The mental and emotional turbulence experienced as a founder during tough times is palpable. Even in the best of times you’re constantly “on” (i.e. leading, reading, learning, innovating, meeting). Your brain never gets to shut down. In difficult times it’s much worse. You have a responsibility to yourself, your company, your family, and your team to know the importance of disconnecting, recharging and keeping mentally fit.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Metod Topolnik.
Metod has over 20 years of experience in online payment processing. With a passion and vision for FinTech, Metod he has been revolutionary in the development of modern payments. As a serial entrepreneur, his keen focus is on digitizing the customer experience and automating processes.
Metod has a core belief that when entrusting your money to those in any financial space, businesses and people should always mandate total security of their money. He epitomizes the values of integrity and reliability Operations within his organizations reflect these commitments to his customers, which have made him a truly effective leader.
With his experience and passion, his most recent project is SimplePin which is specifically designed to help insurance agents, brokers, and carriers digitize their payments and create a better customer experience.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My backstory is based on seeing opportunities and going for them. My first taste of entrepreneurship started at the age of 16 when my best friend and I decided to start our first business. We had a six-car garage where we installed car phones, which at that time were the size of a small suitcase, into businessmen cars after we sold them on Friday and Saturday at a Best Buy style store where we worked after school and weekends as sales associates.
At this time typical installations took a day of usual business hours. We generally installed after business hours, so businessmen did not leave have to their car for the whole day at a shop, and that was a big success. That was my first “contact” to entrepreneurship.
My current path started after I saw an opportunity when I worked as an employee for a leading European payment solution provider. I thought “what I am doing for them, I can do for myself.” This started everything for me 18 years ago.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think many entrepreneurs will not talk about “funny” mistakes because there is more drama in entrepreneurial mistakes than “funny” stuff, but because I started at 16 I certainly can talk about how it’s not a good idea to have a teenage partner that is head over heels in love. Either there was some issue with accounting, or there were time and commitment issues, or all of the above.
What I learned from this is to think twice about if you really need a partner and if so, choose your partners wisely. But most of all, get yourself a good accountant. By the way, we are still friends, and he is married to the girl.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people that influenced my path to success that I am grateful for, including the people that I had bad experiences with. Every one of them helped me to become more successful.
If I have to single out a person that I am most grateful for, it is my wife. She’s the rock in the sea, my personal support system, and the person that gives me the best non-business perspectives on business ☺
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I think the “why” is the sole reason I do things in life.
We started SimplePin with the vision to help traditional industries close the gap between the user experience that has been offered and the user experiences consumers or customers are expecting today. Regardless of the sectors, customers and employees alike prefer experiences that are simple and convenient. In traditional industries, the customer experience is the exact opposite of simple and convenient. SimplePin is going to help change that.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
There’s no more relevant example of uncertain times than COVID. I addressed the crisis head-on, closing our US and Canadian offices, and establishing work-from-home protocols. I had a sales team that had to pivot, in person meetings obviously became non-existent, and we had to strategize how to create and maintain relationships in a virtual world within an industry where face-to-face meetings and handshakes were still largely the way relationships were formed and maintained. I also utilized the onset of COVID, which put many out of work, but we were able to leverage that to recruit high level talent.
We’ve brought in some great people through these tough times (as I previously mentioned, difficult times can be leveraged). Now, five months into this, I am working with my team to find ways to keep from feeling too distant from each other. We are shipping team members’ favorite books to each other to read and even enjoying Friday afternoon champagne toasts when there is an occasion, all in the name of keeping the team feeling close despite everyone’s distance.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
No, not even once. I don’t give up. It is not in my DNA. You have to drive forward no matter what. I firmly believe this is one of the most important attributes a successful entrepreneur and good leader must have.
They must be resilient, consistent, and know that giving up is not an option. When I have faced tough times, I have been inspired by a quote from Bob Parsons’ 16 Rules of Success;
“When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think. There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
First and foremost, you need to protect the company and be prepared to make the tough calls during challenging times. Having said that, a good leader also needs to be empathetic to their team.
It’s a balancing act between showing resilience, compassion, and honesty. You need to maintain and openly communicate the vision on the other side of the turbulence, because people follow the vision and leaders who make that vision transparent even when things are hard.
