A Founder's Most Important Job Is Staying Connected to the Business
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I think of entrepreneurship as responsible, calculated rebellion. As a seasoned entrepreneur, I have built my career on discovering and solving problems that others don’t see or know how to solve. I have served as an officer in the military, founded four companies and exited two. I’ve been through quite a bit in business and experienced more than I can write about, but a huge lesson I learned early is to stay closely connected to the service or product that your business provides.
I firmly believe technology should be used to improve people’s lives, and I started my company on the premise that technical services should be seamless. If something goes wrong, or needs setup, a single push of a button should be enough to make it go away. I felt a duty to help the consumers connect to and get more out of the devices at the heart of daily life, to give families more time to enjoy the amazing things that these tech gadgets can now do.
No matter the industry, as entrepreneurs we are servants. We all got our start because enough people finally trusted us. Connectivity presents itself in many ways, but every successful entrepreneur has three groups of stakeholders they need to stay connected with to find continued success -- your team, your industry and, most importantly, your customers.
Your most valuable asset is your team.
Your team has bought into your vision and chosen to dedicate a tremendous amount of time to you. You need to understand them. Why do they work for you? What are their goals? Find ways to understand what makes them tick. Make sure they know they can come to you. They should feel they are all part of a larger mission and be involved in your vision to change something big.
While attending high school, I developed my love of helping others with technology fixing PCs in an electronics shop. I enjoy getting hands-on with electronics, troubleshooting and fixing stuff. To this day, even though our San Francisco office has grown by about five times in the last year, I am still the “IT expert” for the office, fixing printers, setting up the video-conferencing, troubleshooting the WiFi, configuring the email server. I never resent it; I like doing it, I even find myself watering the plants around the office at times. I think it also sets a good example for our company culture of action and accountability. My employees know that if they have a persistent tech problem, they can come to me. After all, I created my business to help people connect to technology. My employees give me most of their day. I owe them at least five minutes.
Your industry created the problems that created you.
Just as staying connected with your team is integral to success, you need to treat your industry with that same respect and admiration. I think this is especially true in a service business like ours, where we need to understand the needs of end consumers and of the technicians who make a living through our platform. Consumers ask us for services we had not thought of offering and obligate us to meet them where they are with our marketing. Technicians push us to innovate on our platform, and are a constant source of new insights on the latest phones or smart-home gadgets.
Whether by talking with customers or putting yourself in the shoes of a technician called upon to fix an employee’s computer, find a way to keep your finger on that pulse. It’s the only way to get to a point where you can forecast the next innovation or issue. The moment you lose that connectivity, you lose your business. Look at RadioShack. It’s not gone but it’s pretty much waiting for its own demise. Why? It’s easy to say they got complacent but the reality is they took their finger off the pulse of their industry and other companies, particularly Amazon and Walmart, continued innovating to meet consumer desire, rapidly eroding RadioShack’s market share.
Above all else, stay connected to your customers.
In consumer service business, you are your customers, and if you don’t understand yourself then you cannot achieve anything. It’s really true that entrepreneurs should eat their own dog food! And just like Meg Whitman and John Donahoe insisted that every eBay employee should regularly buy and sell and leave feedback on their platform to experience what their customers would, I have no problem fixing every tech-related issue in my office like a faulty printer because it keeps me grounded and reminds me of frustrations our customers experience everyday when the technology that is designed to simplify life ends up being a pain to install or impossible to fix.
As the CEO of a growing tech company my free time is admittedly sparse, but it’s never stretched so thin that I’m unavailable or unaware. If you show that your time matters, but no more than anyone else working for you, you are on the right path. Live in the trenches with those helping to build your vision and relate to your customers on a personal level. There’s an unquantifiable value in staying connected to your business and when you demonstrate a commitment to your core values, it motivates everyone around you.