Trust your instinct and your gut. When I first started scaling the business, many people had different (and strong) opinions on what I should do and how I should do it. When you listen to too many other points of view, you can’t help but question yourself. In the end, I just had to ask myself, ‘Does this feel right? Does it feel worth the effort?’. It all comes back to intuition; I’ve followed my intuition since the beginning of SMSGlobal, so I trust it more than anything.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Carl Krumins, Founder and CEO of SMSGlobal, a leading international provider of mobile messaging technology. Carl developed his passion for technology at a young age, pulling apart computers and experimenting with different ways to re-assemble and enhance them.
This spirit of reinvention led Carl to found SMSGlobal in 2007, with a vision to revolutionise the way businesses communicate.
SMSGlobal has since evolved to become a major player on the world stage, helping businesses of all sizes, including some of the world’s largest organisations, maximise efficiencies, reduce costs, improve engagement and drive revenue through mobile innovation.
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 have always had a fascination and incredibly keen interest in all things technology, even as a young kid. I liked to pull apart and tinker with computers so that I could see all the inner workings. Then I’d rebuild and find any way that I could to add to and upgrade them. Not a typical childhood activity, I’ll admit.
In saying that, my first job was as far away from Tech as you could get. At 16-years-old, I started cleaning floors at a discount store called The Reject Shop. I lasted a total of two weeks before I was fired. This was a lightbulb moment for me; I realised I would never feel satisfied working for someone else and, unless I followed my true passion, I wouldn’t find success.
That’s when I decided to start my first business. I teamed up with a bunch of like-minded people, and we worked on a few projects, which included web design and web hosting. We actually made good money while it lasted, but the industry became too commoditised, and I decided it was time for a new venture.
When I started brainstorming new business ideas, SMS quickly came to mind. Having implemented SMS within my first business, I knew first-hand, all the benefits and technology behind it. I could see a massive opportunity to enter the SMS market with competitive pricing as one of the key differentiators.
Like all good start-ups, SMSGlobal was created in my garage. We officially launched in 2007, offering the most competitive pricing available. Many of our competitors were charging anywhere from 25 to 30 cents per SMS, whereas I charged just 10 cents. That kind of pricing was completely unprecedented at the time. From day dot, the ethos at SMSGlobal was to ensure that everything we do and create is scalable. These two strategies are the core reasons I was able to launch SMSGlobal from my garage fantasy to a tangible office in South Melbourne, with a small team of developers.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Initially, I thought my first web hosting business was going to be successful. But, that business dream quickly deflated when big offshore companies came along offering the same service for next to nothing. In a nutshell, it was no longer a viable business operation. This forced me to dig deep and wonder what service I could offer that there would always be demand for (and that people would always be willing to pay for).
One day, my friend texted me to ask what I thought of a quote an SMS company had sent him. The quote seemed so expensive, I couldn’t believe my friend was actually considering paying for it. The ‘aha moment’ came when I figured out that I could offer the same SMS technology and service for much less.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
They say the first year of starting a business is the most challenging and I’d have to agree. I maxed out about ten credit cards just to fund the operational costs for 12 months. For almost a year, I was a one-man show, doing everything from answering phones, developing the technology to managing sales and marketing. To be totally honest, that first year involved very little sleep.
Fortunately, when I was coming close to the end of my credit, I managed to sign up a number of big clients that enabled me to keep operating and even hire a staff member. I never considered giving up. I was too driven by my overwhelming desire to succeed. Even when things were tough, or during one of my many sleepless nights, I knew I had a solid product that there would be demand for. In my mind, it was that simple.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
SMSGlobal is in a really great place at the moment, but it feels like just the beginning. We offer a library of state-of-the-art APIs, and an advanced cloud-based messaging platform, MXT, servicing over 400,000 clients across 186 countries. Our dedicated team is always developing new plugins and features to continue offering our clients the most advanced and intuitive communication solutions on the market.
I’m excited to see what we can achieve in 2021. The SMSGlobal team worked incredibly hard during 2020, developing new products and working closely with clients worldwide to ensure they could stay connected and maintain relevance in such a volatile year. Now, in 2021, we feel more ready than ever to expand and grow our global reach, with many exciting projects and releases in the pipeline.
2020 tested the resilience of a lot of businesses. And certainly, you couldn’t get anywhere with a start-up without a certain level of grit and perseverance. There are so many business ideas that never get off the ground simply because the person behind it didn’t have the determination or endurance. That’s okay, but it’s not conducive to building a successful and sustainable business.
I know that without my initial struggles, SMSGlobal wouldn’t be where it is today. Many of our achievements since then are thanks to our incredibly hard-working team. But the business could only get off the ground because I didn’t give up on the first set of hurdles.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We think outside the box and go a step further in everything we do. For example, a few years ago, I wrangled a team of corporate adventurers from SMSGlobal to climb to the base camp of Mt Everest for the ‘Trek4kids’ cause. We wanted to demonstrate how today’s mobile technology can facilitate running a global business, even while trudging up the Himalayan ranges of Mount Everest.
I took a solar mat, satellite phone, and a notebook in my backpack. That’s all I needed to communicate with my team back home and keep leading the business. The power of mobile technology allowed me to stay connected to the business throughout the trek. All while raising money for a fantastic cause.
