As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of being in the startup world is hearing others’ stories. Too often as a female founder I am left wanting when I hear an all-male panel. That’s not to say I do not learn something; I always learn something regardless of gender. However, sitting in the front row of Startups Uncensord’s gathering #39 listening to Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, chat with Jason Nazar, Founder of Docstoc, was inspiring on many levels.
First, Wendy is not only a woman but a contemporary; I was shocked when she disclosed she just turned 60! And her story is not traditional. She had an extremely successful exit and was an investor before joining three co-founders as Get Satisfaction’s CEO.
So here are my ten tips; they come from a place of maturity. I am certain they will help me and I hope they help you as well!
P.S. The following is not just for females!
1. Think about your legacy; body of work
As we age, I agree that this notion of “legacy” rises to top of my mind. In my twenties and thirties, work was a means to an end and that end was making rent, soon followed by paying a mortgage. Now in my forties, I can focus on building something that will last past the next paycheck (albeit a theoretical paycheck, as it is with most startups).
2. Relationships are your backbone
Sallie Krawcheck, former President of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America, once said you can always get another job but you can never get another reputation. That wisdom has stuck with me over the years, and Wendy’s presentation echoed the same sentiment. Creating and maintaining relationships are critical and it is not about instant gratification but rather the cultivation and nurturing of those relationships that will sustain you.
3. Customer & market understanding is cornerstone
It was no surprise that the most mentioned word on stage was customer. Wendy spoke often of a company and customer pact regardless of industry. Understanding your market and customer, and listening are all crucial to building relationships.
4. Control is an illusion
Although Wendy is a self-professed “Den Mother” and she has a sense of urgency with a propensity to get things done as a natural default, she has learned that she cannot control everything. Again, listening to her speak about how “control is an illusion” was another reminder that, as we age, we do have to stop trying to be the puppet master (if my teenagers read this, their eyes will roll).
Working in Corporate America, you fight to retain control over both your team and division. But that fight is non-existent as an entrepreneur, making the process of giving up control as you scale and grow a bit easier.
5. Know when to scale or fold
As a CEO or leader you need to lead and be visionary, but that does not mean reacting to every shiny object. Knowing when to scale something because it is working while maintaining high quality is a skill. Sometimes you have to say no to maintain quality standards. And other times you must change course or fold, and that is just part of the process.
6. It’s okay to be vulnerable and transparent
Trust early and be open and collaborative. It will not work out every time but to be closed off and have people earn your trust is not the solution. Wendy spoke of a twist on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by relating the traditional list to business needs. Jason Nazr quickly said he was going to borrow that brilliant comment. Bottom line, you need to understand the personas of your customers and colleagues, and know what is important to them.
7. Tips for working with a spouse
Wendy highlighted the differing visions she and her former husband had for their company. He was confident and vocal that they were going to build something huge Ultimately they both believed in the same thing but expressed and led differently. Communication and sharing was cited as important when working with a spouse.
Use all the advantages of being a couple. In her case they both were road warriors heading out in opposite directions each week. I know working with my spouse can be challenging but ultimately he will give me the best advice; it does help that we meet years ago when we first worked together in Corporate America. Check out his thoughts HERE where he gives eight topics to think about regarding working with your spouse...
8. Customers help you grow
Wendy’s company is built around customer satisfaction but that does not mean we cannot emulate her views on customers. She must have said the words “help,” “serve,” and “listen” to customers a dozen times during her interview. The only way to expand is by growing your customers and that can only be achieved with happy customers who will be champions.
9. Only be the best you
An interesting comment was made regarding how Wendy does not match the stereotypical startup CEO but frankly neither do many of the Trakers - not a bad thing in my humble opinion. Wendy was clear that you should stay true to yourself and only be the best you.
10. Believe in what you do.
Afterwards, during the networking portion of the evening, I listened while Wendy gave advice to the founder of spendingshift.com – a young woman in her 20s who is working her startup on the side while living in cubicle nation to pay the bills. Wendy’s advice was that she can always get another job if the startup does not work our. Follow the passion!
Hope these tips prove helpful in your adventures.
Thank you Wendy. Onwards!