Do you love it… I mean LOVE it. You have to love it. Because work/life balance if you’re a leader in a startup is a fallacy. You have to love it so much that even in the hardest day there is a piece of you that loves the fight. This is not only a job, and a career, but your life’s work.
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 Kate Burda, CEO and founder of consulting firm Kate Burda & Co, which leads revenue performance and growth strategies for organizations, hotels, hospitality brands, owners, investors and management companies. Through her “revenue trifecta” of sales, traditional & digital marketing and revenue management, many of Kate’s clients have enjoyed 25 percent growth in revenue gains through her work.
Amid disposition, bankruptcy, financial downturns and shifts within the marketplace over her nearly 30 years of experience, Kate has advised some of the world’s leading companies, such as Goldman Sachs, REIT, Abbott, Medtronic, Boehringer Ingelheim, Ricoh, Marriott International, Hilton, Loews Hotels, Intercontinental Hotel Group and more.
Kate is passionate about challenging the status quo and rethinking systems to drive revenue acceleration. Her subscription training platform Ignite launched in May 2021 to help businesses connect the dots between finance and sales & marketing. Ignite leads companies to identify their most profitable and most valuable customers. Most companies or leaders would say they know their top customers but Ignite helps them go beyond. By learning to recognize these areas of opportunity, businesses using Ignite are able to generate revenue impact.
As an industry leader, Kate is a Think Tank member of the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell and has taught graduate and undergraduate courses for Fairleigh Dickinson University and Purdue University System. Her memberships include Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA), International Society of Hotel Consultants (ISHC), Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA), Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI). Kate has spoken at Chesapeake Hospitality Summit, Hunter Conference, Hotel Asset Manager Association 2020 Summit, and more. She earned her MBA at University of Colorado and currently lives in Dallas.
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 had been working for a number of large multi-national companies. I loved my work, but found that I could only go as far as the constraints of my job, job description, or in many cases constructs that were put on by my superiors. Your mind is strong enough to do whatever you choose to do… it is the choice that defines you. I wanted to define my destiny.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It wasn’t one moment, but many. I kept seeing opportunities of how an approach, methodology, or thinking could be improved. I built our Ignite program because I couldn’t find a service or application that accomplished what I needed to have done… I couldn’t find it, so I built it. Most of our approach has come out of frustration of “there is a better way”. Once I saw it I couldn’t ‘unsee’ it. Then it would fester and I would see how important it was to bring to others.
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 inspiration lies in two places… one is this agitation of what could be. Taking the easy road just because it is easier never was attractive to me. That came from an alchemy of my father’s frustrating genius, my mother’s grit, and my grandfather’s elegance. The second is a dear friend that when I share being scared or small, they remind me who I am and what I am here to do. You have to have someone who grounds you and another that says if you can make this happen.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We challenge the status quo. We have a proven and pragmatic approach and a program that helps others to make the uncommon habit. There are two words that encapsulate how we create impact for our customers: Clarity and Connection. We give a very clear picture of how to get from the current state to where they want to go. When teams have clarity there is very little they can’t do. People are attracted to ideas that are clear. We connect people to each other, connect them to ideas, and connect them to their higher performance self. That power of connection is transformative.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try! I don’t have children. That ship has sailed long ago. I believe that people have to give something to the next generation. It our duty. Parents are able to do this through their children. For me I channel that in giving something of value to our clients to make them bigger, better, faster, stronger. I want people to not only enjoy our work together, but truly value the insight we bring. The best high ever!
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?
I have used these three key strengths in our business:
Individualization- Seeing the person, seeing their individuality. People want to feel special. But seeing who they are, seeing what they are saying, or even what they aren’t saying is so critical to this powerful and authentic connection that can help them to take a step or a leap that they wouldn’t have done before. Connection through individualization.
Ideation- Some days being inside my head feels like going being on a space ship and ideas are like lights that fly by me. Being able to call upon that, invite others into that environment, and shift through what is important and what isn’t has been a gamechanger for our clients. I believe everyone is creative, we just have to unlock it.
Command- I have a talent to command a room, command a presence. I use it carefully, as I know I can easily use that talent for good and unintentionally misuse it. Command has helped me to know when to be assertive and when to put it away; when to use charisma and when it’s best not to.
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?
