Build a Company Around You
Acton students cement their learning throughout the year by cataloguing “Lessons Learned” and “Lessons Not Learned.” These lessons are pooled wisdom into which the entrepreneurs can dive as needed in their future endeavors. The Lessons Learned column invites alums to share the moments when those lessons surface in their post-Acton lives. Bryan Daigle ’11 discusses one of his favorites.
Who says you need to focus on one product line in one industry? Who says you can’t travel two months every year? Who says you can’t take mid-day naps? Unfortunately, most people say so. But those same people also say you should align your business with your interests.
What if your interests, like mine, were inventing, traveling, and napping?
Before Acton I’d been told over and over that I can’t invent anything, travel anywhere, sleep anytime, and have a successful business. However, I firmly believe you can start and build a business around your favorite activities. Here is how in two years I built my company, Webko Products, from nothing to #1 in Google for our products, all while pursuing my personal passions.
Passion #1 – Inventing
While going to Acton, I realized I had to answer a very important question. Would Webko focus on the Headset Buddy Adapter, its bestselling brand and the #1 headset adapter on Amazon? Or should I pursue my passion for inventing gadgets without regard to the type of product or industry?
On the first hand, focusing on one brand is surely an easier strategy, because we can use the same industry contacts, same manufacturers, and same customers. Focusing on an already successful product is less risky and would increase short-term revenues.
On the second hand, pursuing multiple product lines sounds like a lot more fun! Sure, we might not make as much revenue in the short term, and we’ll have to find new sales reps to sell our products, and we’ll have to find new factories, and…
While chasing after new gadgets may be a more uphill battle, because that’s my passion, that’s where I’ve decided we need to go as a company. Our plan is to develop several product lines, each with several SKUs, so we can still invent wacky gadgets, but also coattail on our successful products.
Passion #2 – Travel
I don’t like being in once place too long or I start to twitch involuntarily. Traveling is in my blood, literally. I was conceived in Egypt, raised in Singapore, and schooled in India. Forty-two passport stamps later, traveling is too important for me to give up.
Can I be like Ricardo Semler and travel two months a year because the business runs itself? (If I could do that, Michael Gerber, author of “The E-Myth,” would probably squeal with glee.) But to me, it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” So I must create a team, a culture, a product line, a business that supports my travel ambitions.
How we accomplished my goal of geographical independence actually ties into my third passion…
Passion #3 – Flexible Schedules (aka Napping)
Can I get my 2pm beauty sleep and still be a visible leader?? Don’t I have to lead by example by working 80 hour weeks, sending emails at 3:43am, and being first in and last out? If I don’t will my employees not respect me and become bitter? Or is there another way?
Actually, a Harvard note assigned at Acton called “Leadership that Gets Results” showed that a “pacesetting” leadership style could actually have a negative impact on an organization, and that maybe leading by being a workaholic isn’t the best idea.
What if I could work when and where I’m most productive? Then, I could get more done in less time (bonus!), and be happier (double bonus!!). How could I create such a system?
At Webko we’ve decided to set weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals that are visible to everyone. When you walk in our door the first thing you will see is our gong, and the second thing you’ll see is a list of everyone’s goals. While it’s by no means a perfect system, it’s an easy way we hold each other accountable to doing what needs to get done. And the kicker is that nobody cares how or where we complete our goal, as long as it gets done!
Because of our goal system, we now offer employees truly flexible hours and locations. I usually am most productive in the mornings and evenings, so I work at those times and run errands in the afternoon. And I can work from home or while traveling. Some employees come early and leave early to get home to their family. Some have programmer hours and prefer to work from their couches while watching episodes of “Family Guy.” All that we ask is that everyone completes their goals on time, that’s it.
By getting a little creative, I was able to build a business that aligned well with my passions and interests. While building a business to suit your lifestyle may not be the norm, or a highly popular strategy, in the long term it will be worth the effort.
Photo courtesy of CC Chapman
Here’s a video of Bryan at work, from our Acton in the Wild series:
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