4 Lessons I Wish I Learned Before Going Public
Wix chief executive talks about life at a startup on the way to a big milestone.
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There is something uniquely rewarding about watching the stock ticker run across the NASDAQ building in Times Square as it displays the letters of my company -- WIX. Throughout that day I felt an ongoing torrent of appreciation for the team that took the vision to reality, pride at our collective accomplishment and relief at having finally reached this amazing moment.
Given all that, I do miss the 'wild' early days: brainstorming in small cafes, panicked late night calls prepping for investor pitches and the endless hours spent implementing new product versions and updates.
It would be tempting to think that success came easily and naturally, the outcome of a secret business formula and not endless hours of tedious work. But the reality is that the early days were more like treading a minefield of potential catastrophes, each equally capable of sinking the Wix vision.
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There were several key ideas we enforced from the very beginning that had a disproportionate impact on our success, while other lessons we needed to learn the hard way. Looking back, I wish I could communicate with the earlier version of myself to provide these insights to ease the process we were embarking on. Sadly, while we have managed to make building an online presence easy and effective, time travel is still beyond our reach. Nonetheless, here are four tips that could have come in handy right from the get go:
Hire people who challenge you. Loyalty, talent and experience are all critical assets for an employee, but all of these traits are wasted if a colleague lacks the ability to speak up. Entrepreneurs are stubborn by nature, and it takes a certain type of person to be able to challenge ideas and decisions. Even with great concepts, the willingness to provide constructive criticism helps you sharpen and improve your product and business.
Obviously, you need to find people you work well with, but a 'yes man' can only provide a boost to your ego whereas those who question and challenge you will help boost the quality of your product.
Remember, it's the product, stupid. If Bill Clinton had run a startup, this would have likely been his mantra. Though it should come as little surprise that a product is important to a startup, the average CEO can easily get distracted by the host of different operations that fall under his or her purview. From marketing efforts, office space, hiring and investors, there are a multitude of tasks that demand attention. While each of these are important, none should come at the expense of the product, especially in the early stages of development.
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Building a startup is all about prioritizing, and while there are constant fires that need putting out and new crises that pop up every day, the product must never suffer. At Wix, we have internalized this message, and it has been a key component of our success.
Avoid paranoia. When your company is in its infancy, there is the constant fear that someone else will take your idea and bring it to life before you get to market. While it certainly makes sense to be careful, the risks you run are vastly outweighed by the benefits of receiving advice from experienced entrepreneurs. Friends, former colleagues and other members of the tech community were instrumental to our management team throughout our development, but especially during the early days. Whether it be marketing strategies, advice on which investors to work with or any other topic, tapping into the collective experience of others in your community will prove invaluable.
Enjoy the startup experience. Early-stage startups combine the joys of long hours and hard work with the equally inspiring realities of low pay and a questionable future. Building a company is a draining, exciting and stressful experience. It's a period that is rife with the greatest thrills and the least guarantees. Taking the time to enjoy the rush and appreciate the experience is critical. As you surmount obstacle after obstacle and overcome new challenges on a daily basis, remember that the air of excitement you foster in the first days will be the tone of your company.
Lead with confidence, exhale and remember it's about the path to growth. Inspire your team and build an atmosphere that encourages participation, creativity and excellence. The return on investment in your colleagues will grow exponentially as the company develops. Even more, the level of camaraderie and respect that you build in the early days will pay dividends in the future. Going public is incredible, but it's just a moment in the life cycle of your business.
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