too much on theory and predictions and simply dig in for the long haul.

Appraisd has gone through the start-up stage and is now growing rapidly, with almost 300 customers. These range from global multinationals to SMEs, based here in the UK and across the world. We’ve doubled head count in the UK in the last year as well as adding support personnel in the USA, and while we are now hunting new offices for our expanded team and thinking bigger things, I still fondly remember the delirious reaction from the first two employees when we bought our first proper coffee machine (it was truly a milestone)!

Lesson two –

I attempted to build my first online performance management tool 12 years ago. This was a time before social media, smart phones and Wi-Fi. Organisations hadn’t cottoned on to the benefits an effective review process can bring to a business such as more effective feedback, better communication and more focused employee development. That first system sunk without a trace - the market wasn’t ready for it. Having faith in that initial idea and sticking around has paid off in the long run.

Lesson three – timing is everything, be prepared to wait until circumstances change in your favour.

I eventually got things moving by following the principle of MVP (minimal viable product). By creating the smallest, simplest, cheapest version of my vision I managed to get my first sale. The tool didn’t do much, but it did enough to get noticed. Potential customers would say “This is great, but…..” They told me what they wanted, so every new iteration was, and still is, based directly on their feedback. This is a great way to give customers exactly what they want, ensuring your developments are as efficient as possible.

Lesson four – Customer feedback is crucial, listen carefully to what they have to say.

With technology evolving so rapidly, it’s tempting to be fixated on the future and what the next big thing will be. However, if you look too far ahead, you may miss opportunities that are there for the taking now. If you look at the typical technology adoption lifecycle, most people sit in the middle of the curve, in the more conservative Early Majority or Late Majority segments. These groups just want the present; a solution to their current problem, based on proven technology they know will work and won’t be risky for them to implement. Don’t ignore these people, they’re the ones who’ll become your most loyal customers.

Lesson five – Think about solving problems that customers are facing right now, not what might happen in the future.

Running your own business is exhilarating, exhausting, all-consuming. You’ll experience amazing highs and terrible lows. But, if you keep your dream at the heart of what you do and keep working towards a clear objective, the rewards are definitely worth the time and effort.

Roly Walter, Founder of Appraisd, the online performance management system