3 Biggest Challenges I Faced (And Overcame) As Reply CEO
You finally made it - you’re the main man, the boss, the CEO. Congratulations!
Many people dream of taking charge of a company, but only a small fraction make it. Pat yourself on the back, enjoy the moment because now the real work begins.
Being the CEO isn’t about expensive suits and cigars, but involves hard work and tough decisions.
The good news is you can learn from those that have already gone through those challenges, making your path a little easier.
Here are three of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a CEO, and how you can overcome them.
Where to begin
Right from the start, you’ll face the challenge deciding what action to take.
Whatever your background, whether working for someone else or coming straight from school, we’re all used to being told what to do.
The trouble is now you’re the boss.
No-one’s above you. No-one will tell you what you’re meant to be doing. It’s easy to spend all your time researching or reading yet another book on leadership.
Before you know it you’re curled up in a ball, overwhelmed by a mountain of potential actions but doing nothing, longing for the days that someone else had to make the choices.
The sheer range of choices open to you can be paralyzing as well, but how you prioritize them is even more important. One of my favourite quotes is from Grant Cardone:
That’s the answer, just start.
Yes, it can be terrifying. Yes, it may turn out not be the very best thing you could do.
But on the other hand, the worst thing you can do is nothing.
Inertia kills even the greatest of plans, but building up momentum by taking consistent action will result in progress, even from the simplest plans.
We’re trained to believe that answers are binary, either right or wrong. But in business, as in real life, decisions are rarely so simple.
It turns out there’s more than one right answer.
Just make a choice. Pick an action. Then start making progress.
Even if it turns out to be wrong, get started. Take comfort that it’ll get easier when things are rolling; start on operational tasks before moving on to trickier strategic decisions.
Working with your team
It’s likely that as your business grows, you won’t be just making choices for yourself, but also for your team.
Assembling a great team can be a challenge in itself.
They’re potentially one of your most powerful assets, but also a significant cost.
Once you’ve invested in them, you need to be sure you’re making the most of them.
Use them to drive the growth in your business. But how? What should you do and what should you delegate?
When I faced this challenge, I spoke to my friends, fellow entrepreneurs, other CEO’s and read post after post, trying to find the best action to take.
Everyone had a different suggestion, something else for me to focus on. In the end, the best advice I had was this: Talk to your team members and stay close to them.
When growing your business, it’s easy to become separated from the market, from what’s going on in the day-to-day.
At some point you won’t be able to personally talk with each one of your customers;
That’s where your sales reps and customer support staff earn their wages. Talk to them regularly. Listen to what they’re saying.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This applies to your team, but it also applies to your product.
Focus on the problem areas identified by talking to your team.
Now, I’d love to tell you what area you should focus on, but it’s always different. It could be sales, marketing, financing, or something else entirely.
Your problems, like your business, are unique to you.
As tempting as it is, don’t bury your head but rather spend the time needed to fix these bottlenecks.
Personally, I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to allocate 50% of your time to problem-solving.
The other 50% is spent on strategy and implementation.
A good strategy may help accelerate growth, but you can’t focus on the big picture if there are bottlenecks in your business. Both need addressing.
Knowing what to do next
Hopefully, at some point, you’ll find your business is ‘complete’, capable of running without your direct input. If I disappeared today, then my company, Reply, would carry on just fine without me. However, I have no intention of disappearing, and ‘just fine’ doesn’t cut it.
Ironically, the challenge facing the CEO of a fully established business is the same as the CEO of a fledgling company. Whether you have nothing in place, or everything is running smoothly, the same questions come up:
Of course, at this stage in your business, the options are going to look a little different. As opposed to trying to survive, you’ll be in a position to take your business to the next level. But there seem to be an infinite number of choices open to you. Will you start fundraising? Maybe look into forming a partnership? Or should you look into kickstarting a new initiative?
It’s the same problem you faced at the start of your journey, and it turns out the answer is the same too: Pick a goal, then focus on reaching it.
