You need to have operational excellence; you have to be well-run. We are a virtual company, so it is important for us to be well-organized. We use a project management tool to assign and manage tasks. We have daily meetings with team members by department or by client. We develop standard operating procedures and job aides that we can refer to on a regular basis.
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 Emily Woll, MS. She is passionate about optimizing the impact of the creative talent that powers Osmond Marketing. As COO of Osmond Marketing, she has streamlined production to deliver greater value to clients. Her core values are integrity, positivity, and persistence, and she applies these principles consistently to all of her work with clients, employees, contractors, and partners. In 2020, Emily’s HR excellence was recognized by Utah Business Magazine, who named her as a top Utah HR Professional.
After graduating with honors from Brigham Young University with a degree in dietetics, Emily followed her love of research and science to obtain her master’s degree in human environments from Utah State University. She leverages this training as an advisor and contributor for health content and health-related topics. Emily also holds certifications as a HubSpot Agency Partner and a Salesforce Certified Administrator.
Emily is obsessed with healthy eating and loves to explore the world. She has visited more than 20 countries on five continents (her time living in China inspired her to learn to speak Mandarin) and infuses her cooking with local flavors from many of these countries.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Osmond Marketing was founded by my friend, Amy Cook, while her family was struggling financially during the Great Recession. Her husband, Jeff, had just lost his job after the company that he was working for went bankrupt. That year, Amy and Jeff had a 10,000 dollars tax return. They decided that they would split the money in half and see who could make the most, and so, Amy founded Osmond Marketing.
Amy and I have been friends since high school, and her sister married my brother. We are practically family! When Amy first came to me with the idea for Osmond Marketing, I knew I had to get involved. I’ve always been fascinated by why humans do the things they do — I even studied human environments for my master’s degree — so spearheading operations at a marketing agency was an appealing prospect for me. And with Osmond Marketing’s unique focus on transparency and storytelling, I knew the company would be a success. Since then, Amy, Jeff, and I have taken OM from a very small startup business to one of Utah’s top fastest growing companies. It’s been a wild ride!
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?
My father has always been a man of ideas. He is creative, driven, tenacious, kind, and customer-oriented. He never stops even if something doesn’t work out. These traits have led to success.
Years ago, he was working with his partner to start a business in Utah. It required a lot of hard work and committed people. He recruited me to walk door-to-door, leaving flyers advertising the subscription service he helped found. I learned through experience and observation how he worked with customers and his co-workers. He made time for customers and team members to succeed. In turn, the company grew, and so did the staff!His tenacity and subsequent success inspired me to not just be an employee but really work hard to make the company successful — and find joy along the way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our transparency, flexibility and affordability makes us unique. Not to mention the ability to tell a good story! I am delighted by the many referrals that come from our clients as they share their experiences with others. It is a reinforcement that as we live our company values, we deliver results for our clients. Recently, a client reached out and said “Hey, I used to work with you guys! I’m now at a new company and could use your services. I’d like to meet to discuss our needs.” Our award-winning service keeps clients coming back.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have been fortunate to donate 10% of the profits of our organization to charities that focus on humanitarian efforts. In addition, we have been able to offer services to several non-profit organizations that we believe in at a deeply discounted rate or for free. It’s been an honor to work with them. We also provide internships and small projects for schools to build up the next generation of marketing professionals.
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?
- Humility. It’s important to know when to ask for help, to listen and realize you don’t know everything and that is OK. There are many times when I don’t know what to do next. That’s when I turn to mentors, close friends and family for advice. They give me direction and options to consider that I would have not thought of on my own.
- Self-respect. It’s OK to say “no”. You can’t do everything for everyone. Sometimes you have to say “no” because it is not the right fit for you and your company at this time. I think it is also so important to set boundaries so you don’t burn out. That’s where delegation comes into play. I’ve come to realize that when I am getting overwhelmed, delegating helps me keep producing high-quality work, and it also helps me form a closer bond with my team.
