10 years, 10 lessons
One of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do in business, I believe, is to bring an idea to life. The ups, downs, and unforgettable events that happen along the way are all part of the experience ‑ I wouldn't leave any part out.
And so it was, in late 2001, along with CXO Peter Matthews and CTO James Scott, that Serence Inc. was founded, and the wheels were set in motion.
Now, 10 years later, I have had the pleasure of watching our product and our business evolve. This experience has been as unique as it has been gratifying. I have always made a habit of scribbling down observations, and after 10 years - you can imagine - I have quite the collection. That's why I'd like to take this opportunity to share 10 of my personal and business observations captured over the past 10 years.
10. Innovate and push to improve
Everything changes and everything is always in motion. Keep this in mind, and know that change opens doors, even as it closes others. You always need to be on the lookout for new ideas, and ways to improve what you have. Create a culture of trying things; diligently measuring the results of experimentation and acting objectively based on those results. This doesn't just go for your product ‑ this goes for all aspects of your business. In a changing world, you never have just once chance.
9. Truth, trust, and benefit
Just like in life, relationships need to be fair, honest, and of benefit to both parties. It is much better to be sincere and upfront about your expectations. Make sure to extend this courtesy to your customers and employees, too! Negotiations are bound for failure unless both parties seek out and address the inequities involved. Not only does it go a long way in building mutual respect and trust (two of the most valuable currencies in business), it will help avoid a relationship going sour down the road. Additionally, maintaining trust and earning respect is about clearly stating what you are going to do, and then doing it.
8. Seek simplicity and clarity
Complexity is not impressive, it's oppressive. Simplicity must be pervasive and visible in each one of your business' actions, whether it is related to product innovation or a new business strategy. People simply don't have time to interpret intricate and hard-to-read blueprints; people want something that is straightforward, honest, and, above-all, easy-to-understand. If the target audience doesn't "get" your business or your product, you have some work to do. Simplicity requires effort up front, but it will always pay dividends over the long term.
7. The foundation for solutions
In my experience as a CEO, I've learned that finding solutions is about focusing on the problem, the challenge, and the scenario. This goes as much for developing your product as it does for working with your colleagues. Resist the temptation to present solutions yourself, as it will stifle creativity. My role is to guide decision making and assist in problem solving. I find it helpful to remember a line from George Patton: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
6. Surround yourself with the right people
I've been incredibly fortunate to work with a truly talented group of people whom I value as friends and colleagues. It takes time to assemble the perfect team, some trial and error, and, of course, understanding what competencies and beliefs you want in your people. Hire the right people ‑ those with vision, passion, and discipline ‑ and you'll find that you will require less management in your hierarchy, have a team of ambassadors, and are able to adapt to changes quicker.
5. Choose the right customers
Just as you need to be careful about hiring the right people, it is important to choose the right customers. You need to develop an ideal customer profile, and have plans to cut those that are outside of the target, distracting you, or are not profitable. This may sound callous, but the right customer should compliment your business just as you compliment and benefit their business. It would be hard to overstress the need to build even tighter, more open relationships with your best customers. It's amazing and humbling what they will give you in return!
4. Focus on one thing, and do it really well
I can understand the temptation of some businesses to branch out and attempt to be a jack-of-all-trades. The problem with trying to do too many things at once is that you will never master any one trade. I think it is sound advice to take stock of what you know you can be really good at, then resolve to do it better than anyone else. This will make it easier for your customers, the press, analysts, and your employees to identify who you are and what you bring to the table.
3. Encourage life balance
I still remember the early days when we had first founded Serence Inc. and were working upwards of 12-16 hours a day. We kept that pace for longer than I'd like to admit, and I learned an incredibly valuable lesson from this experience: encourage life balance. You have to allow time to decompress and switch gears; you also have to encourage employees to think this way as well. When you are in the office, focus and work effectively, but don't forget to go home at the end of the day. It's alright if you don't check your work email every night!
2. The good CEO
In my role as CEO for Klipfolio, I've had the opportunity to grow and learn a lot over the last 10 years. History has shown that all too often employees will blindly follow the larger-than-life CEO - and it is your responsibility to remind them that the CEO is not a superstar. Businesses with this type of mentality, where leadership holds all the cards, will breed an environment of submission and decision paralysis.
You need to strike a fine balance in order to be a good CEO. Encourage independent, creative thinking and motivate decision-making. But you also have to be as omnipresent, connected, and available as possible. Be involved where you are needed and guide rather than direct, listen more than you communicate. Above all, when you get up in the morning you have to love your job and be honoured to work for your employees.
1. Use failure and adversity to its fullest
It's a fact of business: good times will come and go. As a business owner, you are destined to deal with a myriad of setbacks and challenges, large and small. Get used to it!
Some of the smartest and best decisions are made as a result of learning from your failures. Use them to your advantage as opposed to ignoring or sugar-coating issues. Similarly, challenges and necessities are unique in their ability to focus decision-making and help you get your priorities straight. Face your challenges head-on and transparently, and you will always be able to learn from them and come out stronger and smarter.