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This LA Startup is Turning Office Hierarchy On Its Head–And It’s Working

Ever wondered if there’s another way to structure your leadership? This guy thinks there is. It’s called self-management.

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BY Sophie Jarvis - 01 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

According to ancient historians, when Alexander the Great was trekking through the desert, he came across a little pool of water. Instead of gulping it down himself, he scooped it up in his helmet and passed it around his army. Or so the story goes. Sure it might not have gone far, but the point remains: history deems him a great leader because he valued his troops well-being and often took this non-hierarchical approach to leadership.

Clearly CEO & Founder of Smarkets, Jason Trost, has been reading his history books as he seems to offer a similar unconventional style of leadership. He calls it self-management. Smarkets is an online prediction market where you can place a bet on the next President or goal in a soccer game. The company ranked 12th on this year's Inc. 5000 Europe list. In 2016, its business profit grew by 160 percent to 13.7m, its revenue increased by 144 percent to 25.4 million, and it saw 2.5 billion worth of trades on the exchange--achieved with a headcount of just 78.

So what is self-management? Trost describes it as "a way to remove unnecessary business hierarchy and bureaucracy and empower your staff to make more of a real business impact."

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Trost thrust himself into entrepreneurship out of frustration with the corporate world:

"Having worked in a strict corporate structure at a large multinational, I've got first-hand experience of my role being limited and boxed-in. So when my own company started to grow I really wanted to avoid these restraints and give staff as much freedom as possible in a system which encourages collaboration and creativity."

Trost places a lot of emphasis on looking after your staff. He says if you're making money as a company, then you should be invested in your staff and the time they have at work. He provides them with great equipment and the ability to move easily between teams. He places a lot of emphasis on down-time too: "When not working, we make a real effort to make the office and culture as inclusive and familial as possible."

Napoleon once said "An army marches on its stomach." And Trost has taken his history books to heart again. Trost employs chefs to provide top quality breakfast, lunch and dinner for free. They also have a party at the end of each month to reflect on the past few weeks and enjoy themselves at a cool venue.

All this is very important to Trost as he feels staff should feel valued at work: "I encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and not feel like they have to put on a corporate mask every day." Everything from letting an employee decide the music for lunch to being able to stand up at their desks, all contributes to making people be themselves more when at the office.

So far, so good? Yes, but Trost acknowledge the shortcomings. He says that self-management is not the perfect solution and that he's constantly adapting it to suit the business's needs.

One of the biggest downsides to self-mangement is that decision making is slow. "With no clear and obvious accountability some of the time, snappy business decisions are few and far between," says Trost.

Also, self-management clearly isn't for everyone. Some people are better off with direction and defined outlines. Trost explains that there's been a few bad hires, but those people have moved on pretty fast. To try and stop this from happening they have an innovative interview process where they look for bright, motivated people who are happy to come up with their own ideas.

On the whole self-management sounds like a great idea, providing you have the right the people in your company. One bad hire for a company that self-manages would really put a spanner in the works.