Ten years is a long time to do anything. The last ten years for me have been the best of my life. These years have taught me that success is the blend of many things – and over the last ten years, I have found that these ingredients factored heavily into creating a prosperous present.
The future is so bright, and I’m grateful for all those who've helped and supported this fantastic journey. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
1. When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door
As an executive at my last company, I approached my CEO with an idea about expanding into a new arena called SaaS. Where I saw opportunity he saw a waste of time, and so I was forced to leave that organization. I was out of that job, but I knew that I couldn’t just leave the space.
I also knew that I was tired of being at the whim of other people’s beliefs. I had a fervent belief in the power of SaaS and the potential of this industry, and as they say, “Wild horses” couldn’t have dragged me away from starting out on my own!
2. Practice Boundless Optimism
When we started on the path to founding Xactly we were probably too bright-eyed to acknowledge the risks, and we often took turns at 60 mph that could have been dead ends – but our boundless optimism and faith in our vision gave us the confidence to trust that the road would be there.
I never weighed things based on fear or doubt, only on my conviction and our team’s dedication. If you’re worried and cautious about what’s around the next bend, you can’t succeed.
3. There are Angels in the Outfield
Aside from the assistance of VC’s, fledgling companies rely on Angel Money from friends, family, and investors to get the business started. This money is not a loan, and the people who give it to you are not doing you a favor. They know that they are just as likely to make an incredible return on their investment, as they are to forfeit that investment and chalk it up to chance.
These people are betting on YOU to follow through on your vision, but you also have to trust that you are providing them with an incredible opportunity. Good Angel investors are making smart investments in worthy projects, and it took the encouragement of friends, colleagues, and my family to go out on that limb.
4. Always be Ready to Pitch
Always know what you are doing and why; you never know when your conviction will come in handy. When we were scouting out our first location, we found a space that we really wanted to occupy, but it was too big for the team we had assembled. I proposed to the landlord that he rent us a portion of the space, with an option to expand into the unused areas as we grew.
He was open to the idea, but was also infected by my passion, and asked me why I was renting the space. I offered to give him my pitch right there in the empty space on the carpeted floor – a decision that proved fruitful. Our soon-to-be landlord was so taken aback by our vision that he instantly wrote us a check to cover the exact amount of Angel Money we needed to meet our goal.
At the time I couldn’t believe our good fortune, but looking back, I knew that he had bought into what I was selling because of my authentic passion for the space, and the potential of our solution to a very real problem. Looking back, I probably should have asked for more with that kind of excitement!
5. Discouragement is NOT in Your Vocabulary
The first "yes" that Xactly got for venture funding was the result of my first meeting with a Venture Capitalist. Then, I went to 27 different VC’s to get my second investor to round out our initial funding. I sat through more than 50 different meetings, all to get that second term sheet.
I was inspired by the challenge, and no obstacle could block me from pursuing this dream. At no time was I discouraged and did the thought of not getting the company funded enter my mind (see #2 above!).
6. Listen to the Universe
I’m not an overly superstitious person, but I do think that when you start your own company it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings, and to the signs that cross your path. Maybe it’s a person you keep running into that you’re meant to pitch your ideas to, maybe it’s a novel you hear about from a few different people that you’re supposed to read, or maybe it’s a delay that sets your day off course.
Those signs are the universe keeping you on the right path. Time and time again I have paid attention to these signs and good things have always followed.
7. Comparison is the Thief of Possibility
In the early days of the company, I joined CEO groups so that I could discuss what was going on with people who were in the exact same position as me. It took me a long time to realize that what worked for other companies may not be right for ours. Listen to your own voice above all others.
Weed through the people that have their own agendas. Learn to hear what everyone says, distill it down to your own truth, and find your own due North. You’re the only person who knows what’s best for you and your company. Do not fall prey to comparing your company’s success to others. Success comes in many shapes and sizes—find yours.
8. Choose Your Mentors Carefully
There are countless people in the valley who have become wealthy overnight because they were in the right place at the right time. Beware of these people. They are the ones who are quick to give advice on what you need to do differently with your company. No matter how well intentioned they may be, do not place added weight to them just because they have had a success.
During my time as the CEO of Xactly, I’ve sought out entrepreneurs who have had serial successes – they’ve built multiple businesses, and they’ve done it with integrity. These are the people who have sat in my seat and made good choices time and again and these are the people whose success I seek to emulate.
9. Investing in Culture will Always Have the Biggest Returns
When I started my own organization I knew that culture needed to be at the center of everything we did. Volunteering and giving back to the community we live and work in is of utmost importance to me. In addition to philanthropy, the culture manifests itself in our day-to-day interactions with both colleagues and customers.
Our culture has ensured that we lose very few employees, and many have been here right alongside me for the last ten years – helping to build everything that we have. It’s been clear since the beginning that while doing good for others certainly helps the less fortunate, it actually helps us even more. The camaraderie and esprit de corps that results from helping others makes our team stronger and transcends a mere 8 to 5 existence.
10. Leave Work at Work
Call me a freak, but I check my emails incessantly. I could be on a Safari in Africa, or dead asleep at my house, and I will still wake up to look at messages. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll respond to it, but it allows me to stay on top of anything urgent that comes up. While I’m always available via email, I draw a firm line in the sand when it comes to separating my business and personal life.
When I get home and sit down with my wife and kids for dinner, I make it a point not to discuss the company. Time with my family is the most valuable thing that I have, and that separation is what allows me to regenerate and wake up every morning refreshed and excited to come to work.