When helping small to midsize businesses launch, grow, and reinvent themselves, I introduce new and improved systems and techniques that help to move the enterprise towards its goals. However, these tools stand upon the foundation of a leader that can introduce and implement them effectively.
With such a leader, the results can be spectacular. In the absence of a business savvy leader, the output of even the best processes is limited.
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend an event in New Haven, CT hosted by Startup Grind. The featured guest was David Salinas of Digital Surgeons and DistriCT. Throughout the interview, which you can view in its entirety here, I was struck by how the events of David’s life and his decisions at critical junctures, not only set him up to be an entrepreneur, but a successful one.
Although there is certainly no exact recipe for making a person who will launch successful startups, there are a few key factors that seem to show up often in those that ‘make it’. During the interview, I noticed four common trends:
High Intelligence – High Energy – Challenger
We’ve all heard the stories of children who, while wildly intelligent, fail to achieve high scores in class. Many classic education systems don’t keep the gifted engaged and the result is lost opportunity. Often times, it’s not that the situation at school is too challenging, but instead not challenging enough.
However, in the business world, people who bore easily tend to innovate wildly.
Even during the talk, it was easy to sense David’s energy and drive. This type of energy attracts other successful people and is a major factor in putting together a winning team to launch a new idea.
Business Savvy – Gets it – Situation Analyzer
Creating the idea for next big thing is only step one. In order to achieve business success, that idea must meet an unsolved need and then it must be sold.
In the course of a 45-minute talk, examples of Dave’s ability to take a business from idea to success were everywhere. First, it was understanding the financial significance of wine sales to a restaurant (as a 12-year-old busboy). Next, it was bringing the first Italian Ices to South Beach (as a college student). Then, it was clearly seeing that internet marketing was the next big thing (as a young professional in 2002).
These stories all had a common thread from my perspective: See the need, develop the solution, sell the answer. Great stuff.
Opportunistic – Tenacious – Positive Energy
The next step after launching a great new idea is driving it forward.
Often, we find that ‘idea people’ and ‘drivers’ are two distinct sets. Although, it doesn’t have to be.
Watching someone who can make things happen (despite hurdles, restrictions, or regulations) is very energizing. During the conversation, we heard how David talked his way into an opportunity at the University of Bridgeport before taking college board tests or even filing an application. Another story (with which I’m sure many startups can identify) was the first time he had difficulty making payroll but was able to keep focus and sell a major account to replenish the account. The ability to put the stress aside and focus on finding a solution is impressive (and not universal, by any means).
Aligned with this skill is something that I would call ‘putting your money where your mouth is.” Many marketing (and other business service) firms are glad to take money from their clients in exchange for consultative efforts. However, when things don’t work out as planned, the risk is very one sided.
David mentioned that Digital Surgeons has invested in and incubated multiple clients over the years (Arccos Golf is the latest example). Sharing the risks and rewards can do nothing but lead to a deeper and stronger relationship and increase the chances of success. Hence the Digital Surgeons value proposition: We Evolve Businesses.
In his latest venture, David is combining the topics of incubation and being opportunistic. DistriCT is a major construction project in New Haven, CT focused on creating a West Coast style tech hub in a city bordering the Long Island Sound. DistriCT will include spaces for full grown businesses, incubating businesses, a CrossFit style gym, a beer garden, a canoe launch, and an outdoor amphitheater.
Living and working in this region, it is exciting to see something of this scale and level of technology grow in a state that has not done a great job at keeping up in the past couple of decades.
The final takeaway that I had from the Startup Grind Event was: successful entrepreneurs must be natural agents of change.
Settling for or accepting the status quo is not an option. If you are not moving forward, you are moving back.
A core value of David’s agency is “the only constant is change.” I love this! It is a great way to focus your team and also to filter future projects and prospective hires.
The significance of change works at all levels. We heard that Digital Surgeons systematically re-invents itself every 18 months. They started as a web design/SEO firm, then grew into a digital marketing agency. The next step was becoming a digital creative agency, and they are now a design and innovation group. Looking back, it is easy to see why this was important – these hot business spaces fill quickly. It is critical to stay ahead and be a leader rather than a follower.
However, the foresight to rebuild a successful venture is not easy to have. Many leaders are happy moving along with average growth and/or average profitability.
It is a unique person who can say “If it’s not broke, break it.”
What We Learn From Others
Networking events, business talks and the such are a dime a dozen. Far too often, I walk out saying “I’ll never regain those 2 hours of my life.”
In this case, however, I’ve found myself telling stories about this event to friends, neighbors, and business associates. It’s very energizing to see someone who ‘get’s it’ from both the business and technology angles. This blog article is my way of sharing that energy with you.
How strong is the leadership in your organization?
So, ask yourself if the leader or leaders of your business exhibit these traits. If so, find ways to highlight the strengths and accentuate the actions. If not, you should think about what can be done to provide the equivalent.
Organizations have a natural thirst for strong leadership. Updates in skills and/or leadership personnel can have a substantial effect in this case.
Contact me and share your stories with me. I would love to share them with others.