Once we can travel again, I hope we can continue these campaigns and power our commitment to support those in need through state-of-the-art technology.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Most of the mistakes I made weren’t overly funny. I can now (sort of) laugh about the time I needed to buy last-minute plane tickets for a colleague and myself to attend a trade event in the US. I was in a bit of a rush and purchased tickets as I hurried to the airport. I thought I’d found an amazing deal on first class tickets for 8,000 dollars. When I landed in Los Angeles, my credit card company called me and I realised the tickets were actually 80,000 dollars.
I guess the take-away from that mistake was that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And always read carefully before committing to anything.
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?
When I started expanding my business, someone told me to make sure I’m across everything. As the business grew, I got completely burnt out trying to be across everything rather than focusing on what I’m good at — the technology side of things. Now, I am selective in the areas I focus my time and attention on. When you find good people to manage their own area of expertise, you can trust that you don’t need to be involved in every department or every decision.
You are a successful business leader. Which 3 character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
You can’t give up when it gets tough. In the initial stages of SMSGlobal, when I was doing the work of about 10 people, I never gave up. Was it hard and demanding? Of, course. But it taught me a lot about the power of resilience and rising to the challenge.
Endurance & determination
I once worked almost three days straight. Sometimes that is required of a business leader to get the results that you want.
If I didn’t believe in my abilities or my ideas, why should anyone else? Even as I was churning through credit cards and struggling to juggle the entire business operations, I trusted that I knew what I was doing — and that it would pay off in the end.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Every business leader or entrepreneur knows just how hard it is to disconnect from work altogether. There’s always another email to get back to, another project to flesh out, and so on. Being CEO for many years now, I’ve come to know myself better and have learned to catch myself before reaching complete burnout.
I think everyone needs to sit back from time to time and asks themselves, ‘Am I overdoing it? Do I need to unplug for a bit?’ If that answer is yes, then do whatever you need to re-charge and wind down — even if it’s just for a night, or even an hour.
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?
I see way too many budding CEOs and start-up founders not having faith in themselves or their abilities. If you have a clear goal in your head of what you want to achieve, and exactly how you can achieve it, it really is okay to just listen to yourself.
Collaboration and feedback are important. But it’s equally important to trust your gut and know when you know best. Having too many cooks in the kitchen can damage innovation and make you lose sight of your core values and mission.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I had no idea how hard it would be to manage teams across different time zones. Taking SMSGlobal overseas was an inevitable and exciting expansion. First, we laid roots in Dubai then in the US a few years after. But we quickly found out that it takes more than just a Slack group chat to keep everyone on the same page.
It’s a constant balancing act — ensuring that everyone is clear on the company’s core goals whilst addressing the needs of diverse markets and clients. The management side of things goes deeper than copying across processes and company values. You have to keep everyone in the loop of every decision or change. Otherwise, you risk losing alignment and unity.
We schedule in the necessary catchups and team meetings, but it’s still something that we work on every single day. As a global team, we know better than anyone that communication and connectivity are key.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. It’s lonely. When I first opened up offices in Dubai and the US, I spent many lonely nights in hotel rooms. Not to mention the many all-nighters I’ve done in the office to finetune a project or idea. Also, every decision and responsibility ultimately falls on your shoulders, which can be a lonely weight to bear.
2. It’s sometimes really hard (and I mean really hard) to juggle family life. When I first started the business, I travelled for months on end and worked extremely long hours in all different time zones. That was all well and good when I was single and didn’t have to answer to anyone. Now, I have a partner and two young children, including a three-month-old.
Adjusting and trying to balance family is difficult when SMSGlobal has been my baby for over a decade. Just this past month, I’ve been working on an important project with a strict deadline that required me to work 14-hour days. I can’t understate how challenging it is; having a new baby, not wanting to miss important family milestones, but knowing there are a lot of people counting on me at work.
3. It’s okay to throw away an idea at any point. There have been many ideas and projects that have come very close to fruition, and then at the last minute, I decided to hit pause or pull out altogether. Your intuition can kick in at any time to tell you that something isn’t right, and I’ve never regretted listening to mine.
4. You’re only as strong as your team — and good people are difficult to find. When I started SMSGlobal, one of my first priorities was to build the most talented team I could find. I knew that once I found developers and technicians that spoke my language, the rest would sort itself out. You can’t do it all, so the next best thing is to work with people you trust.
5. Trust your instinct and your gut. When I first started scaling the business, many people had different (and strong) opinions on what I should do and how I should do it. When you listen to too many other points of view, you can’t help but question yourself. In the end, I just had to ask myself, ‘Does this feel right? Does it feel worth the effort?’. It all comes back to intuition; I’ve followed my intuition since the beginning of SMSGlobal, so I trust it more than anything.
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. 🙂
As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.
At SMSGlobal, we have a culture of learning. Everyone is continually developing in their role, learning, and upskilling in any area that interests them. I know firsthand how impactful this has been for our business and our staff’s personal development.
Education builds knowledge, and knowledge can be used to move mountains. If I could start a movement to bring a great deal of good to as many people as possible, it would be to give free and easy access to education for everyone, everywhere. Just imagine what we could achieve.
The power of education and knowledge has steered us through this pandemic with medical, scientific, and technology communities coming together to push us forward as a globalised society. With that same force and backing, I envisage a time when we can work together to overcome some of the world’s biggest challenges. Global warming, famine, disease and illnesses; I can only imagine how education for all could unlock the solutions behind these global issues. Education doesn’t just empower the individual; it empowers everyone.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!