I was part of the group behind the founding of my company when I was 20. While the rest of my friends were eagerly awaiting their big 2-1, I had raised over $10 million and co-founded a company, and have since become personally responsible for tens of millions of dollars in sales — while doing everything from starting new ventures and bringing on influential partners to negotiating millions in licensing. Here are my biggest takeaways about starting and running a business as a young CEO.
Nothing comes easy — it’s a lesson taught to us from the time we’re little kindergartners learning to write our names on paper. As we get older, it’s only more important. As we venture into the business space, it becomes integral.
I was taught three skills growing up: imagination, persistence and patience. When you create something, it becomes real. Once it’s real, it is not going to happen overnight. You have to constantly push your idea.
Regardless of the level of success your businesses or ideas reach, you likely won’t reach any real success without an immense amount of hard work. Like a car will eventually run out of gas if you don’t stop at the station, a business will sputter to a stop without enough grit to keep it going.
Business always has its highs and lows. Remember that it’s sometimes during the low times that creativity actually kicks in and you have a breakthrough. Never dismiss any ideas due to frustration or ego — always explore those opportunities. It’s important never to give up; continue to think outside the box until you find a solution. For example:
• Bring your team together with a blank whiteboard and have a 30-minute brainstorming meeting once a week on how to make your product better or implement new ideas.
• Conduct extensive research and development. Pay attention to what people (everyone — from your friends to Uber drivers) are using and what the latest trends are.
• Always make sure you’re keeping up with the competition. Never fall behind; always look ahead. Keep up with new technologies.
I always say that if there is a problem, there is a solution.
There’s no point in devoting your life to something you don’t feel strongly about, and that goes tenfold for what you choose for your work. I believe you have to love and be passionate about what you do as a CEO. If you love it and you know it’s a good product, your energy spreads to others. I have been at my company for 10 years, and I love what I do every day.
When you’re leading a business, you’re an energy giver: the person who lights a fire under your employees, your team, and yourself. That’s usually impossible if you don’t feel a great love for what you do, whether it’s during tax season and low years or the highest peaks and largest surpluses. Do what you need to do to ensure that your fire is lighting you and your business up from the inside out. You can maintain and spread passion by coming to the office with a positive attitude, encouraging an open door policy for employees, and supporting their ideas. Creating and developing new ideas as a team helps keep the business exciting and creates a sense of accomplishment for your employees.
Don’t Do It Alone
Learning from others, accepting and embracing criticism and learning from your mistakes are some of the keys to being successful. A successful business always grows and stay relevant in the face of changing trends. If you are not always changing your products into the new best thing, your company may fail.
As early on as you can in your business walk, find a mentor to help you with this process — whether they’re a real-life person you can bounce ideas off of a digital mentor you find via podcasts or Google — and get to know them as best you can. Life isn’t meant to be walked alone, and neither is running a business. Surrounding yourself with a solid team is paramount, as is making sure you have a rock-solid foundation to stand on. On top of adding emotional support, mentors can keep you fresh and challenge your ideas