In today's startup culture, we often talk about starting companies right out of college or quitting our day jobs to become cofounders and CEOs right off the bat. However, this isn't the only path to success. Sometimes, the traditional path of starting from the bottom and going through different positions, learning an industry from different positions and eventually rising up to become the CEO can pay big dividends.
For Ceros CEO Simon Berg, taking on different tasks starting out as the coffee boy of a print production company to becoming the technology director to the operations director and finally becoming the CEO helped him learn so much about the industry that would give him enough experience when he jumped ship to kickstart Ceros, an interactive content platform and lead it as its CEO.
I got to chat with Simon and learn more about his journey from company coffee boy to two-time CEO.
1. Be willing to get your hands dirty
Simon started out as classically uneducated as he decided to stop going to school at the age of 16 and start working instead even if it was just a job as a coffee boy. He shared, "I started in the print production business as a coffee boy running and getting coffee and sandwiches." This was the only opportunity he could get but he decided to just do it and learn from every opportunity.
2. Be curious
"The reason why I ended up where I am today was because I was inherently curious about life. I was jumping from one problem to the other and I was lucky to find myself in a business that allowed me to do that. I had a split in my personality and I had a fun time hanging out with big time left brain thinkers but I had fun hanging out with the sporty and creative types as well." This curiosity to really learn about all aspects of the industry was the reason why Simon decided to stay in the same company for over 23 years jumping from role to role eventually becoming managing director then CEO.
3. Find something you're obsessed with
The reason why Simon was able to work so hard day in and day out and produce great results from position to position was because he was obsessed with what he was doing. He shared, "I am borderline obsessed with the concept of creation. Literally nothing in the world gives me more joy than creating something."
Simon shared how today at Ceros, their underlying purpose is to help hundreds and thousands of people be able to create things. He shared, "This is what drives us as a business and this is what drives me as an individual."
4. Don't be afraid to venture into something new
Simon talked about the early days of Ceros and the challenge of venturing into a new space. He shared, "When we launched, interactive content and content marketing wasn't a burning need. It wasn't like needing to drink water. When you're launching something in a burgeoning market you have to convince people that there is a need and that this deserves their attention and then there's a new way to do it."
The secret to getting this done? Brute force, determination and never giving up.
5. Success leads to more success
While it was initially tough getting customers on board in the beginning because Ceros was "selling a dream", Ceros was able to grow from 0 customers to over 130. How?
Ceros initially had a test group of ten marketing teams to whom they gave the product for free. Five out of these ten teams would end up becoming advocates and the first customers of Ceros. These 5 teams then became case studies and success stories that made it easier to get their next few customers.
6. Follow your instincts
Simon cautioned that this lesson might not work for everyone but he believes that what has allowed him to get this far is following his instincts. He shared, "If you know you need to do something or a things needs to be done, do it. Don't overthink or overanalyze. If you feel that you just know that something is right, listen to that because even if it doesn't work, you'll feel better about failure."
7. Don't put off the difficult things
Simon's second biggest advice to entrepreneurs is not to put off difficult conversations and tasks from having to fire someone to having tough conversations with your investor and customer.
He shared, "If you know what needs to be done but you're putting it off because it's difficult to do, know that if it's difficult or mundane, it will be troublesome on Tuesday, one week later it will be difficult, one month later it will be awful and three months later it will be worse and it will just keep getting bigger. If you know something is broken, deal with it today. The winners have the conversations they don't want to have because that's where the winning is."
8. The real learning happens in practice
Simon is a big believer in the University of Life, and that you can only learn so much in theory. He shared, "The real learning happens in practice, in the nitty gritty. Everything I learned, I learned on the job whether it was making coffee for people or how to spend your cash wisely."
9. There will be really dark moments
He cautioned aspiring entrepreneurs to understand what they're getting themselves into before diving in full force. He shared, "It needs to be overwhelmingly clear that you don't want to do anything else in life, that you can't sleep. It's not a part-time job but when it works, it will bring you joy second only to having a child."