There are few things as scary and exciting as being a founder. And every founder hopes for that ultimate breakthrough. Here’s the bad news: some things will happen which are simply outside of your control. The good news: there are many things you can influence by following your intuition or experience. In this post, we’ll share five management tips to help you make better decisions.
Starting Zengrowth was an accident. Don’t take it the wrong way, a very positive accident indeed. I never actually intended it to become a company. But it did. And it made me realize that actually none of the many books and articles I had read on “how to start a company” were applicable to me.
It just turned out that while these books and articles were highly interesting, and not to mention entertaining, they just didn’t compare to my real life experience of how things went down.
I realized that doing things my own way; the way that is most authentic to myself was actually most successful. In fact, I think now that that is why companies succeed: you put a little bit of yourself and your character in the product and processes and that sort of reflects on every user who appreciates you for who you are. Ok, enough deep philosophy for now.
What I then noticed, looking back on all that had happened in such a short time, is that most of the advice we tend to consume online such as: “10 actionable tips how to increase your leads” or “Best marketing strategy for 2020” – is very specific to a certain person, product, market, or team.
In other words, it’s not that objectively that particular tactic is a golden rule for success. That tactic was just most authentic to them and they believed in it while doing it and so it worked.
Since then, I’ve had a radical change of heart.
I no longer think that this type of “actionable advice” is particularly useful other than providing you with inspiration to make your own decisions. In this post, I won’t give you another 10 management tips on some BS, but rather will provide you with high-level guidance which might not help you grow your business directly, but which will help you make better decisions about how to grow your business. Enjoy and please hit like or subscribe if you found it useful.
1. As you get started, your first goal is this: Get the fuck out of non-existence. (“Own” instead of “Getting Owned”)
Every startup starts at zero.
Facebook started at zero. Airbnb started at zero. And, yeah even my main man
There are even some companies in the market for many years that are still effectively at zero. Don’t ask me how they survived though.
Generally, non-existence is a state or condition where you are just unknown. Nobody or very few people know what you do or why your company matters.
In case many people know about you, but they don’t see a purpose or have any interest in the product, you’re still essentially at zero.
It’s not a nice place to be at and your job as a founder is to get out of this phase ASAP.
Because let’s be honest, in this state you’re “Getting owned”.
Actually, side note: most companies die in this stage before they truly ever hit the market.
The problem here is that you haven’t produced the necessary effect on the market that’s needed for them to throw money at you.
They don’t know you, they don’t know why they should care and they don’t know what makes your company great or different.
However, the market by default, continues to have an effect on you. You’re spending money and time and you know you’ll need to do something sooner or later if you want your business to survive.
In other words, you’re “getting owned” and your first and foremost challenge as a founder is to switch those dynamics.
The better you are able to influence these dynamics, the higher your chances of success.
What is “getting owned”?
- High expenses
- No product-market fit
- No customers or churning customers
- Bad feedback from candidates
- No engagement on blog posts
- No leads coming in
- No qualified leads coming in (for those who are getting Google’s spam leads)
- No sticky product
- No existing team (or not the right people)
What is “owning”?
- Product-market fit
- A single or more marketing channels that work for you
- A proven process for converting leads
- A proven process for qualifying leads
- A proven process for keeping customers
- A proven process of hiring quality team mates
- Enough runway to last at least 1 year
- Spending less money than you earn — creating a buffer
Now the moral of this short story:
It’s your job to turn chaos into predictability.
When things are predictable, it means you own them.
When things are in chaos, it means you don’t own them.
For example, Facebook can super accurately predict their revenue for next month.
A startup without reliable and predictable marketing channels and proven processes for conversion won’t be able to predict their revenue as accurately.
Now in whatever situation you are at your startup, whether it’s dealing with customers, with employees or with leads, simply ask yourself: are we owning or getting owned?
Or if you don’t like the bro language, ask yourself instead: do we have this thing under control?
If you’re currently not owning, do the following:
1. Identify which points you’re not in control of
2. Write down the steps needed to get out of it
3. Implement those steps
4. Repeat to infinity
The more you’re able to be in a position of “ownership” – the bigger chances you have at success. All the others rely on fate.
