Nina Ojeda is the founder of The Avenue West, a go-to-market and market expansion agency that works at the intersection of design, technology, social impact and lifestyle. With a strong focus on social enterprise and how lifestyle and technology merge, The Avenue West works with clients to help carve a niche into their individual fields growing their voice and impact.
Success is defined differently by everyone. For me, it's always been a feeling: happiness, perhaps, or being completely content and without any serious financial worries. I'm incredibly happy with my career and I'm excited to go to work every day, but that doesn't keep from worrying if I'm doing things right to get to the "other side." In order to break out of worrying, I've pushed myself to write down what exactly that state of success feels, looks, smells and sounds like. This helps me to get out of my head and into a place where that success exists so that I don't spend an entire day worrying about it -- I've already visualized it and I'm subconsciously making decisions to get there.
I've been lucky enough to come across some truly incredible founders through various networks, some of whom I get to work with every day. You can never stop learning and improving your potential for success, so I've highlighted a few lessons I learned from these successful founders that I believe are fundamental to success in the startup environment.
Find Time to Be Reflective
One of the most consistent tips I have gotten in my career was to get an executive coach. While I don't currently have one, I am looking and trying to be as reflective as possible on my decisions as a CEO. Michael and Daniel Broukhim, CEOs of incredibly popular lifestyle subscription box, FabFitFun were the most recent to offer up that advice. These 500 Startups grads have become a monster of a success, with celebrity backers including Rachel Zoe and E! News personality Guiliana Rancic.
While I don't run a subscription service, their advice to "always improve as a leader" is something I don't think many young entrepreneurs consider. They make valid points that it's incredibly difficult to make room in your schedule to be reflective, but it's an absolute must -- and an executive coach will force you to do it. Plan it like it's your most important meeting each week and you'll be calmer, more self-aware and proactive.
Really Know Your Customers
Founders are notorious for always being right. We are inherently confident, which is a great trait, but that could mean overlooking key data that is vital to your business' growth. No matter what kind of industry you're in, you have a core demo that must be catered to, and stakeholders who may not all share the same perspective. A great example is from an organic beauty brand whose team assumed its core demographic was women in their mid- to late-thirties, based solely on numbers. Their CEO took the time to interact with his customers "organically" and found that it wasn't the case at all. According to him, the key is to figure out how to get on the ground and talk to your customers one-on-one, without relying solely on numbers to make decisions.
You Can't Be Everything to Everyone
This is my golden rule to remember. Letting go is a muscle you have to exercise. Courtney Reum, co-founder of one of my favorite spirits companies, Veev, tells me his key to success is the "POTUS" rule: "Because no one person can do it all." Veev's success is dependent on a number of factors, including employees overseas. If they didn't set up different levels of management and micromanaged their operations, they wouldn't be where they are now. Every business owner has to learn to trust and let go. I had never heard this advice referred to that way, so I wrote "POTUS" on a Post-It note and stuck it to my office wall to remind me to trust the team. They are here for a reason and without my trust, things would fall apart. Who are your cabinet members or advisors? Choose them wisely, and choose your friends or those you spend your "off time" with even more care.
Hire a Great Accountant
I was the poster child for poor founder behavior in the sense that I didn't exercise, I ordered out for every meal (sorry, but Uber Eats and Postmates make it too easy) and I barely ever saw my friends or go out on the weekends. I was made aware that I was becoming a ticking time bomb, so I decided to take a full day away from my phone and the office. I realized most of my time was eaten up by things I didn't like to do or was bad at because I wanted to save the money and "do it myself." In my case, it was bookkeeping, but this can be different for everyone. Do yourself a favor and don't do things you don't know how to do and use that time to spend doing things you actually want to do.
Running your business with only so many hours in the day is never easy, but following these lessons can help set you up for success right out of the gate.