Starting a business can be both challenging and rewarding. I caught the startup bug quite early in my career. From launching an import/export clothing company from my college room at uni, to founding an Australian education course aggregator in 2005, and then in 2013, co-founding Longtail UX alongside my business partner, Andreas Dzumla. Overall though, while it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride, I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything.
Mistakes along the way are all just part of the journey – the trick is to learn from your mistakes quickly and to continue to press forward. Being your own boss comes with responsibilities. The business vision starts and ends with you, this includes setting the strategy and motivating and guiding the team. Added to these, you’re also responsible for the less glamorous aspects of running a business, like ensuring proper systems and processes are in place, and above all, that you NEVER miss a staff payroll, irrespective of whether or not you’re drawing a salary yourself!
As the CEO, you never really clock-off — you’re always running things over in your head — and the constant highs and lows can be extreme. When experiencing the highs, it’s essential to get your team together and celebrate your wins. Because along with the highs, also inevitably come the lows. During the tough periods, it’s important to stay true to your vision and to always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
There are a few things I’ve learnt along the way that can help you do exactly that.
Surround yourself with smart and successful people
Getting a new venture off the ground can be draining on you, and on those closest to you. At times, it can also feel quite lonely. So you need a trusted sounding board. One of the most valuable things you can do as a founder is to surround yourself with a diverse network of fellow entrepreneurs and other successful people, who are on (or have been on) the Startup journey themselves. So align yourself with smart people who you respect and who can offer different skill-sets, strengths, and perspectives, and who are always willing to challenge you.
Hire smart, motivated people with strong ethics and good values
Another vital factor to consider is the workforce you employ as they are the main contributor to your business culture. Andreas Dzumla (co-founder) and I established five core values that we hold any potential hire up to, as well as acting as a code of conduct for those already working with us: driven, transparency, game-changers, collaboration, and “we care.” We’ve found these invaluable in identifying the right people for our growing team and in maintaining a culture that we can all thrive in. In essence, you spend the majority of your time in the office, and so you want it to be an environment that feels genuinely comfortable and that lifts you up.
Celebrate your wins!
It’s too easy to land a win and then jump straight into the next challenge. Take the time to get your team together and let them know that each and every win matters. And make it clear that without them and their efforts, there are no wins. Not only is this great for team spirit, it’s a necessary reminder of why we do what we do.
As a startup founder, you naturally spend a lot of time obsessing about the future – remind yourself to be present in the moment. Our first client at Longtail UX was a top-5 Aussie ecommerce business. Nearly 6 years on, they’re still one of our major clients, and we continue to deliver them YoY revenue and traffic growth. That’s one of my proudest achievements as a startup founder.
Championing successes like these gives you the motivation to reach for the next win and shows the team the value of their work in the bigger picture.
Learn from your mistakes
Early on at Longtail UX, one of the biggest challenges, we faced (and fortunately learned from!), was that sales and marketing is a specialist discipline and that great products like ours do not, unfortunately, sell themselves. You need the right people to drive your sales & marketing efforts. So continue to believe in your product, but also invest in sales and marketing…early! An incredible product alone won’t do your talking for you, you need to build enough noise around your target audience to engage them in a conversation. We reevaluated our strategy and hired an awesome sales & marketing team. As a result, the business has grown threefold in the last 12 months.
As an entrepreneur, making mistakes is part of the journey. Put them in perspective, make changes quickly when you need to, and remember that mistakes are valuable learning points. And don’t forget, too, that managing your stress and staying alert to what the market tells you — good and bad — will be critical to you maintaining your motivation, your positivity, and ultimately, to surviving the journey.
Take time out for your family
Starting a business can be physically and mentally exhausting. So you need to develop an ability to switch off sometimes. This is something I’m still working on….But it’s necessary, because at the end of the day, running a Start-up is a marathon not a sprint.
Taking the time out from your hectic schedules and spending it with family is also vitally important. I’m fortunate to have a talented and endlessly tolerant and supportive wife and four great kids (plus a dog and two cats). And they’re a massive part of why I get the opportunity to do what I do…as well as being a great motivator!
When faced with uncertainty about your professional choice as a startup founder, it’s crucial to remind yourself why you started your venture and to continually evaluate your business mission and vision. Although my journey as an entrepreneur has been at times challenging and stressful, it has also been incredibly rewarding, and so given the choice again, I’d definitely take the same path!
Will Santow is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Longtail UX.