2. Time invested ≠ outcome
Some of the best marketing and sales campaigns come from minutes of work.
Some work that you spend weeks on yields zero results.
Why does this happen? The reason is this:
People don’t care about how long it took you to do something. They only care about the effect it produced.
That actually makes life quite simple. It means the only thing you need to focus on while doing marketing is producing effects at scale.
And yes, this is what people mean when they say: “done is better than perfect”.
As long as you’re having an effect on the market, as long as you’re putting something in front of potential customers, it will always be better than being stuck in planning mode or trying to make it perfect.
(Bear in mind, I’m talking about positive effects here. Mass spamming that makes people hate you is not the type of effect I’m talking about.) When people talk about what type of content you should produce (to have an effect) they’re usually talking about the following:
– be entertaining
– be useful
– provide value
What they’re actually trying to say is that you should try to produce that effect on people
In the hope that it then leads to the following:
– have people want the product
– have people become a lead
– have people buy your product
Now here’s the ingredient for choosing your focus. Prioritize all your campaigns by the following criteria:
1. Can we do this soon or immediately? IS IT AGILE?
2. How many people can we reach with this? IS IT SCALABLE?
3. Do we produce a positive effect that will make us desirable? IS IT VALUABLE?
And then do that.
The biggest focal point of those being: can we do this soon or immediately?
As mentioned earlier, people don’t care about “How long it took you to do something” – only about what it produces. If you can produce something that is good and valuable in a short time, then always do that.
Let’s take the following comparison:
John, CEO of X says to his team: let’s create and upload short videos on LinkedIn where we help our potential customers solve problems. Don’t worry about the quality- we’ll just do it with our phone. It takes John’s team 1 hour to upload 3 videos. And the following week another 9 videos. John reaches 394,000 people and the videos get 20,000 upvotes.
Andy, CEO of Y says to his team: “let’s create and upload short videos on LinkedIn where we help our potential customers solve problems. He suggests to his team that they should have a meeting about this two weeks from now, hire an agency to produce the videos and that they should upload it a week later.
In the end, Andy thinks that the quality of the video will have a major impact on public perception and thus value created.
In reality, the effects produced by both CEOs are incredibly similar. But John will undoubtedly be much more successful with his company, even when Andy’s video had a much higher production value.
He focused on agility, scalability, and value.
Long story short: people don’t care about what you did, only what outcomes you produced.
Produce effects! And prioritize your marketing campaigns ruthlessly by the laws above.
Disclaimer: if you need to take more time to produce a good effect, that’s completely valid.
3. Always write down and finish your to-dos
There are some companies that fail even though they have a great product, paying customers and validated processes.
Usually, this has a lot to do with self-management.
What you need to understand about tasks and to-do’s is that you’re dealing with energy and attention.
If you don’t complete tasks, they take energy. If you do them, they give you back the energy.
The reason is simple:
Every single unfinished thing you have to do holds a small portion of your attention.
Once you finish that thing, it no longer holds your attention and you’re free to distribute that to other things.
The longer you don’t do something, the more it tends to turn into chaos.
Compare it to cleaning your house. Week 1 of not cleaning – your house is a mess. The longer you don’t clean it, the bigger your mess becomes.
The same counts in business and your todos. The more unfinished things you have on your plate, or in your head, the bigger the confusion you are surrounded by.
And here is the golden nugget:
NOBODY, ABSOLUTELY NOBODY, MAKES GOOD DECISIONS WHILE STUCK IN A CONFUSION.
You could also refer to point 1 of this article where we talked about Ownership and turning chaos into predictability.
Now here’s what you can do about this:
1. Write down all your to-dos → get it all out of your head
2. Start finishing these to-dos unsparingly
3. Write down any new to-dos
4. Do this to infinity
Now that you have done this, you have increased your chances of success to infinity. Your future you will definitely be thankful.
Now let’s take a scenario where you have too much on your plate as in, you write down all your to-dos, but there is not enough time in the day to actually finish everything.
Every single day you finish 5 things, but 6 new things are added. That’s pretty messed up. This is usually a sign that you’re:
1. Not delegating or distributing tasks
2. Not prioritizing
3. Not cutting enough tasks
Not everything is as important or urgent.
