Best Advice I Ever Got: Never Forget Your Roots
Simon Casuto is the president and managing partner of eLearning Mind. eLearning Mind is an eLearning design and development agency that helps companies transform their existing learning materials into memorable and engaging eLearning experiences.
I don't think there's any better way to learn about starting and building a business than having an entrepreneur for a parent.
I grew up watching my mother launch and expand her medical legal firm and did odd jobs for her when I was young. After college, I broadened my experience at a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company and a small pre-Series A startup.
These experiences were great for expanding my entrepreneurial horizons and teaching me valuable lessons that were critical for starting my own company. Here's what I've learned along the way:
1. Don't forget the MacGyvers.
As an entrepreneur, you have to keep pushing forward, but it's important to acknowledge how you got to where you are. Too many companies forget what made them successful in the first place and end up losing their best customers.
A great example is RadioShack. As a techie myself, I've watched this company morph from a hangout for technology hobbyists and inventors into a crappy smartphone outlet chain.
Today, having lost 95 percent of its value, it's refocusing on its original identity by building a concept store with a meeting place for DIYers to collaborate on projects. It's moving forward by looking back to its roots as the "MacGyver for MacGyvers."
My partner and I had no background in corporate training when we launched our company. That meant we had to really listen to our clients to understand what they needed. Listening is in our DNA, and we don't forget it. If we ever lose track of what we do best and the audience we serve, we'll be in trouble.
2. Go the extra mile to find that diamond.
Customer service is the key to any small business. Our experience is that a happy client will become a champion for the company.
Many times, we've seen a small project scale into a large opportunity with referrals that lead to contacts with Fortune 500 businesses--all because we treated a customer well. We also see clients drop their existing vendors after a kickoff call with us because they see how interested we are in fulfilling their unique needs.
Look at any successful company, and you'll see this practice. Nordstrom is known for its no-questions-asked return policy and fanatical customer service. I love the story of the woman who lost a diamond from her ring while shopping. She was down on all fours searching when a salesman saw her and joined in. Then he recruited more workers to join the search and picked through the store's vacuum bags until they found the diamond. Now that's service.
3. Be thankful for negative feedback.
When we were starting out, we heard a lot of criticism about what we wanted to create. We were told that nobody in the industry would pay for exceptionally designed interactive training--that it was a no-frills business. We didn't become defensive or discouraged. Instead, we went our own way and used these contrary ideas to strengthen our approach.
Similarly, a bad review from a customer is a great opportunity to reach out and find out how to improve. Accept that varied opinions are part of life.
At our company, we meet every day to discuss not only successes, but also our failures and what we could have done better. We use internal case studies as another learning tool, and every employee, whether customer-facing or not, is focused on customer satisfaction.
I suppose it's corny to say I learned everything I know about business from toddling around my mother's medical legal firm, but those early experiences really shaped my character. The ability to understand what people need and create solutions to meet those needs is the energy that fuels any successful business. It's certainly what fuels ours.