The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?” is written by Erik Severinghaus, founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance.
When I left IBM to start SimpleRelevance, I was bursting with the enthusiasm all entrepreneurs experience when they begin new ventures. I ate, slept, and breathed the company. I wouldn’t even know how to count the number of hours I was working because I dreamt about work. I’d wake up, scribble some ideas down, and then try to clear my mind and go back to sleep.
I left my day job on March 31 and started building my company on April 1. But before I started the business, I wish I had slowed down a bit, been more thoughtful, and realized that the pace was only going to grow more intense as the journey evolved. I wish I had realized that any company is only going to go as far as the CEO takes it, and because of that, it’s critical to the company that the CEO takes care of himself. I truly believe that by moving a bit slower—but more efficiently—we could’ve gone farther faster.
When you start a business, the only things that matter are finding your first employees, getting that first customer, and securing the first round of funding. When you actually achieve those things, the pace doesn’t slow down—it intensifies. My customers, investors, and employees all have expectations of me, and each of those people are monumentally important to the business. Of course, I was willing to move heaven and earth to make them happy.
If (when?) I were to start another business, I’d probably begin by forcing myself to take a couple of weeks of leisure or vacation. This serves dual purposes: It recharges your batteries (because vacation is only going to be harder to come by) and allows your brain to think more freely about the problem you’re interested in solving (rather than being in pure execution mode).
Next, I’d be intentional about putting together a schedule that helps balance work and life. Knowing that there are 168 hours in a week, and that work is about to consume most of them, I’d set a schedule for things like exercise, sleep, and time with friends and family, and then be disciplined about holding to it. Ignoring these critical components of your life and health chips away at your productivity and ability to make decisions over time.
I would maintain a structured peer group—like Young Presidents’ Organization or Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization—with other CEOs of companies for both personal and professional advice. The time invested in these forums always pays dividends multiple times over in the future.
I would spend less time meeting people, and more time making sure that the action items from those meetings got executed on. I would document, follow up, and make sure those commitments didn’t drop. If, after being honest with myself, I realized that I didn’t have the discipline to systematically follow up, I’d think about allocating scarce capital to an assistant or someone who could hold me to task.
The norms, expectations, and cadence I set within my company from day one will be with me forever, both for better and worse. Before you begin, slow down, take a deep breath, build an execution framework that’s compatible with your lifestyle, and seek to move faster by being more efficient rather than expending more energy.
Erik Severinghaus is the founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance, which uses machine learning to turn customer data into recommendations for relevant digital marketing messages and was recently acquired by Rise Interactive. Erik is a graduate of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
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