David Ciccarelli is the co-founder and CEO of Voices.com, the online marketplace that connects business people with professional voiceover talent. The unique blending of his audio engineering background with business savvy and product development afforded David the creative freedom to pursue his passion for innovation. Follow him at @davidciccarelli.
Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
While it’s been said many times before, I’d have to go with my dad. The reason? He’s been able to balance a career, a marriage and a family. Now that I’m married and have a family of my own, I recognize how challenging it can be. Well done, Dad!
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
A mentor once told me that when multiple paths present themselves, be sure to “follow the flags.” Upon some self-reflection, you’ll recognize that all of life’s moments have allowed you to plant flags in the ground. Looking back you see how they follow a line of sight. When making a choice as to which path to choose, look forward and extrapolate that sight line. That’s the path you’re on and if it’s been successful, don’t deviate from it.
Too often, entrepreneurs get sidetracked with fresh ideas and new opportunities. While important in driving your business forward, keeping your head in the clouds causes you to lose touch with the daily operations of your company. If anything, set up a framework for how you decide if you should pursue a new opportunity. Ask yourself whether the idea is consistent with the path you’ve already set out or whether the risks begin to outweigh any hypothetical benefits.
We’re evaluating new business ideas by measuring the payback period. All new business or product development ideas must have a one-year pay back period (a shorter time frame is more ideal). If an idea can generate a return on investment within a 12-month period, it’s unlikely to ever generate returns. Having clear guidelines for green-lighting an idea eliminates emotions that may creep in. Either the numbers support moving ahead or they don’t.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
As the founder, you can sometimes have a strong desire to be liked. This desire extends to your customers and yes, your employees. Unfortunately, not everyone will be a great fit despite a rigorous hiring process. When you have seriously under-performing employees — especially if their behavior is destructive — they need to be let go.
A few years ago, we had an employee who was a very strong sales person. However, their attendance was completely unacceptable. In fact, this has happened more than once. Each situation was challenging because as a growing company, we needed the sales but struggled with the negative effect the attendance issues were having on the rest of the team. Eventually, we parted ways.
Now, with the help of a human resources manager, we’ve rolled out a progressive discipline process. It’s clear and carried out consistently as needed. As you may have guessed, the team has responded positively. A successful company requires everyone to play their role at all times — not just when it’s convenient.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
Each day starts with a meeting with my executive assistant. Together we recap the previous day and close the loop on any outstanding items. Then, we discuss the day’s agenda, which is typically booked in 30-minute increments. As a gentle reminder for my benefit, we go through which meetings are in-person, off-site, through Skype, FaceTime or conference call. I’ve found it best to cover these details in advance. The meeting ends with an exchange of paperwork. While we aim to operate a paperless office, there are some documents or checks that need signatures. We bundle all the documents into a once-per-day exchange. This avoids multiple interruptions and keeps us both organized. We have a good system in place and I believe we both appreciate kicking off each day in a predictable manner.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
If you’ve been in business for any amount of time, you come to recognize that many services are renewable on a monthly or annual basis. I leverage these times to negotiate a better contract. For instance, spreading out payments improves our short-term cash position. Alternatively, an annual contract or even a multi-year contract may yield a discount; typically in the 20 percent range. I’d only sign an annual contract for an established vendor and only after they’ve proven that the value proposed has been delivered. When it comes to payment, some vendors will offer a slight discount — such as 2 percent if you pay via check or 3 percent if you pay within 30 days. This all adds up. Never waste a contract renewal opportunity to get better pricing and increase cash on hand.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Identify the one metric that matters, or OMTM for short. This defining key performance metric is the equivalent to the pulse of your business. You’ll want to check it daily, plot it on a spreadsheet and organize your business around it. A few examples could be orders per day, or number of daily active users, or number of consulting hours booked per week. Whatever you choose, find one metric and focus intensively on driving change on that number. As they saying goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” You’ll be surprised at how using one metric to gauge success truly drives your whole organization forward.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
I’ve always viewed success as state of being rather than a milestone to be reached. Like walking toward the sunset and never quite reaching it, success in life will always be ahead of you, off in the distance. That vision of a brighter future has always been a tremendous motivator 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, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.