By Bobby Campbell, CEO of 3 Interactive
As a budding entrepreneur or a startup CEO, you’ll get a lot of advice—and much of what you’ll hear follows conventional wisdom and seems like common sense. Don’t fall for it.
To succeed in a competitive business environment, you need to blaze your own path and be willing to disrupt existing paradigms. The most successful entrepreneurs don’t follow a paint-by-number guide to start a business, but rather trust and develop their own instincts and leadership to manage the rollercoaster ride of launching a business. Here are five unconventional tips every startup CEO needs to know:
1. Write a mission statement, not a business plan: Too often we weigh down entrepreneurs with the expectation of writing down a business plan as if that’s the only way to guide them in reaching goals and being successful. But if you need a business plan to run a successful business, then you shouldn’t be starting one in the first place. Here’s what happens when you spend weeks and months massaging your business plan—someone else moves faster and your plan becomes obsolete even before it’s finished.
Instead, focus on creating a mission statement—a living and breathing (and concise) way to guide everything you do. Your mission statement should boil down the essence of your company. What is your company set up to do? What makes it go? If you can’t articulate a mission statement, you’re wasting your time writing a business plan.
2. Dump mentors and get resource allies instead: The mentor craze is one of the most manipulative, damaging and oversold startup memes in the business world. You need to gain confidence in your own decision-making – it’s a key to your business surviving and thriving. The more you look outside yourself for decision-making, the longer it’s going to take you to develop the skills that differentiate successful leaders from failing ones. As a leader, you need to make tough calls. Owning your own bad decisions is part of learning how to make the correct ones.
Instead develop “resource allies”—people who can provide a service or talent that will help you succeed. You need people like a wise banker, a hard-nosed lawyer, a competent accountant and a talented software developer. Their skills can supplement yours because they are already experts in their fields, and complement your decision-making process instead of making decisions for you.
3. People (not technology) grow your company: Too many startup CEOs lose their minds over new technology—how mind-blowingly great it is and how it will CHANGE everything. No matter how great the technology is, one day (probably soon) it will be obsolete. Without a great team managing it and a competent management team pushing its evolution, your company is just one SWSX conference away from being extinct. Technology is the rocket fuel of the digital economy, but the business landscape is riddled with the burning hulks of companies that had great technology but crashed on launch. Build a great team around that fantastic technology, nurture that team, and watch how it grows and evolves with your success.
4. To be successful, you’ll need to destroy someone else’s model: Thanks to today’s fast-paced, ever-changing economy, your company’s success will be built on the ashes of someone else’s failed model, outdated technology, poor leadership or lack of vision. You need to embrace the concept of disruption. Your company will be most successful if you can identify companies or industries whose models are flawed. Use your superior technology, insight and drive to break down the broken pillars on which their businesses operate.
5. Don’t develop a backup plan: Commit to what you’re doing—lose, win or draw. The most successful endeavors begin from a position of total commitment. Don’t give yourself the option of backing out when the going gets tough, because when you launch a company it always gets tough. Elon Musk, who founded Tesla Motors and PayPal, said years 2, 3, and 4 were like eating glass. Most startup owners would agree. Yes, you need to be realistic about your situation. But don’t spend time imagining your failure and thinking about exit strategies. Focus on making clear-eyed decisions and honestly evaluate the health of your business.
About The Author:
For entrepreneur Bobby Campbell, keeping employees fired up has been a key ingredient to success. Much of Campbell’s management philosophy came through his volunteer service with the Boone County Fire Protection District, the largest volunteer department in Missouri.
Firefighting taught Campbell how to confront fears, take risks and manage people in stressful situations. He says these lessons helped him launch his first company, 3 Interactive, using just $20,000 in start-up capital.
After turning a profit in the first month, Campbell has not only mastered how to help companies effectively leverage online advertising, but also how to convince large brands, such as Netflix, AT&T and American Express, to give the young up-start a shot at managing their business. Going after huge customers might seem scary to most entrepreneurs, but Campbell credits his experience in high-pressure emergencies for his no-fear attitude in pursuing new business.
His approach paid off. Today his companies, 3 Interactive and AdKarma (which spun off from 3 Interactive in 2010 and helps online publishers maximize the value of their online advertising), employ 57 people and earned $20 million in revenue in 2012.
The camaraderie among firefighters also inspired Campbell’s proprietary employee training program. The rigorous, six-month onboarding process prevents new workers from burning out while enabling them to take ownership of large online advertising campaigns. It also predicts revenue based on the number of months an employee has worked, giving management an accurate model for growth.