The Most Important Thing You Can Do Before Starting a Business
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 Josh Reeves, cofounder and CEO of Gusto.
There are many reasons to start a company, and many ways to build a business. But the heart of entrepreneurship is about finding a problem that you’re passionate about and then dedicating yourself to solve it.
Work can be magical when you’re doing something you’re good at, something you enjoy doing, and something that needs to be done. The first business I helped start, Unwrap, taught me a lesson about finding a problem I had experienced firsthand. While I learned a lot from the experience, the business was a clear contrast to the mission-driven mentality at my current company, Gusto, where my teammates and I strive to do the best work of our lives every day.
To give some context, Unwrap developed a product called Buzzeo around the time Facebook (FB) was launching in 2008. Buzzeo was essentially a way for anyone non-technical to build an application on Facebook—similar to using WordPress to create a blog. Our work had some elements of being mission-driven in terms of enabling business owners to connect with their audience on these new social platforms, but we were very reactive. The business was making money—we had millions of users—but it was unclear what long-term goal we were building toward. It felt like something was missing.
We didn’t have a clear purpose that could guide us over the coming few years, let alone the subsequent five or 10. I realized that if we were going to grow the team, I wanted to be able to speak about our goals in a way that I’d be able to repeat them a thousand times and have just as much passion and conviction as the first time. So even though we had funding available to us, we ended up accepting one of the acquisition offers we had received.
Having all built prior companies, my cofounders and I started Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll) in 2011, which provides simple payroll, benefits, HR, and compliance services. Edward Kim, Tomer London, and I had all personally felt the pain of doing payroll and health insurance in our previous businesses. We also have family members who had felt the frustrations of manually doing payroll at small businesses—Eddie’s mother at a doctor’s office in Los Angeles; Tomer’s father at a clothing store in Israel; and my mother-in-law for some technology companies. We started Gusto with the mission to help empower business owners so they could build great teams.
Mission-driven entrepreneurs have the mindset of wanting to solve a problem by creating a business— not by creating a business to find a problem to solve. When I’m interviewing candidates, communicating with customers, or talking with teammates at Gusto, it’s an honor and a privilege to share what we’re doing and discuss our purpose. My role as CEO is to serve our team and our customers. It’s the reason we exist as a business.
I believe entrepreneurship is a mindset: never accepting the status quo as the way things should be. You constantly think about how things could be, and then you work to turn that vision into reality. When I help other entrepreneurs, meet with investors, or mentor students, it’s all driven by the same mindset—paying forward some of the advice and wisdom others have shared with me over the years, and also helping like-minded entrepreneurs solve real problems in the world.
Every business owner has to find what’s authentic to him or her. For me, it’s creating software that makes it easier to run a business, while improving the employer-employee relationship. The opportunity to solve a real foundational pain point is what drives me and the team. At the end of the day, no matter what struggles we may face, our product is working to help others. And if we achieve our goals, it doesn’t matter to me if my name is associated with Gusto when I’m 90 years old. I derive joy from seeing the impact we have on our customers’ lives, and also witnessing my teammates grow and reach their full potential. There’s no space for ego in entrepreneurship. Starting a business is about solving a problem you’re passionate about, and being proud of the manner in which you achieve your goals.
Josh Reeves is the CEO and cofounder of Gusto, a startup that reimagines payroll, benefits, HR, and personal finance by automating the most complicated, impersonal business tasks and making them simple and delightful. Gusto has offices in San Francisco and Denver, and its investors include Google Capital, General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and the founders of Instagram, Stripe, Nest, PayPal, Yelp, Box, and Eventbrite, among others.
Read all responses to the Entrepreneur Insider question: What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?
What Google and Richard Branson Can Teach Us About Success by Alexander Goldstein, founder and CEO of Eligo Energy.
Here’s Why You Should Start Working Less by Erik Severinghaus, founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance.
The Dangerous Mistake Too Many Leaders Make by Fayez Mohamood, cofounder and CEO of Bluecore.
The Biggest Challenge Every Entrepreneur Faces by Jeff Ruby, founder and CEO of Newtopia.
Here’s What Happens When Your Company Only Focuses on Data by Allison Berliner, founder and CEO of Cataluv.
What Every Entrepreneur Should Be More Prepared for by Feris Rifai, cofounder and CEO of Bay Dynamics.
Why Virtual Offices Don’t Work by William Vanderbloemen, founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.
The One Quality That Defines a Great Entrepreneur by Anthony Katz, founder of Hyperice.
What Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Apple by Michael Maven, founder of Carter & Kingsley.