Image Caption: Portrait of David Brabrook, CEO and Founder at App Solve
There’s no manual or education that will equip you for the hustle you’d have to put into starting your company. Long days, sleep deprivation, wavering relationships and emotional turmoil characterized much of the first year of starting my own company. I was lucky in that I had a great network of supportive people, some of whom were (and still are) my competitors in this industry. We entered a lucrative industry that is still in its early stages, a fact that many entrepreneurs know is both a blessing and a curse.
We are in an age where digitization has completely changed the way we live. Some of you are in a business that recognizes how imperative it is to have a strategy to be on the better side of digital disruption. With a rapid increase in demand for cloud computing, many businesses in our industry – small and large companies alike – are facing the challenges that come with exponential growth. Rapid growth puts companies in a position where they must evolve and scale in order to accommodate the pace at which the industry grows. Being in a fast-paced industry means that what I learnt yesterday as a CEO may no longer be applicable tomorrow.
There were unique experiences of startup culture that appeared and surprised me. There were times when everything just clicked – when you execute the right decisions at the right time with the right people, there’s an amazing sense of gratification that comes with it. It’s the feeling that with a few adjustments to a situation, you have the power to positively influence an outcome. How do you become attuned to making the right adjustments? I learned to gather as much data as possible to identify problems and opportunities. I learned to surround myself with great people and pick up on their energies so I could readily identify problems and nip them before they have a chance to manifest.
Of course, with the good, comes the bad. My personal life took a toll at times – imbalance defined my life. I was thrown off by how hard it was to adjust, to shut off and to stop working outside of work hours. Looking back, I wish I knew that work-life balance doesn’t come naturally and isn’t something you should ignore. If I had told myself “David, you’re not going to have a real vacation for another 2 years,” I would’ve realized the lifestyle changes that come with starting a and leading a successful company were much more than I thought.
In App Solve’s first year, I felt pretty terrified. I spent much of that year solo, developing and implementing my own projects for Salesforce. I eventually hired a couple of contractors and freelancers to help me with operations and small projects, but there was no permanent team. I created a temporary environment and you can surely imagine how hard it was not knowing when my next project would be. Startup culture is often glorified, but I knew it was going to be hard work from the start. But in reality, you can only anticipate so much hard work. It takes twice as much effort and is twice as expensive as you think it is.
Transitioning to the second year, it was tough for me in a different way. I experienced a different kind of loneliness. A lot of the people I hired were cycling through, and turnover was quite high, at that time I knew I had to start laying the groundwork for building the foundations of my business. There was no place for band-aid solutions. In an industry where companies like App Solve offer similar services, the key differentiator lays in your people. It’s important that you select employees who are not only good at their jobs but also share the same values as the company has defined.
It took me 3 years to realize that I needed to start hiring full-time employees for the company, so it became the primary focus in year 3. Now, this is something I wish I had started WAY earlier, but the best way to learn is by making mistakes. We built an amazing in-house foundational team and I’m so happy with the culture we’ve fostered. We continue adding to it today by focusing on culture fit which is derived through ensuring that each employee shares our Core Values:
- Trust, Respect and Accountability
- Sense of Urgency
Now, having just passed year 4, we’re beginning to really gain an understanding of the importance of being clear on ‘what we do for a living.’ What are the projects and customers that we’re best suited to? And not only that but what are the projects that we want and types of customers we hope to attract and serve? My understanding of the importance of work-life balance has grown, but in addition, how important the intersection of the two is in order to achieve success at both. Although my understanding of this has matured, I’m still mastering putting all my knowledge into practice. An exciting thing for the company is that I have now graduated from the Entrepreneurs Organization’s Accelerator (EOA) program, and into its full Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) membership. This is going to allow us to better understand and deliver on an optimal intersection of personal, community & business. If you haven’t heard of EO, it’s a global organization that is focused on helping entrepreneurs scale their business, and for me, it’s been an unbelievable amount of structure and support that has had huge impacts on me as a person and my business. If you’re an entrepreneur, you should absolutely check out EO, I highly recommend it!
So if you’re reading this right now, and you’re thinking about starting a business the best piece of advice I can give you is to go out there and do it! You can’t get to 2nd base with one foot on first, and if you don’t try it, you’ll always wonder what might have been. I also have to emphasize that you shouldn’t linger too long on making decisions. You’re going to make mistakes (tons of them!) but it’s the best way to learn and there is always a way. You’re either growing or shrinking, so make the decision with all the available info, and move forward to the next!
The last piece of advice I can give is to never sacrifice on hiring the best possible people, they’re everything in your business! There are times when you can’t, but when you can, block out your personal time and ferociously guard it and ensure not to infringe on it with headspace related to the business or worse yet, actually doing work. Not doing this is the fastest way to burn out.
I hope this was valuable to read and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to share your story or questions you have about App Solve’s success.