Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from someone else’s? At the Collision Conference 2017, a panel of successful entrepreneurs (including Sisense’s very own co-founder, Adi Azaria) told Inc’s Eric Schurenberg what they did wrong, what they did right – and shared their top tips and secrets for making your startup a roaring success.
Here are the highlights.
Persevere Against the Odds
“I made every mistake in the book,” says Adi Azaria, co-founder of Sisense. “I started a company with four of my friends. Coming out of university, you think you know everything, and really you know nothing. That’s the main challenge, I guess.”
Messing up is an inevitable part of starting any business. Often, your first steps are simply a case of failing over and over again, as fast as you can, until you get it right – gathering as much valuable data as possible on what’s working, what isn’t, and how you can improve your decision-making for next time. Without the strength to persevere and adapt, many a company would have crumbled before it had a chance to shine.
“You must be the perfect optimist,” says Adi. “You must think positively about any challenge you encounter. Every resistance you face is an opportunity, not a negative thing. Every no is getting you closer to a yes. Especially with a software company – if VCs are telling you: no, no, no, eventually one will tell you yes.”
Have a Vision
Want to know what important traits entrepreneurs were most likely to say they had, when interviewed for Inc’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies?
Vision and determination.
Turning your business into something truly special means having absolute clarity of purpose. You need to know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, and why. As Adi put it:
“You need to be persistent. If you’ve decided that this is how you’re going to change the world, then go for it with full power and you will succeed.”
When you’re starting out, it can feel like you’re fighting so many fires at once that you just don’t have time to sit down and figure out your roadmap for the future – but if you don’t create precise targets, you’ll flounder. Adi knows this all too well from his experience in the early days of Sisense.
“Being a small startup, setting goals wasn’t part of what we did. When you’re a young founder, you just don’t think about these things. But without setting goals, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he says. “Today when I mentor startups, the first thing I teach them is my first failure. I say: you need to set achievable goals – or fairly achievable goals! That’s how we grew 300-500% in the first five years. By aiming for stars, and landing on one that is more modest.”
Get Comfortable With Risk
Business owners might think their most important trait is vision, but as Eric points out, the research suggests that really, it’s more to do with their attitude the risk.
This doesn’t mean you take crazy gambles when the odds are against you. Rather, it’s about learning to manage and mitigate risk, and to accept that if you’re doing something genuinely disruptive or exciting, you’ll always be courting the possibility that you’ll struggle to gain traction – at least at first.
“In the data market, the business intelligence market, there’s a lot of competition and everyone’s fighting for the same customers,” says Adi, who believes that Sisense would never have got beyond phase one without taking significant risks.
“At first we went with the usual dashboarding tool, giving visual representation of the data. And at some point we figured out that everybody’s doing the same thing. We could either reinvent the wheel in some way or just stay part of the pack. So, we reinvented databases, and we made Big Data what it is today.
“Sisense was one of the first companies that did that. It was a major risk because, if this single product didn’t succeed, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now.”
Think as a Team
Time to let go of that ego, because the simple fact is: no great company ever got there on the strengths of just one person. For that, you’ll have to build an amazing team, figuring out what superpowers you bring to the table, what you lack, and how others can bring their own strengths into the mix.
What’s more, once you’ve assembled the perfect team, it’s unbelievably important to keep making it clear that the company is a venture you all own in some way. That way, it’s not just a job – it’s a stared vision, or purpose.
“What makes Sisense unique after all these years is the ability to stay together during this rollercoaster,” explains Adi. “You have the downs and ups, but the main secret is to stay together when things are getting tough.”
Even better is if you can extend that spirit of camaraderie to your customers, winning their loyalties along the way.
“Being five founders together helped us a lot to get through the tough times, especially when you’ve got no money and no one wants to look at your product,” he says. “We managed to take this collaboration and friendship, and pass it on or transmit it in some way to the customer. That’s made us very successful, as they buy the product not just because it’s amazing, but because they like us and what we do as a team.”
The upshot to expecting your team to navigate the hurdles with you is that you also have to recognize that you’re responsible for making the company a success, to protect them and their jobs. You may have started out because you thought you’d be great at XYZ, but now you’re the boss – and you have a bunch of people that depend on you.
“Understanding the responsibility is really important, because suddenly it’s not just us, it’s 400 families who could be out of a job,” says Adi. “It can be a stressful situation, but I came to see it in a different way: I see each and every employee who works with us as a true partner.”
“It’s about how to make every person get the most out of their potential. So, we educate them. We help people to think about what they’re doing day to day – maybe they need to switch to flourish more. And I have to say, they’re doing amazing. So this is why I’m here. To make them successful.”
Learn to Deal With Doubt
Finally, for all that optimism and perseverance, there will be moments when you seriously doubt yourself and your business. Perhaps it’s coming from inside, or perhaps other people tell you it will never work. Getting through these moments is tough, but essential.
Often, it’s just a case of taking a step back to reset. Looking after yourself, getting some sleep, going to the gym, surrounding yourself with people who get you fired up – whatever it takes to recenter. For Adi’s team, four years ago, it meant a month-long team trip to India to unplug, brainstorm, and return refreshed and bursting with excitement and ideas.
“We came back to work, we know what to change – and since then we raised $100 million!”
Fancy a Helping Hand?
When it comes to running a startup, we get it: we’ve been through it all ourselves – the thrills, the frustrations, the panics, the pride of getting it off the ground. That’s why we’re seriously excited to be able to lend a hand to help other awesome businesses follow in our footsteps.
Through Sisense Startup, we’re giving innovative newbies free mentoring and access to our technology, allowing them to white label and embed Analytics and Reporting into their products. This will help to boost ROI, create better products and corner the market. It’s a tough old world out there, and having fought our way through the jungle ourselves, we feel like it’s time we paid it forward.
Want to take advantage of our free support, click here to learn more about the Sisense Startup program.