When it comes to building a successful company, there truly is a "method to the madness." Read enough interviews, listen to enough CEOs speak on their difficult journey up the mountain, and you'll start to draw parallels from one experience to another -- regardless of industry.
One of the ways I feedmy own learning process as a young entrepreneur is by learning from those above or ahead of me on the path. I am constantly looking for new people to learn from, eager to hear what solutions they found for themselves (and selfishly, how I might avoid those same challenges in the future).
But "success" isn't just about achievement. In fact, the most successful companies don't just measure the end result, the total revenue, but the process that got them that result. Efficiency and good habits are equally (if not more) important.
So, what do some of those good habits look like?
Pillar Number 1: "Cash is King"
A difficult concept made simple, "Cash is King" is the mantra every business (and business leader) should live by.
"You can't run a business on the promise of cash or future payment. It is the only metric that really matters and should be the primary measure of your company's success at every stage," said Aaron Webber, CEO of MadisonWall, a venture capital firm and holding company to a handful of creative agencies. "A million dollars in outstanding invoices looks great and all, but it won't help you if you can't pay next week's rent. You need to have physical cash in the bank set aside for when those inevitable obstacles arise."
He went on to explain that a successful company is one that practices fiscal prudence and understands the power of compounding interest and investing back into the business. If you can develop and maintain good spending habits with this in mind, you won't just sustain your business, you will grow it. And if not, then your business has little chance of survival. Unfortunately, money won't fix bad habits. In fact, it might make them worse.
Pillar Number 2: Leadership that isn't ego driven.
Too often, I see young entrepreneurs get overly excited about what they're going to call themselves, and who gets to put the title of "CEO" in their Twitter bio--now that they've made a website and decided on a name for their "company."
I know I'm not the first person to say this, and I know I won't be the last. But it is an interesting thing to observe in my peers, and those who are ambitious about starting big companies. I see them spending more time on what title they want to wear, rather than how they're going to actually build something of value.
"If you truly want to build a loyal team, you have to realize that it's not all about you. Especially as the CEO, your job isn't to be the center of attention. Your job is to make everyone else's lives easier, and give them the opportunity to do great work. You're the facilitator, the coach, not necessarily the star player," said Andy Frisella, CEO of 1st Phorm International.
Pillar Number 3: Productivity can't be chained to a cubicle.
This is a hot topic for the companies of today, this idea of open work environments and allowing for more employee freedom.
Jim Kwik, founder and CEO of Kwik Learning, has served as the mental coach to some of the world's leading CEOs and celebrities. On the topic of productivity and brain fitness in the workplace, he said, "We are becoming more and more aware that working 8 straight hours, 5 days a week, might not be the most productive method for maximum efficiency. In fact, many companies are starting to realize that by being more flexible, and allowing their employees more freedom, they will actually produce better work. It just might not happen within the hours of 9-5. And you know what? That's OK."
Especially for new leaders and founders, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that hours-in is the best measure for productivity or success. But the truth is, it's not. In fact, a lot of today's business leaders are operating more under the belief that hours-in is a poor metric, and the only thing that matters is the final product. If you do it in half the time while working from home, great. Just get it done, and get it done well.
Pillar Number 4: Your customer service can't suck.
Customer acquisition is hard. Customer retention is even harder.
If you have a high churn rate as a company, you're going to find yourself constantly struggling to build something successful over the long term. What you're looking for is repeat, happy customers, ideally the kind that then go on to recommend you to their friends.
This is the advice that Charles Zhong, CEO of Azazie, shared. Azazie has made a name for themselves in the bridal fashion world by disrupting the conventional industry, seeing 300% sales growth in 2017. Oh, and for those that say Millennials are impossible to deal with as employees, the average age of the company's employees is 27.
"If you want to see what customer service looks like, step inside the world of bridal fashion. Consumers are tremendously particular, and you as a company are dealing with a very important occasion: someone's wedding. In order for your internal team to work effectively, you have to communicate in a way that allows all parties to call out what isn't working so that it can be fixed. We encourage our team members to ask questions, ask what people are struggling with, what needs more clarification or process, etc. We want everyone to feel heard," said Zhong.
He went on to explain that, on the flipside, customer service that goes above and beyond is all about being personable. People already have the Internet to answer most questions. So when a customer reaches out, sometimes they just need a human to walk them through their specific case. The more human and personable that experience feels, the more likely that customer will be to return, because they trust you.