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Serial entrepreneur & CEO of iCode, Abid Abedi, shares the recipe for successful startups.
Running a business – and running it well – is an art. There’s something beautiful about witnessing all the moving parts of a business working together, like well-oiled gears humming in a gearbox. Depending on your level of business savvy, getting to this idyllic phase can take some time and most definitely hard work. And, while many people would argue that successful business owners likely have extensive industry experience, I’d beg to disagree.
I immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 to attend college. I can only assume it was this experience of starting over fresh and essentially building up my life that pushed me toward entrepreneurship. Since then, I’ve launched 15 startups and counting – I have, without a doubt, developed a passion for starting businesses. These businesses have ranged from IT companies to restaurants to staffing firms to agriculture, yet my core skill set is in finance. How could this be?
For many, starting a business in an unfamiliar industry may seem risky, maybe even foolish, but over the years, I’ve discovered three key components that are critical to launching a successful startup. No industry experience is required.
The first step to successfully launching a startup in a new industry is to let your ego go. It’s natural to think that starting a business in an unfamiliar industry automatically puts you at a disadvantage, but remember, running a business is a team sport. The burden of industry knowledge should be spread across the team, not resting on the shoulders of one person. Letting go of your ego, and the idea that you’ll have all the answers because it’s your business, is critical to building a strong team – one that’s likely smarter than you, and that’s OK. Regardless of industry knowledge, your role is to steer the ship and bring outside perspectives that challenge the sector to make your business a standout.
My first hire is always an industry expert with years of experience that I don’t have. This immediate move is key to setting up foundational parts of your business, like operations, structure, policies and more. The next hire is sales so that the business can be built from the ground up with a growth mindset.
From there, I make a point to build a diverse leadership team filled with individuals that come from all types of industries. It’s this type of talent that drives new ideas and fresh perspectives because they’re not bringing years of industry biases to the table. The combination of these experiences and strengths will create a winning team for your business right out of the gate.
To help illustrate the importance of company vision, I like to equate running a business to driving a car. The company vision is represented by the headlights, serving as a guide and allowing your team to visualize where they’re headed. So, you see, it doesn’t really matter how strong your team is if there’s no clear-cut goal or direction.
There are several ways to put this into action. First, you’ll want to develop a company vision. Whether you’re the sole creator or have chosen to co-create with the team, make sure it has depth and purpose to serve as a driving force for your team.
Take it a step further and make sure this vision is communicated regularly, in fact, it should be outlined during the interview process so that everyone is on the same page right from the start. Kick-off meetings with a reminder of the shared company vision. By communicating this message often, you’re priming the team to bring new, innovative ideas on how to achieve the vision.
With a solid team in place and a crystal-clear vision to guide them, it’s important to set the tone for your workplace culture. It’s easy for leaders to say they embrace failure, but it’s another thing entirely to build a culture around it. I have found that my teams come up with the best, most cutting-edge ideas when they’re fearless – fearless of failure, judgment, or whatever else may follow a mistake or a thought.
The team you put in place was brought in to disrupt the industry, and maybe even challenge your own ideas – all to achieve that shared company vision. This type of culture moves companies forward, and it’s not built in a day. This fearless culture that embraces all types of ideas takes months, or even years, to build, but it needs to be maintained. One wrong response to a mistake or one wrong hire can tear it all down.
This means, there are no days off. Culture is from the top down and you set the standard every single day acting as a role model for your team. Encourage fearless acts, wacky ideas and healthy competition. Most importantly, reframe what it means to make a mistake, because if people aren’t making mistakes, they’re not growing – and neither is your business.
Abid Abedi is the CEO of iCode, a technology and science educator for children
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