Eisenhower had a great matrix for this; here is a nice resource by Doist for prioritization:
Here is the thing about tasks and to-dos. Every to-do is part of your responsibility. Similar to keeping your house clean is your responsibility.
I’d even make the argument that there are no founders who became successful without this minimum degree of organization.
And if they were successful, they would have been even so much more successful if they had adopted some sort of organization regarding their to-dos.
I like to see it as trying to drive fast with a Ferrari, while there is loads and loads of heavy mess on your ferrari slowing it down. You simply would have been faster without the mess.
So moral of the story: always clean up your garbage. Or simply said: write down and finish your to-dos!
Now before you get into the next trap: when you delegate a task: it’s that person’s responsibility to give you feedback and say when it’s done. There is no point of delegating tasks and still carrying responsibility for it.
For the micro-managers among us: yes, it’s time to let it go.
That is the only way it’s truly off your plate and you’ll finally have some rest.
4. Sales is about trust and connection
What makes a good salesperson? There are so many seminars on this topic. Companies spend millions of dollars to find out how they can produce better sales people.
In my honest opinion, sales, ethical sales that is, is simply about trust and connection.
All the rest are usually games and lies to control the other party into thinking that they should think that they feel that they think that they want to give you money. Or something confusing like that. I mean, it may work for some people, but personally, I’ve got better things to do.
Here are the skills you’ll want to train for your sales:
- practice to communicate with people freely and openly
- practice to understand what people truly want
- practice to provide what people want
Let’s take a deep-dive.
- Your ability to communicate openly and freely is what allows you to reach people at scale. Whether that is:
- Addressing and walking up to people at events
- Pitching your product to people without feeling awkward
- Getting in touch with the right people on LinkedIn
- Getting people to trust you
- or making a proposition or offer
As with anything in life: fortune favors the brave.
Your ability to reach out to people and simply “contact and connect” is a superpower.
While others may stand there having fights with their own thoughts, you’ll already have made lots of valuable contacts to grow your business.
How to practice this? To be honest, I wouldn’t know. I think it has a lot to do with a) authenticity and b) being true to yourself.
Those are two things which make you very self-confident, which in turn gives you back the ability to do things without having too many thoughts.
If that doesn’t work, I would recommend a Google Search or consulting a therapist – I can just tell you that this skill is important.
b) understanding what people actually want is about two things: listening and experience.
A salesperson who has been selling telephones for the last 8 years generally has a good idea what consumers want when they’re looking for a phone.
If you don’t have this experience, the only alternative is to listen.
The reason why this skill is so important is that understanding what somebody wants actually allows you to sell.
And no, that is not some sort of Dr. Evil scheme where we are like “yeah finally we can get rid of our BS products”. No, it’s more about creating win-win situations.
If you know what somebody wants, you’re able to create a better life for them and for yourself. You won’t waste them as a lead by selling irrelevant stuff.
In the end, you simply need to help your customer. And the best way to help if you don’t have experience in the field is to simply shut up and listen.
c) providing what people want is basically just a double-check to see if you understood point B well.
Now that you know what people want, you need to put in action, create it or provide it.
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
The faster you are, generally, the higher the conversion rate.
5. Seeking discomfort is a real thing. The more you fail, the higher your likelihood of success.
Rejection is a daily practice that can turn you into an unstoppable force or a pile of ashes. You decide. Many of the greatest founders of all time have confirmed this more than once.
The reason why they become successful is not because of luck or because they were more talented, but because they trained their abilities by failing over and over again.
If you don’t believe me, check this. Or this.
We can take on that same principle in business.
At Zengrowth we have a simple application of this rule: simply do what others are not doing.
That includes cold calls by me, the founder. That includes Linkedin posts on topics way too personal for LinkedIn to see if they work. That includes reaching out to candidates way out of our league. That means pitching a 400,000EUR/month project and failing.
We fail every day. I fail every day. But that is why we are where we are.
It is the accumulation of failures that determines your success.
So as a founder, embrace these failures. Embrace making wrong decisions. Because these mistakes increase your likelihood of success. And your likelihood of making better decisions in the future.
With love from your CEO, Marco van Bree