Plenty of entrepreneurs start a business so they can be their own bosses, but there’s something to be said about learning from world-class people. By working for an industry-leading company, you get to see firsthand what makes it so successful.
Before I started my own business, I spent time as an investor at Bain Capital. During my years evaluating investment opportunities, I observed how successful leaders interacted with employees, pursued new opportunities, contemplated customer satisfaction and responded to challenges.
I didn’t realize until later how valuable these experiences would be to my own future endeavors, but these lessons have stuck with me for years:
1. No business or idea is beyond saving.
At the core of Bain Capital’s success is its fearlessness in taking chances and trying new ideas. It invests in companies from a wealth of industries and finds innovative ways to turn them into profitable enterprises.
This approach taught me to never accept someone else’s word that something is worthless or beyond repair. It’s possible to reinvent any business, industry or idea into something profitable and successful with a bold new approach.
2. Challenge your best people with situations that scare them.
When I was 25, the company sent me on a solo consulting job at a large portfolio company. I was terrified and intimidated, but it turned out to be a great learning experience.
By stretching beyond what I thought I was capable of, I gained confidence and learned to bounce back from my mistakes. It taught me that growth only happens when you push people out of their comfort zones with new roles and opportunities.
3. Be honest and transparent -- even when the news isn’t good.
The best relationships -- in business and in life -- are rooted in trust. Bain Capital’s senior leaders were always completely candid with me, which encouraged me to work harder and feel a deeper sense of ownership. Good or bad, I was in the loop.
In every company, there will be times of prosperity and unfortunate twists of fate. I learned that it’s crucial to immediately share important news so employees can collectively celebrate or pull together to brainstorm solutions.
4. Focus on the customer experience.
When I was at Bain Capital, I helped close an investment in SquareTrade, a consumer electronics warranty company. On the surface, it seemed like an unattractive operating model. But the company had a base of loyal customers and devout brand advocates. SquareTrade ultimately profited by gaining new customers through its excellent reputation and capitalizing on the poor customer service of its competition.
Now that I run my own business, we focus first and foremost on delivering an experience that delights our clients and far exceeds their expectations. The rewards are frequent repeat business, proactive referrals and viral word of mouth.
5. Do your own research.
For each new or potential investment, Bain Capital investigated how the end user interacted with the business. If it was a restaurant chain, we ate there. If it was a product, we bought it and used it. From calling customer support lines to interviewing customers, we did everything in-house to understand exactly what it was like to be the customer.
I learned that there is no substitute for rigorous primary research, and that means understanding the customer experience inside and out. We founded HourlyNerd because of the excessive bundling for very small needs we all experienced at the hands of large consulting firms. Now I make it a habit to be a customer first because that information helps me identify weaknesses, increase favorable actions and activities and create new practices to better meet customer needs.
Big companies often get a bad rap, but it’s important to pay attention to things big corporations do extremely well. Working at Bain Capital allowed me to gain insight into best-in-class operations and taught me several valuable business lessons that any entrepreneur can apply: Do your homework, focus on the customer and empower your employees.