Last year was a culmination of sorts for my four year old kiddo Hammer and Mop. We had entered a ‘make or break’ situation right at the start and the roller coaster we experienced makes it seem that the last 12 months were in fact, 24. The year started with planning a fund raise and ended with me merging my company into a much larger real estate services group (SILA) thus moving to the other side of the table – being an employee and an intrapreneur.
The journey helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, and took me through all possible challenges one might encounter in the early days. My new work profile is a next step – where I get to work on my strengths at a much larger scale. I take this opportunity to mention five distinct learning lessons from 2015:
Focus Always Pays Off
As a small business, we ought to focus on a few critical aspects and we ought to do that well. At our home & office cleaning company, we chose to focus on communication & customer service from the very start. That meant keeping the promises being made to the customers.
Focus translates into attention to detail while communicating the service and delivering it. Focus means being consistent throughout – you ought to sound as good as you look online, and your offline teams need to reflect the same confidence.
Focusing on some aspects often results in a trade off – you have to let some things go, and be dogged about delivering despite challenges. We chose to stick to promised service quality despite cash flow and operational challenges. As a result, we could build a certain reputation and won over customer trust.
Build Complementary Skill Sets
We always believed in building teams with complementary skill sets, so people could focus on their strengths. This process is easier said than done, because it is difficult for individuals to accept that they are not good at certain things. It is easy to run a small unit (up to 30 people) when there aren’t many senior folks. As the team grows further and senior management takes ground, there is a risk of everyone not agreeing with everyone.
It takes a humble CEO to build relationships and step back. Identifying the right people, defining boundaries, ensuring no one steps on the other’s toes and coordinating a win win is critical. This is where transformational leadership plays an essential role – driving everyone towards a common goal that is being envisioned and sold. Which brings me to my next point:
Be a Transformational Leader
Leadership comes in varying forms and shapes – and a founder/CEO is often expected to grow in and out of roles with alarming speed. Same is expected out of leaders at all levels, of course, but the founder ought to lead by example.
Right at the start, when nothing exists, the founder creates a vision and sells it to the first employees & customers. That vision takes shape and evolves into something bigger and more valuable. Highly successful leaders manage to ‘transform’ their team members & customers, making them ‘want to buy in’ this particular vision – a new world that is being created due to the team efforts. Your team members and customers at all levels would fight every battle with you loyally, even on a hungry stomach, if you have them convinced. Been there, done that.
Unless we have this all encompassing goal, petty issues might escalate into bigger ones. There needs to be something to bind everyone together, and a mere company name or the employer tag is not enough. Companies exist to change the world for the better, and transformational leaders show how their company fits in.
Understand When To Pull the Plug
I could have done this job better – especially when it comes to complementing my weakness in finance & accounts early on. What ailed Hammer and Mop, despite exceptional service capability & brand reputation, was lack of attention on operational efficiency. This ensured that we lost money on multiple orders, consistently. Customer satisfaction can only take you so far, it doesn’t pay all the bills.
While we had a jolly good run, we could have grown into a bigger entity had I known when to pause and fix the leaking pipe. This has been a major learning lesson, something that my new team is helping me learn in the new setup. I’m grateful that Hammer and Mop has found a home at SILA, almost like a parent taking its child in.
Understand Yourself and Keep Growing
Starting up is a lesson in patience and perseverance. Building a business is all about people. And in the end, everything boils down to you. Your idea – was it sustainable or not. Your business – could you build a real one or not. Your relationships – were you able to build lasting ones which add value to both lives? Your personal bank balance – was the business worth it? Your track record – have you kept your promises? Your personal growth – what have you learnt? And after spending all this time, energy and money – are you a force to reckon with?
Being optimistic is an innate entrepreneurial trait. Life throws ugly punches when you do something for the first time, something new and unexplored. It’s necessary to be the person who always slips out of a tight spot, takes his wolf pack with him and shields them from the harsh sun and the cold winds. It helps when you meditate and practice affirmations – being joyful is an inside job. Health is wealth – good sleeping habits, good food & drink habits go a long way in making you successful.
Your perceptions determine how you experience a challenge. Always believe in yourself, give everything your best, and see the good in everyone :) It helps to be a good listener – for only then, will others listen to you. Being a good listener displays mutual respect, which helps build trusted relationships.
And businesses are built on relationships :)