Interview with Noelle Smit — Teamgage


Today I interview Noelle Smit, co-founder of Teamgage — a culture improvement tool for enterprise. It is the modern alternative to culture and engagement surveys, with a focus on business outcomes and continuous improvement.


Twitter: Teamgage & NoelleSuze

Emily: Tell us the origin story of Teamgage? How did you start?

Noelle Smit

Noelle Smit, Co-Founder Teamgage

Noelle: The idea came from my co-founder and I having less than ideal experiences working for good companies with good people. As a graduate, I resigned from my first job after 18 months and on the last day the State Manager called me into his office and apologised for the experience I had had. He said if he had known what was happening in our team he would have done something about it. That conversation stuck with me. How could he have known, could we create a product that could ensure better transparency of issues within teams to the team itself, and management?

My co-founder had similar experiences at other workplaces and after starting another company together, we decided to finally build a tool to help organisations, and teams within organisations not only understand what is really going on but then help them improve the situation.

E: Pretend you’re a baby startup again. You’re learning to crawl, still in your early stages of growth..Name the biggest challenge you faced that others can learn from?

N: We wasted a lot of time and money building too much product before we spoke to and tested it with a customer. Our first feedback was brutal, really negative. It was great because we learnt more in that moment than the previous 12 months, had we spoken to a customer earlier we could have been 9 months ahead. So I would say build less, and talk to customers more.

E: When did you know the typical 9–5 type job wasn’t for you?

N: I guess I never really thought about it in those terms. I left my last ‘typical’ job when I was 27 to work in my own company. Teamgage isn’t my first start up, I left the corporate world to go full time in my first company. I loved my job, I really did. I was sad to leave it. I thrive in structure, which makes being an entrepreneur hard because there is none in startup land! But I had an opportunity at that time to build a company from scratch, to create something that would make the customers world better and it was impossible for me to put that thought out of my head. So while I was really reluctant to walk away from my career, I honestly felt like I had no choice. There was an opportunity for me to grow and to help others that I would regret forever if I didn’t try.

E: Run us through your calendar for tomorrow?

9.30am — Daily stand up with my team.

9.45–10.30am — Weekly sales team meeting which I lead.

10.30am-12pm — Interview for a business award Teamgage was nominated for.

12–1pm — Board update phone call.

1–1.45pm — Weekly meeting with Head of Customer Success.

1.45–2.30pm — Strategic sales call with Head of Channel Partner.

Unscheduled time is usually answering questions, unblocking team members, running through emails and working through my to do list.

E: How do you balance life vs time in meetings vs time spent moving the needle? Any strategies you could share?

N: At Teamgage we have productive meetings! We use meetings to keep us focused on achieving our goals.

At a company level we use meeting rhythms. This starts with an Annual Planning day to set targets and goals for the year. We then break that down into 90 day plans. We have monthly leadership half days to check progress against the 90 day plan and take action/make adjustments to ensure progress. We also have weekly leadership team meetings to hold each other to account against progress for the month. So if my week gets off-track, I have the weekly leadership meeting to re-focus me on my strategic objectives and the things that move the needle.

At a personal level I use Microsoft To Do and prioritise 1–2 tasks each day (I used to have top 3 but some days even 3 is tough to get through), so if I get pulled into meetings or managing issues I know if all I achieve from my list is these 1–2 items, it will have been a productive day. But it is a constant battle and we as a company and each team within it rely on our meeting rhythms to keep us focused on and accountable to progressing the bigger strategic tasks that move the needle.

E: If you could start again, what would you do differently?

N: I’ve gone over this questions a few times in my head, but what I keep coming back to is that I wouldn’t want to do anything differently. I’ve learnt more from every single mistake we’ve made than from any of the wins, so every experience has had value. If I do it all again one day, I’ll be more experienced for it all, but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing this time. It’s been a tremendously tough and thrilling ride so far and we are only getting started.

E: When you wake up, the first thing you check on your phone is…?

N: Right now NBA trade news! But normally my sleep data.

E: What are you streaming/reading/listening/playing right now?

N: I’m re-reading some parts of Scaling Up by Verne Harnish right now and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I listen to a few podcasts like Masters of Scale (by Reid Hoffman), Saastr, Making Sense with Sam Harris and The Inner Circle (netball podcast) for a change of pace!

E: Most used/favourite app and why?

N: Fitbit. The best thing I can do for Teamgage is to look after myself, When I’m in a good place the whole team benefits. Keeping an eye on my sleep, heart rate, activity levels and weight helps me do this. Plus I love data and am a bit addicted to tracking my progress!

E: Would you rather have unlimited sushi or unlimited tacos for life and why?

N: Tacos!! Because it reminds me of being in Staples Centre in LA and chanting “We want tacos” and getting free tacos because the Lakers won and kept the Knicks to under 100 points.

This interview is by Emily Rich as part of the Scaling Startups Series.