Delegate quickly and as much as possible. At the beginning, I wanted to do it all myself, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but as soon as your company grows, not delegating can be very damaging.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Fonzé CEO & Founder of EXOGROUP . Benjamin is a successful entrepreneur with a passion for technology and business. From being a bedroom programmer in his teens to launching his first business the online ad network ExoClick in 2006. Benjamin didn’t stop there though and has launched and acquired several companies that monetise the online media space under the umbrella brand EXOGROUP. Based in Barcelona, Spain, Benjamin’s other passion is horse riding. He owns a stable and Benjamin and his horses have competed in several competitions including CSIO Barcelona (Negrita Cup), CSI2 Santander Grand Prix and the Catalunya Championship. He is also interested in breeding horses and has welcomed four foals into his equestrian family so far.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in the countryside, spending a lot of time outdoors. I was in love with nature, biology and animals in general, and quickly decided I was going to be a veterinarian. But at around 14 years old, I got my first “computer class”. It was very basic, but I instantly fell in love with computers. I saved up some money until I was able to buy my first computer and my life changed forever. I was not going to be a veterinarian anymore but a software engineer.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
I was playing with a lot of things. Creating websites for me and for others, developing basic video games (additionally to playing a lot of video games!) and developing all sorts of software. One day, I built a basic ad-server for a friend who needed a tool to monetize its network of websites. It worked really great for him and I realized it could be useful to others. I contacted as many people I could to give it a try and received great feedback. It motivated me to keep improving the software and it started becoming a really solid ad-server. I realized I could keep a commission on all of the advertising going through the ad-server, and it started generating some revenue. And it kept on growing. That’s when I saw the value, and I was so excited I had created something that was useful to different companies that I started spending my nights on it. I’m not sure there was an “ah ha” moment, but more a series of validation and successes that pushed me to keep on going. When it generated enough to sustain a small salary for myself, I quit my job and put all of my energy into it.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
You are absolutely right. And a great idea is nothing without great execution. I must admit that I had an advantage. I was a software developer, and I was able to convert my idea into reality, without external funding or investment, only my own time and sweat. And I didn’t go away and develop a software for a year before launching it to the world. I started with something very basic, and validated assumptions very quickly, filtering through the good and bad ideas, failing fast and constantly improving. I would do 10 releases a day, fixing issues and implementing client requests on the spot. I think one of the biggest problems is a lot of people work for months or even years on their idea, to finally launch it and realize many features are not really working for users, or some of their assumptions were wrong. But now you have lost maybe a year and you already have to re-do all those things… My advice is to start small, launch, validate, improve and keep on going. Be quick and agile.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I would think anyone would want to live from his hobby! If not, maybe they need to find another hobby, one that they are really passionate about. Launching a business is difficult. It requires a lot of time, energy and effort. You have to be super passionate about it. If not, the chances your business will be successful are pretty slim. If they are simply worried and afraid to make the step, then I would say we only live once. You may succeed, you may fail. But you will have tried! Not trying will probably become one of the biggest regrets in your life.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Let’s be honest, it’s not always fun and happiness. There are a lot of obstacles and hard times. For me, it all comes down to the passion you have for what you do. The will to overcome all of these obstacles, constantly improve and achieve new goals. That sense of achievement is what keeps pushing me forward and there are always new things to look at!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love the creation process. Being able to take an idea and make it a reality. In terms of downsides, I guess the point is the buck stops with you. That’s for the good but also for the bad. And than can mean dealing with an angry customer, fixing a security issue or even getting a repairman to fix the air conditioning in the office. It can quickly become overwhelming, and it comes down to surrounding yourself with the right people. People that you can trust and start delegating responsibilities to.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought I would be programming software all day, and turns out being a CEO doesn’t involve much programming once your company gets to a certain size!
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Somehow I never had that moment. Once I quit my job and created my own business, there was no turning back.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made a lot of mistakes! Not sure about funny mistakes though.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I guess this is not going to be a very original answer, but people like Elon Musk are a great inspiration. What I admire most about him is how he doesn’t accept “impossible” as an answer, he dares to go where nobody else would, with an insane passion and energy. He is a true entrepreneur, in the purest definition of the word.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Trying to be a good person, and good to others.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Delegate quickly and as much as possible. At the beginning, I wanted to do it all myself, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but as soon as your company grows, not delegating can be very damaging.
- If you are going to hire more than 10 people, hire an HR manager first.
- If a candidate looks great but you have a feeling something is wrong, don’t hire him/her. Your instincts are usually right.
- See your competitors as a motivation to improve.
- Don’t be too modest. Be bold and ambitious.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire 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.
A world where everyone is an entrepreneur!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough” (Mario Andretti)
Well, first I find it quite funny being a quote from a race car driver, as this probably had both a literal and metaphorical meaning to him.
Like many people, I like having things under control. However, when you start a business, you have to deal with 1,000 different things and it’s easy for things to get out of control. This used to be very stressful to me, but I learned that it’s part of the process and to be quick, effective and get things done, you have to loosen a bit and stop trying to have everything under control.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk. Because additionally to be one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, he is funny as hell.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.