Words from the Wise: Lessons from an Entrepreneur

700 466 David DeWolf

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get the privilege of meeting with and learning from great leaders. They are legends of business, including people I’ve looked up to from afar for their great business acumen and the companies they’ve founded.

They also include silent heroes that most people have never heard about. They are usually genuinely good people and more than willing to share their experiences and lessons learned in business.

I have had the opportunity to get to know one of these individuals and meet with him several times over the past two years. This is someone whose story is instantly recognizable but whose name might not be. (He’s the perfect example of Level 5 Leadership.)

Every time I meet with him, I take away nuggets that would be useful for any entrepreneur who is transitioning into a high-growth CEO and searching for the right things to be spending time on. These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from this individual.

Stay close to the customer.

It’s normal for “experts” to push the entrepreneur-CEO “out into the market” in order to raise the profile of their company. This includes becoming a thought leader, speaking at conferences, talking to the press, and other high-profile activities to get the story out and provide “air cover” for the organization.

While not a bad thing, this leader recommends focusing more time on staying close to the customer. From his experience, building deep, lasting relationships with clients and learning from them where to take the business is a much more beneficial approach than speaking to an audience of 800 people, of whom 5 may have the potential to buy.

Expand through market adjacencies.

As you’re looking to grow, forget the market studies, high-price consultants, and pie-in-the-sky opportunities. Instead, listen to your customers and find the market adjacencies that exist. Do you dominate a specific industry within a geographic region? Consider expanding to an adjacent region by leveraging that same industry experience. Or, perhaps it would be more beneficial to attack an industry with similar characteristics in the same geographic region. Either way, you have leverage. Use it to your advantage.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore calls this the Bowling Pin Strategy. This leader reiterates that, from his experience, this is not only the way to Cross the Chasm, but also the way to achieve exponential growth–even after you achieve $1B, $2B, or $5B in revenue.

Always seek exceptional talent–specifically technical and vertical experts. 

Every business is fueled by people and you can never have enough exceptional talent. This leader recommends that you continually network and recruit for the best of the best talent. All the time.

Identify market leaders and pursue them. Stay persistent. Whether it takes six months or six years, never stop attracting exceptional talent to your organization.

Proactively manage your board and investors.

Knowing that I closed a fundraising effort since the last time we met, this leader also recommended that I proactively manage my new investors and board members. Investors don’t like surprises, especially bad ones, and the less they hear from you the more they get nervous. He recommended I establish a consistent rhythm of communication and proactively share both good and bad news.

He cautioned to remind me that most institutional investors are not operators, but financiers. He recommended being respectful but bold in ensuring that we keep a positive board dynamic.

What wise words have you taken to heart from leaders who have inspired you?