Leadership isn't easy. Neither is entrepreneurship. And yet, sometimes the latter gives you incredible insights into the former.
That's the lesson I learned from talking to Aziz Rahim, the highly-regarded CEO of Sabio Mobile, a company that specializes in smarter mobile advertising and something that they call "App Science," their proprietary machine learning platform. Rahim is an avid mobile evangelist who has held senior leadership roles with multiple media and telecommunications companies, including AT&T's Adworks and NBC Universal, but it's his success as an entrepreneur and CEO that made me want to speak to him.
As Sabio's CEO, Rahim is responsible for keeping the firm and its employees focused on short and long-term growth objectives. Here is some of what Rahim has learned over his career, and what he advises other entrepreneurs to do as they aim for entrepreneurial excellence:
1. Embrace finance.
"Surround yourself with the best finance people," advises Rahim. Sometimes, he jokes, entrepreneurs know how to add well "but find subtracting a more difficult concept." Keeping expenses in check is crucial for any business, but for many entrepreneurs, it's also about figuring out how to keep your baby afloat for long enough until you're cash flow positive. Surrounding yourself with good financial people allows entrepreneurs the full array of financing and funding options beyond the traditional approaches.
2. Maintain an even keel.
If you're going to stay with your entrepreneurial vision for the long haul, there naturally will be days when you feel like you're on top of the world. Those can be a blessing, but also a curse.
"Don't let the successful days or months make you overconfident," advises Rahim. "Conversely, don't let the bad days or months make you pessimistic. Keep focused on your long-term goals and not the short-term fluctuations."
3. Balance openness and self-trust.
For many entrepreneurs, it's all about running your business off of your gut beliefs. Others are are good at asking others for help and relying on data. The trick, Rahim has found, is to be able to master both of these approaches simultaneously: "Take advice from as many people as you can but trust your own instincts. It's the instincts paired with hard facts that will help you succeed."
4. Do what you love.
"Do what you love," advises Rahim, "because there are much easier ways to make a great paycheck than running your own company." On the rare days when Rahim is not traveling, you can find him in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. Doing what he loves from a business perspective makes all of that self-sacrifice worth it; do what you're not passionate about, and you'll begin to resent all of the time spent apart from your loved ones.
5. Get out there.
When you're running a business, it can be so easy to get so occupied with solving the needs of clients or customers that you actually forget to keep an ongoing dialogue with them. Studies indicate that 68 percent of customers leave due to becoming dissatisfied with the service they are receiving; 9 percent depart to start working with a competitor. "No matter how busy you are, make time to get out in the field with sales and their clients," is one adage Rahim has reinforced and made a core part of Sabio's beliefs. "Client meetings provide volumes of critical course correction data that every startup needs."
6. Address a pain point.
Of course, profits are there to keep the lights on; ask any successful entrepreneur, and there's a near-certainty that they have become quite adept at knowing their profit margins. The problem with this is that other startups learn the wrong lesson, thinking that profit margins should be the thing you focus on, rather than a thing to focus on.
Don't just focus on profit margin, advises Rahim. Rather (and more importantly), focus on the value your product or service will provide clients. "The most successful companies were not built for revenue motives but ones that solved an issue or filled a need."
7. Teach that failure is OK.
It's not uncommon that entrepreneurs have an intimate relationship with failure. After all, many fail on their first, second, and third businesses before striking it big. That said, many of these very entrepreneurs do not teach their teams that failure is part of startup life. In order to address that, Rahim advises entrepreneurs to make failure something that isn't frowned upon in the organization. Instead, challenge your teams to take high-risk/high-reward opportunities that have the potential to fuel growth and capacity.
These are the lessons that Aziz Rahim has learned and turned him into a successful entrepreneur. Are there any others you would add to the list, or any other entrepreneurs you would like us to profile? Tweet me and let me know.