I quit (twenty-five years ago).
Five important lessons I learned along the way.
My letter of resignation to WorldTravel Partners (Now BCD Travel) had my final day of work as of March 31st and my first day of being an entrepreneur was April Fool’s Day, 1996.
It was a few weeks before they were sure I had quit.
It feels like yesterday, but I have some scars to prove it’s been a long, challenging and rewarding journey.
I lived in fear for many years as I grew as a leader. I wanted to make sure everyone was happy all of the time, and I sacrificed everything for my customers and employees. My relationships with my wife and child were tested continuously through the first ten years as I poured everything into growing a business from scratch.
Knowing what I know now, would I go back and do things differently? NO.
Everything I did, right or wrong, put me where I am today, and I couldn’t be happier.
Did I learn some valuable lessons? Heck YES!
There are five critical things I learned and got right as I evolved over the past 25 years.
#1 Ask For Help
When I left my employer, I approached them and asked if they would be my first client and allow me to continue to provide ongoing support for them in the critical areas where I could offer the most value. They responded in kind by saying yes, and paid me up front for the first year, which gave me the much-needed cash to survive the first year in business.
I reach out to friends and family and let them know I was on my own and looking for clients and business and slowly, the referrals came in.
I frequently struggled with asking for help, but every time I did, someone stepped up and helped me out in ways that exceeded my expectations.
So many people have lifted me along the way. I would not be where I am today without the help of others.
#2 Put others first
I worked for clients for free.
I asked a lot of questions.
I dropped everything when someone needed my help.
I worked for days on end to meet deadlines.
I paid others before I paid myself (breaking the cardinal rule).
I made sure the customers and employees always knew I heard them and would do whatever it took to meet their expectations.
#3 Happy Employees = Happy Customers (Everyone Wins)
"Happy Employees = Happy Customers," is my mantra at Grasp Technologies. We treat each other with respect.
“The customer is always right” is a myth and a dangerous attitude to have.
Having happy employees means being a leader and saying NO to customers and opportunities sometimes. The customer wants what is best for the customer, but occasionally, that is not always the same as what is best for the Grasp. Good employees sense what is right and wrong and when their input and advice are ignored. Not listening to employee feedback creates a toxic environment that reflects back to customers via the employees.
#4 Hire well
Continuing the theme of happy employees, we were struggling as a business with high growth and were hiring anyone we could find to fill a seat for several years.
Eventually, we decided to make HR a full-time position and invested in consultants to teach us world-class interviewing, hiring and onboarding skills. HR changed our business overnight for the better. Most companies our size don’t have dedicated HR, but I think it’s probably the most critical role for any company of any size.
We found that bad players brought everyone down and killed culture and respect in the organization. We now take our time to find the perfect fit of skills, personality and desire.
#5 Don’t Freak Out
It's inevitable: bad things are going to happen, things can always get worse, and someone important is going to get pissed off.
Losing my cool never helped. Frankly, no one can think when they are freaked out.
We’ve always joked that our #1 rule is "Don’t Freak Out" and our #2 rule is "Don’t Freak Out." These two rules have served us well through the 2000 Dot Com bubble burst, 9/11 tragedy, the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, and 2020's COVID-19.
The next 25?
I don’t think I could be any more pleased than I am right now.
Are we growing as fast as I would like? NO, are we doing everything I want to do? NO.
I am proud of what “I” built. But what makes me prouder is that “I” didn’t build it, I just started it. My team, my friends, and my family built this company and made it great.
That’s probably the most important lesson I have learned.