Starting a tech company seems to be the 2019 version of starting a band. Sometimes it seems that everyone is talking about it, but actually building a successful company requires more than just a good idea.
Our strategy at VRAI is about building solid foundations on which our company can grow and scale. We strive to have the innovation of a startup, but the reliability of a grown up, while building the type of company that we want to work in.
That means not only focusing on profitability, but also on our impact on people and the environment. This is not about virtue signalling, it’s about making the best business decisions and preventing groupthink.
A key factor determining the potential success for an early stage company is the quality of the initial team. We believe that the most important factor determining the quality of our team is the diversity within it.
At the start of 2019 we had full time staff of three people. This summer we grew to 10 in the space of six weeks and it was during this period that our commitment was really put to the test.
Was diversity really important to us or was it simply virtue signalling? Everyone knows how difficult it is to find and attract the right talent these days so could we really afford to be so picky? Yes – it’s a no brainer.
The tech business landscape is complex, unclear and uncertain but a diverse team is the counterbalance against that.
We are an Irish tech company making virtual and augmented reality for global clients. Our company must have a diverse team to ensure we are making the best software for our customers who come from diverse places such as Somalia, Vietnam or closer to home in Britain.
We know that recruiting the right people in tech is already very difficult, but we firmly believe that it’s worth taking the extra time to create balanced and diverse recruitment panels.
For us, this diversity will provide a competitive advantage in commercial terms, it will lead to greater innovation and make us a more vibrant and attractive place to work.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is that diverse teams make better decisions.
Triple bottom line
We were fortunate to appoint an experienced Chairman in Gabriel D’Arcy, who was previously CEO at Bord na Mona and at Lac Patrick Dairies.
There he learned about the importance of sustainability and community to a business. Gabriel introduced us to the concept of the Triple Bottom Line where a company reports annually not just on profit, but also on people and planet.
For people, we have set ourselves diversity goals for when we have 10, 30 and 50 people because we know we can’t do everything at once.
For our first 10 employees we had a 6:4 male to female ratio, but we also have 5 nationalities in that 10. This means that we have a diversity of opinions and backgrounds.
We believe in socio-economic diversity too and because of that we don’t do unpaid internships. They are inherently biased towards privilege as people from a poorer background can’t afford to work for free and do not have parents who can subsidize the employer.
We are paying our current intern as they are contributing to the commercial success of the company so we believe this is the right thing to do.
VRAI hopes to show leadership in these areas and provide a template for how to grow and scale a company that is focussed not only on profit, but also on people and planet.
While we believe we will reap a dividend by pursuing these policies, we would love to see the state incentivise these policies too.
If companies know that they were more likely to secure investment if they treat their people and planet properly, then we are sure you would see more companies buying into the concept, not simply focussing on profit.
We have included diversity in our company values to make it part of the foundations of VRAI. We believe in empowering our people to innovate so our company values act as guidelines in that ambiguous space that doesn’t have a manual.
This focus on diversity is not simply about doing the right thing ethically, it is about doing the right thing for our business. It is about counterbalancing against the complexity of the business environment, removing bias from our decision making and creating a more attractive workplace.
Pat O’Connor is the co-founder and co-managing director of VRAI.