Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
I have several, but someone who comes to mind is Samuel Johnson, who singlehandedly wrote A Dictionary of the English Language over the course of nine years in the mid-18th century. His dictionary was seen as canonical for almost 200 years after its publication. I think that amount of dedication, work ethic, patience and sheer grit is something all entrepreneurs can aspire to in building their companies.
What’s the single best piece of business advice (unorthodox tips welcome!) that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Don’t plan too much. No matter how much we’d all like to define exactly what’s going to happen to us today, this month, this year or in ten years, we just can’t see the future or plan for all the variables. While we can certainly set ourselves on a certain trajectory and be in situations that will help lead to success, allow for some flexibility, some pivoting and some fun from the unexpected.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
In a past business, I made the mistake of thinking I could do everything on my own. And while that business excelled in the one area I was good at (product), it languished just about everywhere else. I realized that no matter how smart you think you are, no matter how much hustle you may have, there is too much to do for one person to create a successful business. With ZipBooks, I’ve focused much more on figuring out what I’m bad at, and bringing in excellent team members who more than make up for those deficiencies — and it’s made a world of difference.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I spend the first hour of the day figuring out what has to happen today and what can wait. I have a list called “today will be a good day if…” and I fill it out each morning. It brings the most important tasks to the forefront and shows me what’s extraneous. The thing about answering emails is that it leads to more emails. A little planning up front helps me figure out where I am making the biggest impact possible and not just fooling myself into feeling productive.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
If you are trying to get a tech startup off the ground, don’t feel like you have to start your business in Silicon Valley. I’m rehashing something that Sergey Brin said at a recent conference, but I think it bears repeating. Your business runway is going to be a lot longer when your office space is $1,800/month and not $18,000/month. I love the Bay Area and spent time living out there, but it’s not the only place to build a company. What’s cool is that you’re seeing other hot spots around the U.S. (and world) where there’s a ton of talent, venture capital and fellow entrepreneurs. When you’re figuring out how to finance a business, look around right where you are and you may see opportunity.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Don’t multitask, ever. Do one task until it’s completed and then move onto the next task. You will be amazed how fast the progress adds up over small steps. If you are really working when you’re at work, you may even have time to fit in a personal life.
By making the people you care about a priority, you will prevent burnout. If you wait to start living until after you have “made it,” you may never get there. Life is happening right now. Go out and live it!
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
I think success means that you are living life on your own terms. I’m passionate about building beautiful, useful software, so that is what I want to be doing professionally. When you have an idea and then actually build that idea into a product and hear from your users that it is as useful to them as you were hoping, it’s self-actualizing. It gives me the confidence to keep putting my ideas out there.
I will know that I have succeeded in business when ZipBooks is synonymous with great accounting software the way Google is for searching the internet.