Gangplank’s guest-blogging series illustrates the array of personalities and experiences embodied by our community. All invited participants – past brownbag speakers, anchors, new members, City of Chandler employees and others – share their Gangplank stories. Interested guest posters should send a draft to our Director of Operations.
By Clate Mask, CEO, co-founder of Infusionsoft and brownbag speaker alumni
What do software developers and meth dealers have in common? Infusionsoft learned that it’s late hours and weird pizza smells.
Sandwiched between a mattress shop and its loading dock at a strip mall in Mesa, Ariz. back in 2001, a team of officers once stopped by our posh (read: small and anything but luxurious) office to see what was up with the weird smells, covered windows and late-night activity. It seemed suspicious to the officers, they knocked at our door, and we of course were confused. Turns out they thought my partners and I, brothers Scott and Eric Martineau, were running a meth lab. The strange activity was our small team of three staying up all hours of the night writing our marketing automation software. We had a dream to revolutionize the way small businesses grow and we were willing to do whatever it took to make that dream a reality.
This is how Infusionsoft was born. The early days weren’t easy. We lived on soda and pizza. There were plenty of months we didn’t think we’d make payroll. Our wives many times did not have faith or even understand why we were putting our degrees to such low-paying work.
At one point our entrepreneurial dreams were starting to feel more like a nightmare. The financial stresses at home were nearly unbearable. My wife, who was patient for a very, very long time, once told me to hang up my entrepreneur hat and use my law degree and MBA to “get a real job” so we could put food on the table and pay our mortgage.
It was really hard, and if you’ve ever been part of a startup, or you currently are in the middle of one, you know very well what I’m talking about. But that’s the life of an entrepreneur, and the early days is where the rubber meets the road and magic happens.
I recently had the opportunity to share this story with a room full of local entrepreneurs at a Gangplank Brownbag event. I’ve done a lot of speaking engagements over the last few months as a part of our Conquer the Chaos book and publicity tour, but I have to say this was one of my favorite groups. It was an intimate setting and I had the chance to connect personally with a lot of people that share the same passion and love that I do for entrepreneurship.
The Revolution is in Full Effect
There’s no question that we are in an entrepreneurial revolution. New businesses are being launched in record numbers. In the next 12 months alone, 1 million small businesses will be born. But a year from now, half of them will disappear.
I’m not okay with this. That’s why my co-founder Scott and I wrote the book Conquer the Chaos–and it’s why we’re traveling across the country talking to groups of entrepreneurs just like the gang at Gangplank.
Big Dreams and a Whole Lot of Chaos
People set out on a mission to find purpose, control, time and money—The Hierarchy of Freedom we call it.
But, let’s face it, its chaos running a startup. Entrepreneurs get buried by the business. They can’t keep up with customers and prospects. There are missed little league games and disappointed loved ones. All nighters and cold dinners. These are the symptoms of chaos. The business consumes the entrepreneur’s life and too often, destroys everything.
So, where’s this freedom entrepreneurs are looking for? How do you get your business out of a rut? How do you conquer the chaos?
There is a six-step formula we shared at Gangplank that’s helping entrepreneurs everywhere. In case you missed it, here you go.
1) Build your emotional capital. Emotional capital is the currency you use to wake up every day and fight the battle. It’s the passion, enthusiasm and positive outlook that propel you through your day, keeping you driven to achieve your goals. It’s the balancing of work, family, and emotional and physical health.
2) Practice disciplined optimism. If you are going to survive the chaos, and survive it well, you must be prepared to handle all the pain and unpleasantness that comes with running a small business. It starts with (1) an undying belief that your small business will achieve the success you have envisioned, while at the same time, (2) confronting the brutal facts of your current reality, and (3) attacking those brutal facts because you want to because doing so accelerates the success you envision.
3) Assert your entrepreneurial independence. You decide the fate of your company. Conviction is essential to making things happen. As you navigate difficult decisions you will be tempted to question just about everything you do. Self-doubt leads to seeking approval and advice. Entrepreneurial independence requires you to strike the balance between ignorance and arrogance—learning what you need to know and what you need to ignore. By the way, one of the reasons business owners seek additional input is because their objectives are not clear. If you haven’t decided the objectives of your company, figure it out. And figure it out fast.
4) Centralize and organize your stuff. As an entrepreneur, you have an especially complicated situation. Corporations have hundreds, even thousands of people to do the same job you’re trying to accomplish on your own with a small staff. Unless you’re supernaturally organized, you’ve got information, reports, records and financial statements everywhere. What if you decide to take a vacation or you’re sick? To build a solid business foundation and get one step further out of the chaos, you’ve got to centralize your operations no matter what size your startup is.
5) Tap into the magical power of follow-up. The moment we realized how important follow-up was to our company, we quickly transformed our small business into a multimillion-dollar company. Now, several years later, we’ve seen thousands of businesses accelerate their growth by fixing their follow-up. When you fail to follow up, you’re losing out on incredible opportunities and causing yourself more pain and frustration. You’re stunting your growth and prolonging your partnership with chaos.
6) Burn the to-do list and move from manual to automated. Automation is the key factor to saving you time, money and manual labor. But automation also tends to be the one principle that is missing from most small businesses. Automation is intentional and purposeful and it will propel the entrepreneur out of chaos into liberation. Big businesses have learned to automate everything possible. But most small businesses are havens for manual, grunt labor that wastes time, costs money and enslaves the business owner to the business.
So what’s your chaos? And are you ready to squash it? I’d love to hear your own personal stories in the comments and how you overcame the chaos in your business.