Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
In terms of public figures, I’ve always had great respect and awe for Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founder. He was the ultimate startup CEO. He took what was Singapore in the 1960s and turned it into one of the top cities in the world. I find his story inspirational because you can see him doing different things at different phases of Singapore’s growth, much like you have to do when building a company. What works (and what is necessary) in an early-stage startup is different than what works when you’re larger and more mature.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
I love advice. I’m always asking for it and looking for different viewpoints on pretty much everything. One piece of advice that my late grandfather passed down is “play to your strong suits.” Following your passion can be great, but many people discount what they can become passionate about. It’s all about maximizing your talents. You’ll find an extreme example of people not playing to their strong suits if you’ve ever watched “American Idol” auditions. I think many of those people took the “follow your passion” advice to heart. And let’s face it, most of us are passionate about music and singing, but most of us should not be auditioning for “American Idol.” “Play to your strong suits” really makes you stop and think, and try to understand what your strengths really are, and how you can take those and apply them to something you’ll enjoy doing. Which is really hard to do.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
I thought I could start and run a business without selling. I’m really good at execution. So when I started the company, I built a sales team that was supposed to operate without me. I soon realized that in an early-stage startup, you need make things happen yourself. We only started to grow when I personally picked up the phone and started flying around meeting with customers. And probably most importantly, in the process of selling Bolton Remote, I learned so much more about what companies really wanted from us. That feedback was critical in shaping and improving our services.
I now realize that sales is not what a lot of people think it is. I can say today that I truly enjoy the conversations I have with customers. A great non-conventional read on this topic is To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink. He debunks myths about the new type of salesperson needed in a world where information is readily available to both buyers and sellers. Another cool concept is Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson’s Challenger Sale, about how the best salespeople don’t just build relationships with customers, they challenge them.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I read The Wall Street Journal. Because people who don’t have time make time to read The Wall Street Journal.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
I employ an ever-increasing headcount of 130+ awesome people, and we’ve never been late for payroll (and never will!). Look at cash flow all the time. Keep it simple. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your revenue is real until it is in your bank account. Cash flow, in a small and growing business, is all that matters. I created a cash flow dashboard “cheat sheet” that gives me all the key cash flow metrics in one place every week: summary of cash in/cash out, payables, receivables, bank balances, etc. Good information means my co-founder and I can make good business decisions every day.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Think about one thing that, if a competitor did it today, would really get you all riled up. And then do it first. If you can’t think of anything, then you’re not being competitive enough.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
In the immortal words of Miley Cyrus, “It’s not about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”