By Vaclav Muchna, co-founder and CEO of Y Soft Corporation
Entrepreneurs often have a lot going on when starting a new company – from developing a new product or service to trying to get market traction and hiring the right people. Needless to say, it can be very stressful and requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
While a crucial part of working in the startup world is to learn from your mistakes, the ultimate goal for any young entrepreneurs is to avoid making major mistakes that not only hurt the company itself but those who have chosen to follow them in their venture.This includes investors, employees, early adopters and the support of loyal family members.Here are some of my early experiences, mistakes and lessons that I have learned along the way as an entrepreneur:
Have a vision and be ready to fight for it
I began my journey in early 1998 in The Czech Republic, where entrepreneurs at the time had a bad reputation and were often known as people who would illegally steal other people’s money. So, you can imagine what my parents felt like when I told them that I wanted to become one.However, I legally needed their approval as I was required to register a business address as a limited liability company. My parents finally agreed under one condition, which was to continue with my university studies and get a degree.
At the time I was studying IT, which was a new topic at the university I was attending. While it was an interesting course, it was almost impossible to keep up with the university work while trying to set up a business. I was extremely passionate about my new venture and dedicated all my time to it. Shortly after, I got kicked out of the university, mostly for the fact that I didn’t show up much (Note: this was Masaryk University which my company now extensively works with, ironically).
The point I’m trying to make here is that you will have doubters and obstacles – a lot of obstacles – but you just have to be clear on your vision and be ready to fight for it. At the early stages of my company’s development I would take on almost any projects slightly linked to custom software development in order to make money. I had various projects going on at the same time and while some clients paid in cash, others would pay in shares. At one point my team and I had five global projects all at once and I felt like the king of the world. However, we failed in all five projects, all at the same time. It was devastating and shortly after my long-term business partner decided to give up on us. Luckily, I had another business partner. However, over the coming years we lost various employees along the way and it took us five years in total to grow and become a sustainable business of three employees.
We didn’t grow overnight but we never gave up because we had a vision and we worked really hard for it.
Know when to ask for help
From the early days of starting my company I knew that I wanted to expand and become a global company. I always thought to myself that country borders were defined by politicians and that there shouldn’t be any borders when it came to business. When it was time to scale the business, I decided to sell through channel partners. I developed several partnerships and through multiple references and connections we started to spread around Europe, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe. We weren’t able to tackle Western Europe until 2008.
The key to our success was knowing our limitations and asking for help when it was needed. You cannot grow into a multi-million company without others and their help and this means different things for different companies. For example, for some companies this may mean taking the avenue of selling part of their company in shares in order to grow, while others may look for external investors or, in our case partners who assist with the sales channel. Whatever it is, decide what is important for you and don’t be afraid to go after it.
Always think ahead and innovate
Since the early days of my company, people kept predicting that paper printing would come to an end. It’s 2019 now and printing is still going strong, with recent research from Quocirca stating that the majority (64 per cent) of business users expect printing to still be important by 2025.
Still, you should therefore always think ahead of the sector you’re in and innovate as much as possible. Come up with complicated ideas that no one else has thought about and dare to make them a reality. While I knew that printing would remain as a crucial part of every company’s existence, I knew that we needed to diversify. 3D printing was not a new invention when I decided to explore it but with time and careful thinking, we managed to develop the world’s first 3D print management service.
Know your company values
As entrepreneurs we have a greater responsibility to create and manage our company values because one, we set out an example for others within the company to follow and two, company values are closely tied to performance. You might think that you are a young, fun and hardworking company but it’s only your employees that can tell you how things really are.In one of our company surveys, our employees ranked openness and innovation as our core values. We then decided to implement these core values into performance by offering financial rewards to those who exemplify these values.The bonuses at our company are now based on three areas: company performance, team performance and company culture fit. These bonuses are given quarterly and our employees’performance is judged based on group opinion, as well as individual performance and their personal KPIs. All this goes to show that culture really matters. If you want to make your organisation an inspiring place to be show it to your employees with your actions.
Always plan for the future
We now sell in over 100 countries and have 16 offices worldwide. Although this success did not come overnight, we had a strong vision from the beginning, we worked very hard to get there and I don’t have any plans to slow down anytime soon. Looking at the future, our core focus is in the US and China, but we’re always interested in exploring new countries such as India and Brazil. Whatever it is that you do, always remember to plan for the future. A sudden success or a client win might make you think that you’ve got it all figured out but if you want to build a sustainable business you have to be prepared for the future.
It all starts with a vision, hard work and planning.