- Kindness. Kindness goes a long way. You need to be kind to yourself and those around you. I really believe what goes around comes around. People are always watching. I believe people are attracted to kind and positive people. I have been successful because people have been kind to me. And my success has continued as I have tried to be kind to others. For example, I strive to help employees find solutions and support when they make mistakes rather than focusing on what has gone wrong.
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?
“Being an entrepreneur means working around the clock. You are on-call 24 hours a day.” I don’t think that is true! You have to make time to rest and relax. For me, I exercise daily and try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. When I take care of myself, I can take care of others.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In the early days of the business, there were times when margins were thin and payments from clients were not consistently on time. This meant that cash was sometimes low as we ran payroll. Despite these scary moments, we prioritized the client experience and focused on delivering against our commitments while properly compensating our employees. Those early clients took a leap of faith with us and were able to get outstanding results for very reasonable prices as we built out our business. We still have many of those early clients and employees.
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?
My love for what I do keeps me motivated. I love learning, so I continue to do research and read articles, blogs and books. I talk to experts in the field to soak up as much information as I can. When times are hard, I walk away for a much-needed breath of fresh air and go for a walk or do yoga.
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”?
There are no guarantees in business. Markets can change. Clients’ budgets can change. Your star employee decides to try another opportunity. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. You have to think and act quickly. You need to be a good problem-solver.
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’s important for any business to define business goals and objectives and have a business plan. Your business goals will determine which path you choose to take. I’d personally say bootstrap as long as possible because you have the ability to maintain control and direction of the company. We made the personal decision not to take outside money, because we wanted to prioritize the client and employee experience over margins and growth without outside pressure. But that is a personal decision dependent upon the field. I recommend any young founder to sit down and really drill down their goals.
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.
- You need to be surrounded by great people. We are careful and conscientious of who we bring on to work with us. Each team member meets our core values of kindness, grit, flexibility, and quality. They are part of the OM family! For example, I needed help with a certain task one week. I reached out to one of our team members to see if they had time to assist me. They offered even though it was something not in their area of expertise, and their assistance was extremely helpful!
- You need to have a solution to a business problem. We help make others’ businesses great! We ran the marketing for a high tech company from series A through acquisition and are in the process of doing the same for several others now that we feel we have the formula for success. Their growth has been remarkable. We are an extension of their marketing team, and, in many cases, clients hire us to be their marketing team so they can have multi-faceted services without the overhead and cost of employing only one employee for one service.
- You need to have operational excellence; you have to be well-run. We are a virtual company, so it is important for us to be well-organized. We use a project management tool to assign and manage tasks. We have daily meetings with team members by department or by client. We develop standard operating procedures and job aides that we can refer to on a regular basis.
- You need a great culture. This attracts the right people for the right job role. We have such a low turnover rate among our team and clients because of our culture.
- You need a great idea. We believe that we have solved some common challenges in an agency model by being transparent, flexible and affordable. Our ability to adapt to client requests month to month based on strategic goals and objectives continues to lead to successful campaigns.
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 think a lot of us forget to do market research to validate our idea. We don’t know if our idea is a good one. It is important to get to MVP as quickly as possible then test your idea on your buyer persona to validate your idea or determine if a pivot is necessary when it isn’t working. Osmond marketing started in book publishing but switched to marketing when we saw Amazon was disrupting the publishing industry.
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?
Sometimes in our business it takes long, long hours. We need to recognize this as a reality and keep the focus that these grueling hours will not last forever. But we love what we do, and we love seeing the positive results and happy customers when we are able to deliver.
On a personal level, I don’t do anything fancy — just eat right, sleep 7–8 hours, exercise, and try to laugh a little each day. I love being outside too, so I often step outside for a short walk during the work day or lay down for five minutes to clear my head and calm my nerves.
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. 🙂
‘Eat like Emily’ — Ha! One of my passions is health and nutrition. I really believe that taking care of your body leads to great happiness because you feel good! You have energy to do the things you love and want to do.
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.
Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. I admire how he took an idea to sell something on the Internet and grew it into one of the largest companies in the world. More importantly, he has been able to continue innovating and taking risks despite the massive growth and success of his companies.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health.