Adam Schoenfeld is co-founder and CEO of Simply Measured, where he drives the overall vision for the company. Adam has spoken at industry events such as SXSW, and is frequently quoted in leading marketing and emerging technology media outlets. Follow him @schoeny.
Who is your hero?
Without question, it is my grandfather. He was a man who always worked hard, lived an honest life, and demonstrated incredible integrity – always following through on what he said he’d do. He was an entrepreneur who founded a small furniture store at age 22, and grew it for 30 years into a small chain of successful stores in the Northwest. Throughout that time he always put his people first, taking care of employees like family, and leading by example – whether unloading trucks, sweeping floors or sharing jokes on the showroom floor with customers. Whatever he did, he did without ego, putting everything he had into building something great for his customers, employees and family. Not to mention, he can shoot his age in golf!
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
There are so many platitudes people use to answer this question. But there was something simple that resonated with me in Jim Collins’ famous book Good to Great. That is, get the right people on the bus and put the right people in the right seats. In other words, think team first. That’s exactly what we did at Simply Measured. We got lots of great people on the bus, and relied on them to help us shape and define our path as we went along. Focus on recruiting a great team first and foremost, regardless of what you’re trying to do. As a younger organization, we tilted toward people who fit well with our core values. Now as we’ve matured and become more structured, we’re focusing on hiring new people who play to our strengths.
What's the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
Early on, during a rapid growth phase in our company history, we suffered a big data outage that affected a significant number of customers. Basically we were running too fast, trying to do too much. As soon as we realized what had happened, we addressed the problem head on, erring on the side of customer over-communication. We were very transparent about what was going on, how they were being affected, and what our plan was to resolve the problem. When you’re straight up and honest, you can overcome a lot. And while it doesn’t make up for the mistake, it helps mitigate the problem, so you can move past it more easily.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
First up – I drink a stiff cup of coffee. After all, I live in Seattle. But most importantly, I don’t engage in email. I’ll do a quick scan for any fires, but then I close it. Every Sunday night I build my plan for the week. I tackle the issues that are important but not urgent (in other words, things I have to move the needle on before I go home on Friday). Then, the first hour of each day, I spend time moving forward on these goals – everything from executive hires, to financial planning, to customer relations; you name it. The point is to give yourself some breathing room to focus on the big picture in lieu of always reacting to what’s being thrown at you.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Simply Measured is a SaaS company, so my advice is specific to building an SaaS business model. And that is, know your unit economics. Understand your LTV (lifetime value of a customer) to CAC (cost to acquire a customer) ratio and the things that make up that number – such as MRR, churn, average revenue per account, and gross margin. That will help you determine how aggressively or conservatively you should be spending.
Cash flow will vary by stage. At Simply Measured, we were fiscally conservative until we found a product/market fit. When the revenue started cranking, we started spending more. Being conservative early on enabled us to quickly get to profitability and control our own destiny when it mattered. Looking back, we probably could have expanded our sales and marketing efforts even sooner, but being careful gave us more optionality through the early stages, and more confidence when it came time to push the gas.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Start your short list of co-founders. These people will significantly influence your happiness and success – more than what market you choose, what product you build or what investors you pick. No matter what the outcome – whether you ultimately become a $10B business or shut it down and walk away – your co-founders will make or break the experience.
What's your definition of success? How will you know when you've finally "succeeded" in your business?
A few years ago I would have defined success by the financial outcome of the company. Now I’d say it’s about creating something valuable for everyone involved. Financial outcomes are important, especially if you’re taking investments. But even more important is thinking about the long term. Do customers still use and love our products? Do former employees say working here was a career-defining experience? Did we bring value to the market that continues to shape the way companies do business? A great outcome is important, but having a positive journey along the way is what really defines success for me.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.