Being an entrepreneur is not in my blood. I don’t have a Chinese blood — I’m half Pinoy and half Bicolano. Ok, if you didn’t get the joke, never mind. My parents weren’t engaged in any business. I learned about business in college. But being an accounting student, I learned only half of it — half management and half numbers.
And so when I started Team Sparrow, Inc. in 2001, I’m clueless of what I was doing. There were times when I hit the wall and didn’t know what to do — no one is mentoring me, nothing is available in the books — I just do whatever sounds logical to me. And so there were mistakes, huge ones. Needless to say, I learned a lot from those mistakes. The painful way. After 7 years, after the ups and downs, I feel like this is the only time where I can say I’m ready to do business.
If you’re a budding entreprenuer, you don’t have to commit these mistakes. Learn from these and avoid the pains. Let me share some of the mistakes I committed in the past 7 years and hoping that, by writing about it, these mistakes will stare at me whenever I’m confronted with the same thing and therefore, avoid committing the same stupid things:
1. Keep the operation cost as low as possible. We started well. Cash is present. The first mistake: launch a web product extravagantly — like, in a hotel — in the hopes that there will be media attention. There was time that earnings are good, so we moved from one “better” office space to another, treated employees during their birthdays, purchased computers even if it’s not needed (yet). While I cherish those birthday parties (and never regret that, it’s my way of loving my employees), I wished I had chopped the cost down. We could have stayed to the same office space as long as possible. We could have used what is available. We could have maintained just one internet connection. Bring down the cost as low as possible. It definitely is a way to survive the crunch time.
2. Less is more – I thought hiring more employees when I’m capable of is a sign of success. So I did. I thought too many projects is the way to go. So we tried to squeeze in as many projects as possible. I thought the more diverse our services are, the better it is for us. So we offered not just web development and designing, we tried web hosting, email hosting, even logo designs and calling cards.
The problem: I realized that for some tasks, 3 staff working can be accomplished by 1 really good programmer or designer. The key is to find a top notch team — dedicated and passionate about what they are doing. We tried to acquire jobs that are not really in our core competency. The key is to focus on what you are good and and do it well. Less is more. Focus is the key.
3. Be hands on – I tried to automate everything — from accounting to task management to employee log in/log out. Automation is good. In fact, it should be the right thing to do IF you’re not going to actually eliminate yourself as the real, physical person overseeing the operation. In my hope to lessen my workload, I took refuge in automating things. In task management, for instance. I assumed that when I have tasks on queue on my automated task management system, the team will run with less supervision. Wrong. The reality is, even if they see they have tasks on queue, very few will pick those tasks up on their own. They still need someone to direct them and give them tasks to follow.
Automation is good. But don’t make it as an excuse to being lazy.
4. Do not avoid hard conversations – I’d like to see myself as a people person. And because of that, I hate to offend people. The first resignation I had broke my heart. I love my people and I hate to see them leave.
But — what if you have guys who are incompetent, comes in early — for lunch, proud and unteachable? Should you stick? Should you avoid being offensive? The quick answer is – no. Be the boss that you are and make that hard conversation. Fire him if it’s needed. That’s easier said than done, though. After 7 years, I’m still working on that.
Those are just a few. I’ll try to add some more in the coming days. I hope you learned something from my mistakes.