Meet Christin Johnson, PHR, SHRM-CP of iStartupHR. iStartupHR specializes in creating customized solutions to fit the unique needs of your business.
What was the original seed of the idea that led you to launch your company?
Approaching HR differently. It’s such a regimented and template heavy profession, but those approaches don’t always work well for startups. I found success in doing things differently as an internal HR Director within startups, so I realized there may be a way to serve many companies that may otherwise be passed over or poorly serviced simply due to company size.
What inspired you to go “all in” on making this vision a reality?
Realizing how useful a startup focused service provider could be to so many entrepreneurs in our community. It’s challenging to start a new business when you have a great idea but not necessarily a strong background in the operational side of the house. Efficient operations, however, are what can propel or hinder a startup from being successful. Finding a way to bridge that gap has only further fueled my passion for the profession!
What were some early challenges you faced?
The volume of work it takes to make an impact and positive reputation in the local business community. Having an idea, a plan, and good relationships are all great, but the real challenge lies in having the drive to keep the momentum going. Handling business development while also tackling the hands-on work has been difficult. Working through these challenges have helped me to further empathize and better serve my clients.
Name one person or resource that really made a difference in your early growth.
Tom Snyder with RiOT gave me some fantastic advice early in my discovery phase in regards to my subscription model approach. He’s a former colleague and was familiar with my work in HR. His deep knowledge of the local startup community provided some key insights about how entrepreneurs may find my services to be the most user-friendly and effective. Without seeing this friendly, familiar face immediately upon reentering the local tech startup networking scene, I don’t know that I would have obtained clients so quickly!
Who is your most significant client/customer and why are they important to your company?
Unfortunately, I’m still rather early in my business development that I’m not sure I can name just one client as being the most important. Each one, small or large, has been integral to my success, even if it’s just the mental aspect of feeling that sense of accomplishment. While it’s not my largest project, I would have to say doing a handbook update revision for Precision Biosciences, a growth phase biotech company based out of Durham has been one of the most important, simply due to how timely it was (early at the onset of iStartupHR). At the conclusion of the project, the client passed on a compliment from her attorney regarding my superior attention to detail and thoroughness. While I’ve updated countless policies, procedures, manuals, etc., having that early feedback from a respected attorney was an incredible source of validation for me. I had a renewed sense of “keep going” that was really vital in my push for new business development.
What do you feel makes the Triangle a great place to grow a company?
There’s an abundance here! There’s enough business, resources, and networking for all. There’s truly something for everyone! If I’m working with a client in an industry I’m not as closely familiar with, I know I can reach out to my local network, the Chamber, professional associations, or I can start from scratch with the startup incubators (especially HQ!), or even sites like Meetup or Eventbrite to find folks that are typically eager to network and help. For being such a large area, it’s truly the smallest world – I find myself running into so many familiar faces at events and it’s encouraging to know that the time and energy I’m putting into these relationships is having a direct impact on my business, as well as theirs! I’ve never encountered someone that wanted something for nothing – our community is full of people that want to help, and I’m happy to refer their businesses, as well. Additionally, the volume of tech talent due to the large university and corporation presence is a great asset that sets our area apart from others.
Tell us a favorite client/customer success story.
Offering a subscription services proved to be super valuable to a local startup – even if they have internal HR support already. This client had team members lined up to take over the HR manager’s work for her maternity leave. People can’t always be predicted, though! The individual who had agreed to cover her work – including payroll – quit right before she had to leave and no one else had training to do this task! Luckily, having familiarity with many payroll providers, including the specific one the client was using, made it easy for iStartupHR to step in and provide immediate value. Could you imagine a CFO with an already full workload having to then figure out how to run payroll accurately within a matter of days? In addition to providing payroll help, having the trusted presence on site allowed for additional, strategic HR subjects that had been put on the back burner to be addressed, ensuring operations are aligned to overall business goals. Win-win!
What is one piece of advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs?
Stay optimistic and start a daily morning practice. The morning practice can be as simple of stating 5 things you’re thankful for before getting out of bed, or more involved like journaling or doing a set of stretches in the sunshine. If your mind is right, business will be right. If you start getting caught up in the “what if’s” and barriers – which often come from just letting the day hit you without getting centered first – you’ll notice a lot more of those negative things heading your way. If you focus on the bigger picture and the success you’ve always imagined, though, you’ll tend to find that each step you take has a direct purpose towards that success. Be sure to celebrate those accomplishments along the way! Somedays that means simply telling myself “hey I’m proud of you”, even if it’s just for something small like completing and sending a client proposal. No better way to get it done!
What is your favorite thing to do to help blow off steam?
Hot yoga and wilderness backpacking are my two favorite ways to unplug, unwind, and get my head straight. If I’m short on time, there’s nothing like a great sweat and stretch to recenter myself. When I have a few days, I love to get off the grid with my husband and pups. Being able to turn off the phone and reset the compulsive email checking is the best way to de-stress!
Any memorable [funny or otherwise] stories from your early fundraising or sales activities?
I had to learn the hard way not to confuse my clients by being so amenable! I had a prospect that requested a proposal but unfortunately forgot to put me on his calendar to review it, so when I showed up for our meeting, he wasn’t there! I tried to be flexible with his busy schedule and ended up sending him the proposal, contracts, and details via email (before having gotten to know him and his work style). Big mistake! We ended up going back and forth for weeks and at the end of the process he thought he signed up for an HR service subscription and I thought he just signed up for me to update his HR handbook. This could have been a big missed opportunity for me, since the subscription service is more lucrative in my business development, and we were already weeks just due to my overly soft approach. I’ve learned from this process to be clear and direct with my business requirements rather than nauseatingly agreeable 🙂