Join us for part two of our 10-year business celebrations as founding CEOs Kieran Canisius and Sabine Hutchison share honest insights into the rollercoaster ride of building Seuss+.
Looking back over the last decade has been, in many ways, a cathartic process. Over the last few days, we’ve revisited many since-forgotten hilarious stories, confronted by some of our memorable fails, and seen things with fresh eyes.
Today, we’re taking you back to the very beginning and sharing some of our personal and standout thoughts from the last 10 years of business.
Back to school
At Seuss+, we talk a lot about learning, so it’s likely no coincidence our very first office was a tiny teacher’s lounge in an old, converted school in Amsterdam.
We knew what we could do, but as an organization, we looked small and often felt underestimated or disadvantaged because of our size. It wasn’t always possible to showcase or convince others of the utter determination we had in-house that helped us achieve impossible things.
We quickly outgrew this space and moved into two large, converted classrooms in the same building, but with a small team and an ambitious vision, it was perhaps the perfect setting to learn.
We laugh now, but believe it or not, in our very, very early days, in order to overcome the underestimation of our ability due to our size, we once “rented a crowd” to make ourselves look bigger. “Friends, freelancers, and even my children’s nanny were recruited to come in and fill up our classrooms”, explained Kieran. The project was highly valued by the client and delivered within the timelines. Our size didn’t matter to the outcome of that particular project. Perception is an interesting thing!
There are lots of fond memories here, even some of the more challenging times too; they ended up being moments we discovered what we were made of.
We also started building a new company “Zocket”, an HR Tech platform in those classrooms; we ultimately misjudged the marketplace—a story for another time, but it’s a shiny example of things not going to plan and how slow decision-making can impact a seemingly well-formed business plan. We still own the code for the Zocket platform, so who knows, maybe it’s not the end of that chapter just yet?
If we needed to sum up one of our biggest learnings from our classroom days, it would be that your business vision could be wrong, or you can go about achieving it entirely the wrong way, but there’s no shame in setbacks; some of our earliest mistakes helped to shape us into who we are today as an organization.
Resilience in business is the ability to quickly adapt, withstand disruptions, and overcome setbacks while maintaining business operations, all while safeguarding your people, brand, and assets.
When we think about our business journey at Seuss+, resilience is such a keyword.
We started Seuss+ with no formal investor backing, we knew what we wanted to achieve, and we had the confidence in ourselves to get out there and make it happen. We gave ourselves 8-months to make it work, and well, it’s 10 years later.
We’ve never been afraid of taking a calculated risk or making a mistake because we’ve both always believed those are the moments when you truly grow and learn. But that means we’ve needed to build resilience from the get-go; mistakes are part of the process, and boy, have we failed from time to time.
But resilience isn’t simply ‘getting over it and moving on’ – it’s more of a tactical retreat that allows you to reassess and recover. It’s a special quality developed over time that enables you to move forward after you’ve processed and accepted both loss and change.
“It’s Sabine’s superpower,” says Kieran “she’s able to stand tall and say, Ok, we’ve messed up here, but how can we fix this? what is the next step?”
Over the years, we know we’ve distilled this mindset throughout the organization, and we’re proud to have created an environment where people feel safe and supported.
“You don’t wake up one morning wearing a shiny suit of resilient-reinforced steel armor, It’s built over time, and you can’t expect everyone to have the same level of resilience as you”, says Sabine. It’s vital to maintain that perspective; everyone is different.
Two Vs One
Being a Co-CEO or a Co-Founder isn’t for everyone in business, and we certainly faced the questions when we first started; “How will you not get in each other’s way?”, “How will you split responsibility?” “How will it work?”.
Valid questions; In the early years when we were still small, we moved as one, almost a single entity, but as we grew, we discovered each other’s talents, strengths, weaknesses, and superpowers. We learned to challenge each other constructively.
“Kieran is a master plate spinner; the more plates, the happier she is”, explains Sabine, “Whereas, Sabine’s able to really focus and hone in on one specific thing “, says Kieran, “but ultimately, we balance each other.”
We experience the highs and lows together but sometimes separately too. Placements won’t happen, projects get cancelled, short-term financial risks with long-term goals weigh heavy, and employees leave; these all add pressure and impact a company; we’re there for each other throughout these growing pains.
We also discovered we could be a bottleneck for growth, and that’s when we tapped into that insight of recognizing each other’s unique talents and applied it to our people.
Thankfully, the Co-CEO role is much more mainstream and widely accepted today, but back in 2012, it was not the case. We’ve learned that together we’re more powerful and can support each other through the highs and lows, appreciating and accelerating with different strengths.
Powered by people
Many of you will know that the inspiration behind our company name came from children’s author Dr Seuss.
In many of his books, the unlikely hero is often the shunned outcast, the underdog, the outsider, who, by the end of the story, somehow, against all odds, saves the day and is revealed and celebrated for their utterly extraordinary and unique talents.
Something about this just rings true; we know how important it is to recognize our people for their unique skills, perspectives, and experiences.
We encourage everyone to lean into their uniqueness. “Step into shoes that are a little bit too big,” says Sabine. “Not too big that you can’t perform or walk, but shoes that will give you space to grow”.
It’s also important to hold your hands up and say, hey, we’re not a good match; it happens, and finding the right people has been a massive part of our success.
The journey continues
So many people have been part of our story, from those humble classroom days to where we stand today as an international organization with over 11 nationalities.
We’re proud. We can hold our heads high in the knowledge we’ve positively impacted people’s lives and created an organization where people thrive.
From our very first recruitment project with Easthorn clinical services to our very first consulting project in Belgium, it’s been a ride. Will we continue to make mistakes? Yes, just different ones.
Thank you for being part of the Seuss+ journey. We can’t wait to see where the next 10 years take us.
Kieran & Sabine