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While this may come as a surprise to some, you don’t need to take a traditional path to have a successful career or even start your own business. Personally, I never worked my way up the corporate ladder or earned an MBA to become a CEO — in fact, I didn’t go to college. I learned on the job, teaching myself computer programming in my free time. What started as purely a hobby to save myself time as I began investing in real estate turned into my own property-management software company. I’m proud to say that we now help tens of thousands of landlords do their jobs better.
While I wouldn’t necessarily change the path that led my company to its success, that isn’t to say that I wouldn’t change a few steps along the way if I could. I’m so grateful that my passion project has grown into what it is today, but I didn’t get here without a healthy dose of grit and resilience. Here’s the business advice I would give to a younger version of myself.
1. Don’t be afraid to act like the boss
When you’re starting a small business, your staff becomes a second family, and it’s easy to want to be friends with everyone. Unfortunately, when challenges present themselves, it’s time to take off the friend hat and be the boss that your company needs.
I once had an employee who acted out when I was unwilling to meet some of their unreasonable requests, which had a negative impact on the rest of my staff (even though no one else felt strongly about these specific requests). At the time, I let it blow over, but if I could go back and do it over, I would have sent the employee home for a few days without pay. This would have given the employee a chance to cool off without disrupting the rest of the team while also internally reviewing if they wanted to continue in their role. Whatever the outcome of the time off, everyone ends up in a better position.
Related: 5 Simple Ways to Be a Better Boss
2. Your new motto: love what you do, believe in your product, provide value to your clients
I truly believe that if these three things aren’t consistently true, your business will struggle to find success. Are you excited to get to work on Monday morning? If the answer is yes, then you’ll probably find success in the long run. If the answer is no, it’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing. You have to love what you do, otherwise you’re going to burn out or exit early. What value does your product provide to your clients? If it’s not saving them time or money or entertaining them in some way, they’re probably going to lose interest. Software development is still my favorite part of the job, so if I can code a tool that helps a landlord save time in his or her day-to-day life, I think I’m doing my job right.
Related: 4 Ways to Give Your Customers Value
3. Build your team and company culture with care
I see too many tech startups hit the ground running with an intention to build an amazing company culture, but it inevitably falls by the wayside. Building company culture takes more than a good policy manual and a foosball table — you have to continuously work on building culture, and it has to come from the top down.
Finding talented, qualified employees who will help your business grow is the other half of the battle. As sales have grown for my company, gracefully managing employee growth has been one of our biggest challenges. I’ve been very picky about choosing quality, ethical employees and identifying the right space for them within the company, and it’s paid off. Our very first employee is now our longest employee, celebrating over 10 years with us.
In the beginning, I never intended to start a company — I just needed a tool to help myself through some tedious tasks. When I realized how much I could help others, it took vision, capability and drive to make things happen. More than a decade later, I can reflect on my hard-earned knowledge and share a few lessons learned with the next generation of business leaders. And let them know they don’t need to take a set path to get to where they want to be — there are many journeys that can lead to success, with the right mindset.