We were going to invest in developing Ignite and it was a big risk. It would be much easier not to do anything. There is a book written about startups and the best day to quit is the first. Before you invest time, money, and emotion into it, quit on your first day. It would have been much easier to do nothing, to sit back. But that isn’t authentically me. There is majesty and genius in being bold. My favorite poem by Goethe says, “That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
This year has brought many of us to our knees. 75% of our business works within travel and hospitality, which was hit the hardest during this pandemic. The industry has seen a 92% decline in revenue. We are starting to see the light, but it has been a very tiresome journey. What we know is people now more than ever need clarity and strategy. Many talk about pivoting their business to increase top-line revenue, but don’t know what to pivot to. Many talk about the ‘new normal’, but don’t know what to do differently within sales, marketing, and pricing. We had to survive to help others do the same. That is what makes me so excited about the future.
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 believe in GRIT. Gratitude, Resiliancy, Integrity, and Tenacity. Many people can talk about these things, but until you have been truly humbled you have no idea what you are made of. That experience makes you a better leader, partner, and friend. It is easy to speak of these things if you have had a good tailwind, but talk to me about GRIT after you have had things crumble down. Then let’s see what you are made of.
Our work is focused on how to make teams and organizations accelerate top-line revenue and performance. So we recalibrated and hired ourselves as our own client. We did the work that we ask of our clients and created our vision-to-value roadmap.
That and a good glass of wine.
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”?
It is lonely. You have to get used to that loneliness. You have to have a support system around you that is strong enough to stay with you. You have to focus on the base line. If you focus on the lows and even the highs, it becomes a maniacal rollercoaster. Keeping the focus on the strategic base line is so key. I enjoy the highs, but I know that it is not sustainable or permanent, nor are the lows.
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?
Take a look at venture capital teams in tiers. Not all of them are created equally. Map them out in terms of what you need not only in just capital, but in other areas of support. For example, are you aligned in what is important to you? If you have a product you are bringing to market, do they have business or customers that both of you are able to leverage with your product? Categorize and prioritize each of them with different factors that go beyond capital and share of your company.
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.
- Is your product or service solving a problem for a large enough buying audience?
Solving a problem is key. Now, tell me how big is the market that your product or service is solving this problem. If the market isn’t big enough or deep enough, it is a hobby or side hustle… not a business.
2. Do you love it… I mean LOVE it. You have to love it. Because work/life balance if you’re a leader in a startup is a fallacy. You have to love it so much that even in the hardest day there is a piece of you that loves the fight. This is not only a job, and a career, but your life’s work.
3. Do you have the support system around you to get you through times that are really difficult?
Early on I created a board of directors for my business. Here were the rules; 1- they had all rights to tell me the hardest things, 2- they had no vested interest in my success or failure, 3-they had to have been there before. Now create a board of directors for your emotional wellbeing; your partner or spouse can’t be your sole emotional outlet, you have to have an emotional support system that goes beyond them.
4. Do have a business plan that has a well-thought-out financial prospective and a go-to market strategy? Have a plan. I see leaders that have planned a family vacation in more detail.
5. Have you showed it (the plan) to someone that has does not have a vested interest in your business?
Show people that are smarter, better, stronger than you your plan. Ask for their feedback and then listen. And when you are about to open your mouth…listen more.
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?
Not having a focus on your customer! All too often we work with organizations that talk about customer focus, customer first… yet when we look at the sales and marketing approach all they do is talk about them… their product, their service, their accomplishments. We have worked with sales teams that when they engage with customers, they spend most of the time talking about them, without the customer. In a study executives were asked if when meeting with a salesperson, what percent of time did they (the salesperson) bring something of value. The answer: 8%. We see the same behavior in marketing.
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?
Discipline, Discipline, Discipline. Schedule time for yourself; make an appointment with yourself to work out, schedule think time, schedule time in the morning for meditation, schedule time at the end of the day for reflection. So many times we try to ‘fit it,’ rather than schedule it in. Have a 30-minute pre-Monday planning session and schedule time with your work, yourself, your mind. Think of yourself as your most valuable client.
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.
I would love what I do. I believe that our work brings good to people. Our goal is to bring thought leadership to teams, organizations, and people. We do what we do because it is important and can bring people to a higher level of performance. Nothing is better than helping others. That is the movement I can get behind!
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.
Mark Cuban… I would have a breakfast that kept going so long that we would have to have lunch. It would be a co-creation of how we could make the other’s business better. Mark, if you’re listening, I have some ideas.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow us! We have insights that can help you to become bigger/better/faster/stronger. www.kateburda.com
Linked in: www.linkedin.com/in/kateburda/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!