Regardless of industry, there is always a constant in that every day you’ll be presented with new challenges when running a business. I believe that these challenges introduce insecurities in our personas in which we often fear that our lack of knowledge in a subject makes us exceptionally vulnerable to failure.
To account for this we look at others experiences and try to find similarities in their stories and experiences. What I come to realize though that no one really knows what they’re doing, we’re all just trying to figure it out. What sets people apart however are their experiences and insights, and more importantly their ability execute.
Building and Running a Business
The tips in this post are based on my experiences and are things I often discuss with my partner – Daniel Cid, they are things we’ve learned and attributed to where our company is today. It’s not a recipe with detailed instructions you can follow and apply to your own company, instead it should provide context and a mindset from which you can gain perspective from.
1. Value First
Since day one, one of the driving factors in the way we built our business was around an over emphasis on value. Value in everything we do, from account administration, to customer support to the process in which we sell to prospective customers. There can truly be no higher objective than to build and deliver something that has a purposes, solves a problem and most importantly, offers value.
The best decision we ever made was to focus on our “flywheel.” Who we are and not who others perceived or wanted us to be.
It’s my belief that if you’re interested in building a sustainable business, value is the foundation from which you must build your organization. I believe this to be especially true if it’s a business focused on the consumer market. The consumer market has a very low tolerance for low value companies. Especially in today’s technologically advanced world in which competition is plentiful.
While this might sound simple, I believe it to be exceptionally difficult. It must be in the DNA of your company.
The trickiest thing about value is when it varies between what you see and what your customers see. Whether you like it or not, the perspective of those that are purchasing your product matter greatly and in some instances may have to trump your own.
2. Complacency Kills
One of the strongest skill sets that my partner and I posses is our work ethic. While most individuals thrive at the beginning or the end of something, we thrive in the middle – in what is otherwise known as the grind.
Work as if there is someone out there looking to take away everything you’ve built.
You must work harder than the person to the left and right of you, and remember that if you are able to prove your business, someone will inevitably try to knock you off your peddle stool. Every day someone will work to discredit, steal, cheat, and otherwise claw their way into your space once it’s proven. Very few aim to establish a space, but many will try to embrace it once defined.
We combat this not by focusing on those coming after us, or ahead of us, but instead by focusing inward at what we’re trying to accomplish and working tirelessly to accomplish our own goals. Less focus on others, more focus on ourselves. As long as they are looking at you, you are ahead; the minute you start looking at them, you are behind.
As the leaders of your business you have no choice but to make this part of your character, and it’s not something you can simply disengage from. Your actions will set the tone for the culture of your business, and I assure you that your attitude towards it will resonate throughout your business.
3. Push Constantly
I attribute this tip specifically to my partner who has taught me to really embrace the idea of continuous pushes. With a background in project / program management in project based businesses, I was built around extensive planning and processes for very large projects. The problem however was that no matter the level of planning we’d apply, we would almost always derail from the original plan and while we’d end up with the results we wanted, rarely would we follow the plan we created. Why? Because they are often not reality. Reality is fluid, dynamic, and plans are often the complete opposite of that.
What I realized during my days in the project business is that the shorter a project, the more successful we’d be at deliverig. Take that insight and apply it into running a SaaS, and the same concept applies.
Instead, in this instance we are our own worst enemy. In the project business, the death of projects often comes in poor expectation management and improper handling of scope creep. The same holds true in a SaaS business, except in this instance we ourselves that death trap.
We become our own worst critics – it’s never good enough, it’s missing that one feature that is imperative to go live, it’s impossible to release as is. The harsh facts are though that almost rarely will the one thing you think will derail the success of the project be the real issue, the customers will likely never even realize they needed it.
Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.
This applies well beyond development as well.
This applies in almost every aspect of the business, from marketing and sales to engineering to support. I see it in our own team, time and time again. The need to have a properly drafted plan for some unknown future, and yet what they fail to realize is that what they are envisioning in their minds of what the future will look like will rarely be what they envisioned and all that energy planning would have been an endless and exhausting exercise. Sometimes it’s best to have a foggy idea of where you want to go, then dive in with both eyes open and see where the experience takes you. Prove its effective and valuable, then go back and tune accordingly based on what you’ve learned versus on what you don’t know.
4. Opinions and Advice
They say that opinions are like elbows, everyone has two. Ok, maybe no one says that, and they often use another analogy, but you probably get the point. For me though, this is important to understand from day one, especially so when starting and especially if you can gain traction and movement with your business.
The most challenging thing will be deciphering good from bad opinions and advice. The problem is that rarely are people involved enough in your business to fully grasp the problems or successes enough to provide good enough opinions or advice. With that said, it’s not to say there isn’t value in what is being said.
When you’re looking in from the outside, having an opinion and advice is easy. Be a good listener and be ready to pluck the great ones, but don’t fear your own insights.
Opinions and advice are based on unique experiences, and rarely do they clearly align with what you’re going through. Granted, we’re obviously not as unique as we like to think we are and there are similarities but each business does have a streak of uniqueness to it; especially those that are unorthodox in their design and challenge the everyday norms.
It’s ok to get others opinions, but don’t let them overshadow your own. Remember that before the experts became experts, someone had to define the path and when that path was being defined it was likely perceived as incorrect, naive, and even short sighted…
5. It’s a Marathon
I see it time and time again. I have a company going live, I expect X signups within 30 days, the market will do, I’ve partnered with so and so and I can guarantee that overnight I’ll have Y customers making such and such revenue streams.
Honestly, I rarely see this happen.
What I do see is a spike in engagement, that amounts to an unrecognizable blip in a few months as the product goes live, fizzles and confused business owners are left wondering why things didn’t take off.
We like to focus on the short-term return, I encourage you to flip that on it’s head and start focusing on the long-term gains.
Nothing about running a business is a sprint, everything takes time. The companies you read about on Mashable and Techcrunch, the unicorns, are just that.. anomalies. It’s not to say you can’t achieve overnight success quickly, but for the mass majority it takes time.
Mentally prepare yourself for a journey, and learn to enjoy the experience. There is no substitute for the grind, for the hard-work and for investing the required sweat equity.
Success Is Relative and Never Guaranteed
It’s easy to look around and believe that everyone else’s success happen overnight. I assure you though that is not the case. In almost all businesses, it takes time and endless hours, days, months, years of submitting yourself to the grind. This is one of those tips that extends beyond business and talks to every aspect of your life.
Nothing of what I’ve written about here is a receipt for success. I’m a firm believer that success is not an absolute. I say this because I’ve found myself talking to more and more business owners as of late and their seems to be a common trend. Everyone looking beyond themselves, at others, comparing themselves to them. How is it that they are so successful? How is it that they have built an awesome company? What do I need to do to be like them?
My first recommendation is stop looking at them, and start focusing on yourself. Rarely can you replicate exactly what they’ve done and apply it to your own situation. Respect what they’ve achieved from a distance, but don’t envy or aspire to be them.