Who is your hero?
Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. It doesn’t matter what industry he is in. At the end of the day, he applies good practical common sense to everything he does in business and does things to make sure he’s not screwing anyone over, and it always works. I’ve seen what he does. It doesn’t matter if it’s a record label or an airline or space travel. The guy is successful and has fun doing it.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
You can’t just take a so-called “best practice” and follow it exactly. Best practices came from somewhere. You need to take these practices and challenge them. This is something I try to live by and it’s something I encourage my senior management team to live by: See if you can improve on a best practice. Make it better. Try to turn it into your own best practice. We want to take what’s considered the best now, and build on that to create an even better practice. My goal is for our team to create best practices that are so good they are eventually used by other organizations.
What's the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
When I first started my company I didn’t make sure all of my business agreements were in place. I eventually ended up parting ways with a business partner and the split cost me a ton of money. It was very challenging to make that mistake in the beginning with very limited resources. If I would have had the right agreements in place it would have never happened. To me, I think that was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. As an entrepreneur, especially in the beginning, you have to make sure you take care of the legal paperwork. You don’t want paperwork keeping you from achieving success in business.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails. It is one of the best ways for me to take the pulse of what’s happening in the company right now. Our company culture is based on a high-level of communication. I’m able to see the flow of information to and from all departments in our organization and get a real sense of the challenges and opportunities facing my team. I want to get ahead of any potential issues. Along the same lines, I read all the newspapers and check the websites and social media so I know what is going on in our industry and in the world. I want to know what is happening that will affect our company and our customers.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Don’t overspend. Don’t fall for the myth that you need an office. I know a new office is cool. It makes you feel like you made it. It makes you feel like you’ve got a “real” business. Don’t get an office. Take a room in your house or apartment and get to work. Don’t try to get an office before you’re ready. You need to conserve as much cash as possible.
Along those same lines: Don’t overhire. In the beginning there is no room for error. You don’t want to hire people you can’t support. There is just no room for error in the beginning. A mistake could be the end of your company.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Remember that you and your business are unique. What was good for someone else isn’t always good for you. Write your own best practices and remember that nothing is written in stone and you have the power to shape it for your business.
What's your definition of success? How will you know when you've finally "succeeded" in your business?
I’m a very competitive individual so success is hard to define for me. A part of what I consider success is that never-ending drive to create an organization that is No. 1 in our industry. Another big part of success to me, as an entrepreneur, is seeing people in our organization succeed. I want to be a part of their success and it makes me proud of my work when I know that the company I started played a role in another person’s success. Knowing that our organization helped prepare someone to move on to a new chapter in their career is important to me. Personally, when I see people grow and do great things with their careers, I feel like I’m successful as a CEO.
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.