When picking that goal, I still recommend keeping a 50/50 balance between addressing bottlenecks and strategic implementation.
How Reply is planning for the future
So, that’s fine as what does this look like in practice?
At Reply, we have two goals we’re focusing on.The first is to increase revenue and scale our business.
Rather than settling for organic growth, we’re now actively exploring ways to grow exponentially.
When setting any goal, using the S.M.A.R.T. methodology (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) helps ensure it’s effective, and that’s what we’ve done: To increase our revenue by 500% over the next three years.
It’s certainly not an easy goal; we have competitors with more experience, who’ve started out earlier, and who’ve had the benefits of more funding.
But it is an achievable goal. I believe that the market is there and if Reply can scale efficiently, we’ll make it, creating explosive growth early on and gaining traction.
We’ve set specific revenue milestones over the course of the three years, as a way to measure our progress.
It’s important to remember when setting this kind of goal that the actions required to hit the first milestone are unlikely to be the same ones that get you to the next one.
For example, it takes entirely different tasks to make your first $1,000,000 revenue than to make it to $10,000,000.
It’s not going to be a case of repeating the same steps ad infinitum. It’s going to take some planning.
In our case, we’ve made sure that we have a solid management team in place.
My co-founder at Reply, Lee Gladish, has previously helped companies achieve similar goals, and has been invaluable in sharing his experience and expertise.
As someone who’s already been there, his vision is helping us make our goal a reality.
It’s also important to realize that complications will arise. We’ve acknowledged that at some point, we’ll hit a plateau.
Even with the best plan in place, any business can be affected by circumstances beyond their control.
For example, it’s very likely that at some point in the next few years we’ll hit another recession.
In fact, if you look at the conditions that led to the previous recession, we’re facing a similar situation today, and I believe we’re now overdue.
Although this is obviously outside of our control, that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for it.
We’ve anticipated worst case scenarios, where we may lose as much as 30% of our customers, and planned how we would react.
The best companies don’t just survive a recession, they reposition and grow. That’s what we intend to do.
A big part of that will be focusing on demonstrating the value Reply provides. While in a recession, we may be hesitant to spend money on software, but we’ll dig deep into our pockets to pay for something that will make us more money.
It’s no good sticking your head in the sand. You’ve got to plan and prepare so you can thrive while your competition suffers.
Finding your business’s mission
Our second goal revolves around our ‘why,’ about what we’re able to give to the world.
Despite our aims to increase revenue, that’s not what our mission as a company is all about. Personally, I don’t need much money; I don’t need to be able to buy all the latest toys.
For me, that’s not what business is about; it’s not my ambition. My priority is to stay humble as the company grows.
When I was working as a programmer, I was earning enough, but I used that money to invest in creating something, into building a business.
I never felt the need to compete with the kind of people who kept score by their bank balance, or by having the fancy toys.
One of my role models is Elon Musk, a man who’s changing the world as we know it. When he made $180 million from PayPal, he put the money into SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City. He still had to borrow money for rent.
That level of dedication to growing his businesses is remarkable, and an inspiration to me.
While I’m not quite at that level yet, I follow the same principles. In my last venture, I came out of it with $30,000.
I could’ve spent it on anything, maybe bought myself a nice car. But that wasn’t my goal.
Instead, I reinvested the money into my new business.
When you’ve established yourself as a business, ask yourself why you’re here.
What’s your purpose?
If it’s to make a whole bunch of cash, that’s fine.
But likely there’s another reason that’s driving you. Identify it, and use your position to make that a reality.
It’s true; as a CEO, you will face obstacles. In fact, it comes full circle.
The challenge you face at the start of your journey, of knowing where to focus your efforts, will still be a challenge when your company is fully established.
You may face frustrations today, but the future is bright.
By taking consistent action, communicating with your team, and putting aside enough time to deal with bottlenecks and implement strategies for the future of your company, you can succeed.
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