My own moral compass and golden rule which applies during challenging and even good times alike: always treat others like you want to be treated. When times are tough, people are scared, and you have an obligation to be honest and treat them with respect and compassion, even if you’re laying them off, don’t make people wait around and wonder their fate, take decisive action.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Listen. You hired the people on your team because they are specialists in their field. Hear them out, have an open conversation with honesty and with humility, and address their concerns. Boosting the morale of a team starts with people knowing you hear them; you validate their concerns by taking them seriously and then address those concerns head on.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
This is a company’s biggest opportunity to shine. When something goes wrong and you have difficult news to share, I will always take it on straightforward and with total honestly. A leader is only great when their team can trust them as they follow. I can admit my mistakes, and I can have a plan on how to fix them and be better for it.
Many entrepreneurs and companies will try to smooth these moments over with a marketing ploy or a blame game. In my opinion, this is the moment you connect with your team or your customers at a deeper level by showing them they can rely on you and you’re there during the tough times will speak volumes about you and the company you lead.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The future has always been unpredictable. We think we have the foresight to see what’s coming, and we can strategize based on past experiences and what we believe will happen in the future, but we are often blindsided, and when you choose to go into business you have to go into it knowing this.
The bottom line is having a clear long-term plan in your vision at all times. You will have to make adjustments to the plan because of unforeseen circumstances that arise, but as long as you are always visually thinking ahead, you’ll be able to pivot and make necessary adjustments to continue to forge ahead.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Again, the company must come first, and that means being prepared to make the tough calls. I also think, as a leader and on a personal level you need to be the opposite of turbulent in turbulent times; persistent and consistent (you may see that’s a real theme for me).
I also think turbulent times force us to reassess our business model; they force you to look at your relevance in the market, look at your messaging, your team, your expenses and make necessary changes. Note, I said necessary, not panicked or short-sighted changes, which is something you see companies do often in the wake of turbulence.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Being a leader means, as I’ve said a few times, being prepared to make the tough decisions. In truly difficult times protecting the company must be your first priority. This means making the hard decisions but being wise about those decisions.
One of the biggest mistakes I see made starts with cutting costs in the wrong places and trickles down from there.
When the Founder or CEO feels a cash crunch and panics, too often they go into defensive mode instead offensive mode, which leads to bad decision making, rather than seizing the opportunities difficult times present to those with the foresight to see it.
1. Innovation — Companies stop innovating, because they think innovation costs money. They fail to realize that without innovation you are dead. Game over.
2. Cleaning house — Cutting payroll may be a very necessary action during difficult times, but too often we see people get cut from the top down, simply because companies are looking to achieve the greatest cost savings the fastest. Your top paid people are top paid for a reason, they are likely the ones that will help see you through the difficult times. You may not actuate as much savings from cutting lower level employees, but you’ll do less harm to your business.
3. Stop hiring people — In difficult times a lot of phenomenal employees find themselves looking for work because they were let go by companies that did panic. I believe this is the perfect time to leverage those bad decisions, play the offense and hire people you may not have otherwise been able to bring to your team. A forward minded thinker has a lot of opportunity during difficult times.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Go against the cycle. As mentioned above, it’s in the turbulent times we see businesses act from a place of fear and make bad calls. I believe the turbulent times are the best time to leverage that — hire on some A-list sales and marketing people that have been laid off. Decisions like these hires are what a company with plans for the future will do, grow your team strategically to ensure the pathway to growth and new business in the future. It’s a long road, with a lot of tough spots, but your vision must always be greater than that.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Take care of yourself.
· The mental and emotional turbulence experienced as a founder during tough times is palpable. Even in the best of times you’re constantly “on” (i.e. leading, reading, learning, innovating, meeting). Your brain never gets to shut down. In difficult times it’s much worse. You have a responsibility to yourself, your company, your family, and your team to know the importance of disconnecting, recharging and keeping mentally fit.
· It’s a marathon, not a sprint, you need to be prepared for the long haul.
· Big visions are harder to see in the tough times, but you can never let the setbacks, or the naysayers dictate your path.
· Steady, stable, constant, even. If you prove to be an effective leader during turbulent times, these are adjectives that your team will use to describe you, even on the toughest of days.
· No matter what, even on the hardest days you push ahead, and you keep the end goal in your vision at all times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Also, from Bob Parsons, when addressing the worries that weigh us down sometimes:
“With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”
How great is that to put your fears in perspective? No matter what, they can’t eat you!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Metod on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/metod-topolnik/
Metod on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetodTopolnik
SimplePin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/simple_pin
SimplePin on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/11858773
SimplePin on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SimplePinInc
SimplePin on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJKjwZdK7Cu57losoIDhsdA
SimplePin Website: https://simplepin.com/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!