Currently the co-founder and CFO of TheSquareFoot, Aron Susman began his career in the International Mergers & Acquisitions group at Deloitte in Houston.
Our company has three co-founders, meaning we all came to the table with a different set of experiences and thus a multifaceted outlook on starting our own business. Each of us has received numerous pieces of advice over the years, and have implemented much of it in our business.
That said, if there's one overarching piece of advice to gain from our favorite pearls of wisdom, it's this: take every piece of advice with a grain of salt. Advice comes to you from another person's experiences, so while it may make sense for them, it may not always be what’s right for you and your situation. As with anything you hear, give some real thought to the advice you receive and who's giving it, and then decide for yourself what's worthwhile to keep.
Below, I collected the three best pieces of advice (one from each of our founders), how we interpret them, and how we acted on them to launch and grow TheSquareFoot.
1. Tell everyone about your business.
Our co-founder Justin Lee’s favorite advice centers on one of the the biggest startup myths. People often think that the best thing to do when starting up a business is to keep the idea about the business to yourself, but these people are wrong. Why? Because they assume that an idea, any idea, is the secret formula to a business' success. There's a reason the patent office won't let you patent an abstract idea: there is nothing about it that is truly unique. Yes, some ideas are better than others, but what’s better than even the best idea is great execution.
Why does it pay to tell everyone about your idea? Because we all have something to learn from one another. Everyone, from the janitor who cleans the CEO's office to the CEO, has a unique set of experiences that may help you improve upon your business idea. Think about it this way: if you've put all your life experiences into your idea, that idea only speaks for you. In almost all cases, your business should reach a wider audience than just you. Speaking to others will help you gauge that wider audience and put your idea to the test.
2. Illegitimi non carborundum (“don't let [them] grind you down”).
This piece of advice is our co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum’s top pick. As a CEO, I had no idea how many people would shoot down not only my company, but its idea, team, purpose, mission and everything else. If we'd let these naysayers deter us from our goal, then we'd have gotten nowhere.
We founded our company to solve a pain point in the commercial real estate industry. Once we entered commercial real estate, however, we soon realized that this world was one of exclusive, old-time practices and brokerages. Not only did people in the industry refuse to welcome us with open arms, but others often didn't take us seriously as a company. What kept us moving forward was the knowledge that we had something that could change the game.
Whenever you're trying to bring about change, especially in an industry that isn't used to it, there will be a lot of pushback. Consider it a sign that you probably have a game-changing idea--or one that's completely useless.
3. Cash flow is king.
This one is my personal favorite. Before getting into the startup world, the idea of a young, unproven company receiving millions of dollars for nothing more than an idea seemed a little ridiculous to me. But once I became a part of this entrepreneurial crowd, I realized that millions in funding was neither extremely rare, nor a surefire indicator of success. Cash flow is very different than cash in the bank: while the former indicates success, progress, and most of all profitability, the latter merely indicates that some investor (or investors) took a chance on you.
The moment this hit home was when we tried getting office space for a big-name startup with seven figures in funding--literally millions in guaranteed money--but zero profitability in terms of cash flow. Landlords in all kinds of buildings expressed their wariness about leasing space to a company that didn't have the income to justify it. I'm sure that the tech boom in the early 2000s had something to do with their caution, but it's something to keep in mind for young startups.
What it boils down to is that people don't care how much funding you got in your last round. Landlords, late-round investors and others don’t look at your company and ask "What have you done?" but rather "What have you done lately?" If you don't have cash coming in, and coming in consistently, you’ll find people don't care to hear anything about your company — and that’s the best advice of all.