I had the pleasure of interviewing William Lipovsky. William is the CEO and founder of First Quarter Finance, a leading consumer information website. First Quarter Finance publishes expert research on topics like personal finance, shopping, banking, credit, budget travel, investing, and side income. It is staffed by an entirely remote team of researchers, writers, and editors. William began investing in the stock market at age 10 and worked in a financial advising firm before founding First Quarter Finance in 2013 as a platform to help people navigate their finances.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but sometimes it takes facing what you don’t want to know what you do want. After college, I went to work in a very corporate, very traditional job. I disliked that environment immediately, so much so that I spent my first break penciling out business ideas. A few weeks later, my favorite blogger wrote a post about how he made money with his blog, and everything clicked. I created First Quarter Finance, and it has now grown into a consumer information brand with a talented staff of writers, editors, and researchers.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Staffing was my biggest challenge in the beginning. I’ve always been more analytical than emotional, which makes me naturally excel in many areas of business. When it comes to staffing, I must work harder to get the same results. Following a distinct, systematic method when screening candidates has helped me improve in this area. The best book I’ve read on hiring (I’ve read about 30 at the time of this interview) has been “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I pursued my passion, which is personal finance. I surround myself with quality people. I ask questions. And as Calvin Coolidge once said, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Everyone Is Sensitive
Everyone is sensitive. I don’t think of myself as a sensitive person, but even I can get a little sad if I believe someone has disrespected me. If anyone perceives you as disrespecting them, it can lead to greater trouble within the company, beginning with lower morale; always show respect, even when you are correcting someone or sharing bad news.
2. Pay for Your Own Steak — It’s Cheaper
The first time a company really wined and dined me, they did it well. They took me out for the best meal of my life. We took a tour of some very nice places. And you know what? When they asked for my business, I considered it for far too long because they spent a little money on me! How ridiculous! Under the contract, they would have made more off of me in a day than they spent during that experience.
I’m so thankful I learned then and there not to let someone else into the fold this way. It’s hilarious when you think about it — it’s kind of like when college kids sign up for a credit card because they get a free frisbee or t-shirt.
3. Don’t Do “Test” Hires
Hiring takes a lot of time. Early on, I tried to shortcut this by saying after a few interviews, “We’ll try them out.” I rationalized this by thinking that you don’t truly know someone until you see how they perform.
But if it doesn’t work out, it’s painful getting them out of your ecosystem. You have to tell them it’s not working, and you still have to file as much paperwork as you would on someone you hired who stayed for a decade.
Do the work upfront. Now that I’m better at hiring, I’ve realized it’s either a “Heck yes!” or a “No.” You always want to hire people who raise the bar for the team.
4. Ask Hard Questions
It’s easy to fall in the trap of wanting everyone to like you. Not wanting to embarrass anyone. Not wanting to raise the temperature in the room. But nothing improves in those situations. Ask the questions you really want answered.
If a company approaches you and you see holes in what they are saying, ask them about your concerns, point-blank. I recently had to ask a company why it had no case studies showing how its product is better than others in its industry, for example. Don’t let them use a lot of words to give you a diplomatic answer or trick you — ask the hard questions and get to the truth.
5. The Answer Is Rarely Simple
Besides simple yes-or-no questions, the answer is rarely black and white. I’ve read books in the same day that have directly contradicted each other. “You should ship a minimum viable product since it’s the lean way of doing it,” says one expert. “You shouldn’t ship an MVP because you have a reputation to uphold and first impressions are everything,” says another. Rarely should you take a simple answer from anyone. Most questions CEOs ask have a lot of moving parts to them, so the answers, of course, will usually be complicated.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
That’s a good question. Working hard is immensely valuable, but if you work too hard, there may come a day when you decide to retire at 40 and spend the rest of your life licking the wounds. Realize that life is long. Focus on the end and work backward.
If you work hard, you’ll have plenty of money, so don’t kill yourself early in life to save a few bucks. The money comes to those who deserve it. I’ve done some pretty crazy things to save money — the stress wasn’t worth it.
Also, know yourself. Academic studies and books will give you contradicting ideas about how you should work for optimum productivity or success. Instead of following those suggestions, listen to your body. If you like to work at odd times, go ahead. If you dislike vacations, don’t take them. Work how you work best, and if you aren’t yet your own boss, try to find an employer (like First Quarter Finance) that’ll let you work how and when you please.
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?
Nearly every significant step forward in my career has come with the close help of at least one other person. I remember once, I was at a dinner early in my career, and I sat near the end of the table. The CEO of the company was at the head. Looking at my place card and looking at him made me realize where I stood and motivated me to carve my own path. Even small moments like these help you get to where you belong and deserve your gratitude. All interactions and experiences are significant.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I’m pulling up my “2019 Goals” doc. Let’s see… of course, there’s a company revenue goal and a page view goal by 2020 for FQF. I want to start another mastermind. I want to continue showing appreciation by giving gifts at every reasonable opportunity. And on a personal level, I hope to have all Christmas gifts bought by EOD on Cyber Monday — makes the holiday season much more enjoyable!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I’m trying to decide if I want to start a foundation or fund someone else’s foundation. Whatever I decide, I want it to have something to do with self-empowerment. I’m big on self-improvement and entrepreneurship. I want to encourage others who feel drawn toward entrepreneurship.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
This ties in with the legacy I want to leave — I’d start a movement of self-motivation. I want to encourage people to very firmly decide what they want and do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
How can our readers follow you on social media?