Vision — know where you are going. Not just your vision for the business but how you will impact the world.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Chaney.
Allison Chaney is an experienced entrepreneur and digital marketer, with a passion for creating positive impact on humanity and the world. Allison has over 20 years experience in digital marketing, and built a successful digital marketing agency which was acquired by a Procter and Gamble spinoff company. She is an experienced and engaging speaker, and an effective and powerful trainer and coach, focusing on the areas of digital marketing, entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
I started in digital marketing in the late 1990’s, when it was just beginning. When I started my own digital marketing agency, that’s when I knew that entrepreneurship was for me. I was selected as a finalist in a business accelerator program for women owned business, and because of that opportunity was able to build a successful business which was acquired by a P&G spinoff company. I love digital marketing because it helps so many businesses achieve success. Digital marketing is fun, exciting, and always evolving but what I really love to do is help businesses succeed. That’s when I started volunteering about 10 years ago for the same accelerator that helped me start my business.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was taking a personal development course on emotional intelligence and leadership. During the course, I had this moment when I thought — what if businesses used these tools to operate from? That’s when I knew I could change the way the world does business, create more abundance and opportunity, and create a more peaceful, joyful world.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Candace Sjogren was my main inspiration. She was the founder of Bad Girl Ventures, the business accelerator that helped me start my first business. 10 years and a rebranding later, I still volunteer for that organization, now called Aviatra, because I’m passionate about supporting women owned businesses. Candace founded the Boston Breakthrough Academy, and invited me to take the personal development course. She is the person who introduced me to this new way of thinking and it has opened my eyes to all the possibilities of how we can do business differently. Candace also had the vision of starting a business accelerator that teaches emotional intelligence tools, so when I had my ah-ha moment, it was perfect timing to step in and support, and she hired me as CEO and granted majority shares in the business!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are the only business accelerator that is bringing the tools of transformation and emotional intelligence to business, in an experiential learning format. Our students experience a rigorous, breakthrough learning experience over the course of 3 weekends and weekly modules that lasts for 4 months. They pitch for investors or clients at the end to graduate, and have the opportunity to get in front of intentional investors, many who will invest based on more than just financial gain.
In our first year, our first class generated an average of $900K per business in value, over $500K in charitable contributions, and over $650K in investment capital.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We teach our students how to create a values matrix and impact strategy. They use this impact strategy to get clear on the impact they are creating, and set clear and measurable goals for achieving that impact. They use the values matrix as a decision making tool, so they are always operating in line with their values and their impact goals. In our first cohort, over $500K in contributions was made to organizations that support many causes including education and environmental causes.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Playing team — It’s critical to be a team player and surround yourself with a team that supports you and aligns to your vision.
Clear vision — when you know where you’re going, it’s easier to get there. Getting clear on your vision for your business, your impact, and your life gets you clear on the steps you need to take to get there.
Communication tools — listening and communication within your team and with your prospects and customers is critical. Learning how to communicate effectively can save time, drama, and tons of money. We have avoided many conversations that would have normally turned into a law suit or hurt feelings if the tools weren’t used.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Never hire friends and family. In fact, these are the best people to hire because you share a deeper connection with each other about what you want the world to look like. When there is clear communication and boundaries, family and friends can work together in a joyful way, making life more joyful because your business doesn’t take away from your friends and family and fun, it actually is part of it.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
It always comes down to the wrong people in the wrong seats. Before I had emotional intelligence tools, I hired my friends because I wanted to be liked. And when things didn’t work out, I thought I had to be mean and unlikeable in order to effectively assert my authority. In fact, this never worked well. Once I learned how to communicate, I attracted the right people and am able to work much more effectively.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
I think about my students and how this accelerator is changing their lives and the world. No matter what my issues are or how hard it gets my mission and my vision is much bigger than that. Every problem has a solution as long as I stay focused on the big vision.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Again, I’ll say play team here. When you have support and you can be authentic and vulnerable with your team, everything is easy and flows. Breakdowns are normal, but having a team that supports you without judgement, and holds you high to breakthrough to your next level is the secret to success.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
It depends on the business. In many cases, bootstrapping is a great place to start, but if you are growing fast, you want to look into venture capital to help you launch to the next level. Don’t get comfortable and spend more than you have, and don’t seek more than you need.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
Team — you need the right team, the right people with a shared vision.
Capital — you need funding or revenue in motion or both. Cash flow will make or break your business.
Emotional Intelligence — these tools are key to success. Effective communication, empathy, acknowledgement of team, and vulnerability create joy in a business and remove drama.
Marketing Plan — you need a solid marketing plan, not just a few creative ideas that you are throwing against a wall to hope something sticks. You need to be clear on your goal and use the tactics that will best help you achieve that goal.
Vision — know where you are going. Not just your vision for the business but how you will impact the world.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Lone wolfing — trying to do it all themselves and not asking for support.
The solution is to build a team you can trust and ask for support.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Again — team. If you feel overwhelm happening, ask for support from your team and be transparent. IF you are running from a place of health and happiness, the business will run better. Your team wants to support you in being healthy so let them know you get to have a wellness day, or a daily practice where you are not reachable during your workout or family time. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Run your business with emotional intelligence. When you are open, vulnerable, humble, and focused on creating a win-win in the world, you can change the world. I believe this is the key to world peace.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Richard Branson. I believe his values and vision are aligned with what we’re up to and I’d love for him to meet me and share any expertise or advice for our entrepreneurs to inspire them to be world-changers.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!