In a market flush with startups, it’s tough to stand out. As a CEO, you likely work tirelessly for that “takeoff” moment by dreaming up viral marketing campaigns or pitching to key investors.
But while focusing on external growth, it’s important to give clear direction to the people who keep your machine running. “People can’t follow unless they know where you’re going,” says Ian Siegel, co-founder of ZipRecruiter.
Whether you like it or not, your employees look to you as a role model. But if you think simply setting a good example as a hard worker is enough, you may want to brush up on your leadership skills. For more inspiration and tips, we combed through the Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index, a list featuring private companies that have shown sustainable growth in earnings, revenues and employment growth.
We asked a range of founders from these rising companies one question: What advice would you give someone new to running a company? Here are their answers:
1. Walk the walk — and don’t just talk the talk.
“If you want your people to work hard, you have to work incredibly hard. I would argue that you have to work harder than anyone else at the company. They need to believe that the business will exist and strive no matter how tough things are for you.”
— Olga Vidisheva, founder and CEO of Shoptiques, an ecommerce destination that sells goods from local boutiques
2. Hire well.
“Build your leadership team with seasoned talent who can do their jobs better than you. The earlier you do this, the better. I built our executive team within the three years of starting NatureBox and each hire was critical the growth and strategic initiatives we see today.”
— Gautam Gupta, co-founder and CEO of NatureBox, a monthly subscription service that delivers healthy snacks
3. Invest in your people.
“Your employees are your biggest asset, and an investment in them is an investment in the future of your company. When employees take the initiative to improve their knowledge and skills, everyone benefits. Some things we’ve done are giving employees 20 percent of their time, like Google, to work on individual projects, sending teams to conferences for networking and education, funding certification programs or assisting with graduate tuition. As employees advance, you’ll be able to promote from within, rather than recruit outside talent, saving you both time and money in the long run.”
— Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely, a cloud-based platform that helps businesses manage payroll, benefits and other HR needs
4. Allow your passion for the company evolve.
“There’s a myth in the startup community that founders must have an undying belief in the company, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have doubts. The most important thing to have is the ability to fall in love with your company again and again. The reason you love your company will probably change over time, and that’s OK.”
— Joe Coleman, co-founder and CEO of Contently, a software business that helps companies build audiences by managing the workflow of marketing content
5. Go against the grain.
“I never give advice because I believe there’s no right way to do anything. What’s interesting is that going against the grain seems to lead to successes. I tell them, ‘Go with your gut, be a maverick and don’t do what others say.’”
— Jamie Siminoff, CEO and chief inventor of Ring, the maker of the Ring Video Doorbell, which allows users to answer the door from anywhere via smartphone
6. Give respect. Earn respect.
“Ensure that all your employees feel that they are a vital asset to the company. Showing your employees that you know their worth will motivate them tremendously. For example, invite and listen to all opinions from every employee, even if you feel strongly about how something should be done. Try to learn from their areas of expertise and empower them to act like experts in their fields.”
— Aaron Firestein, co-founder and chief artist of BucketFeet, an online retailer that collaborates with artists to design and create footwear
7. Focus on culture.
“Realize that the company culture forms early around the actual actions of the founders, and so you should lead by example.”
— Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that focuses on user privacy and doesn’t track searches
8. Have confidence in your idea.
“Make sure you are working on the business and not just in it. If you are building the plane while you’re flying, just hang on. If the product or service you’re selling is good and you believe in it, it’s only a matter of time.”
— Jayson Rapaport, co-founder and co-owner of Birds Barbershop, a brand of salons that markets affordable, high-quality cuts and color services. The company recently launched a line of hair-care products.
9. Get help.
“Running a business is hard and complicated, and there are so many people out there who are smarter than you that can help you if you put your pride aside and listen. We bring in consultants and mentors all the time for people on our team to teach us what we’re doing wrong and show us how to make it right before it becomes an issue that affects the company’s performance.”
— David Simnick, co-founder and CEO of SoapBox Soaps, a maker of all-natural, handmade soaps that donates soap products to children in need
10. Always be honest.
“Be honest, especially when it is difficult, because you lose credibility when you sugarcoat.
Always make sure someone hears your displeasure directly rather than through an intermediary.”