…The product or service you plan to sell needs to be distinctive. The best branding, marketing plan, and team won’t be able to save a product or service that no one wants. A great product or service will practically sell itself.
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 Kevin Handy.
Kevin Handy is the founder and CEO of SnapDivorce LLC. Kevin started SnapDivorce because he was sick of what he was seeing as a family law attorney. The outcomes of most divorce cases in America are easily predictable. Yet, the litigious divorce climate encourages spouses to duke it out in court, creating animosity, hurting children, and costing a tremendous amount of money, only to achieve results that were clear from the outset. Handy envisioned a better way. Then he put his idea into action.
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?
Just out of Temple University Law School, I worked as an associate for a large, international law firm. While prestigious, I found it stifling. I was a cog in the machine. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, so I ended up starting a law firm. I fantasized I’d end up being a hero lawyer, like in a John Grisham novel. In the end, reality won out and I ended up focusing on family law, which led to the creation of SnapDivorce.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The idea for SnapDivorce came out of my complete disgust with how much money is wasted in divorce litigation. It destroys families financially and psychologically. Everyone hears the stories, but it never hits like watching it happen in case after case. For example, I was sitting in court one day waiting for a judge to hear a case that should never have ended up there. Why? Because it was clearly a 50–50 case, meaning that each spouse should get 50% of the marital assets in the divorce. My client and his wife were divorcing after 30 years of marriage. Both of them had six-figure incomes. Both of them had sizable retirement accounts.
I tried to settle the case 10 times along the way. The wife and her attorney, however, kept rejecting the offers and insisting on 60% of the assets. As a result, the couple spent close to $100,000 fighting over the issues. I kept thinking what a waste of time and money the whole thing was. They could have used that money for something so much more worthwhile — a college education; the down payment on a new house; a trip around the world, for two. Of course, the ultimate result was the very 50–50 split I had known it would be from the outset. I saw this kind of thing all the time, but this particular case really got me thinking that there had to be a better way.
I played with all kinds of potential ideas. But SnapDivorce really came into focus for me when I asked myself one question: “If I were ever to get divorced, how would I want it resolved?” I would want it resolved through mediation, by actual attorneys who know the law but are dedicated to a different ethic than traditional divorce attorneys. I think it is a great solution.
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?
When I was in college, I went to one of those real estate seminars they used to advertise on TV: you know, with the guy on a boat who tried to tell you how to make money buying foreclosed real estate. It was clearly a scam. But one of the presenters said something that really stuck with me. He said, there are a lot of naysayers out there who will tell you why you shouldn’t start a business. But then he added that you should only take advice from people you want to turn out like — successful people. That really stuck with me, because as an entrepreneur you need to tune out the doubt and fear that people who are trying to “help” — usually family and friends — will give you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
This is easy. It’s our commitment to making the divorce process as simple, inexpensive, and amicable as possible. Everyone at SnapDivorce is absolutely committed to that goal. Our mediators especially take it to heart because they’ve seen firsthand the financial and psychological damage a litigious divorce can do to a family.
Another case jumps to mind. One of our mediators had a couple with a very difficult and complex debt situation. The situation was extremely contentious. Had they gone the usual route of hiring an attorney and litigating their issues in court, it would easily have cost them tens of thousands of dollars for discovery, attorney fees and court appearances. Despite their hostility, our mediator worked extremely hard to get them to understand that a dragged-out fight wouldn’t be in either of their interests. As a result, she successfully resolved the case and saved the spouses a lot of money and time. In the end, the couple was so thankful for what we were able to do that they sent our mediator personal handwritten thank you notes. Getting that sort of feedback lets you know you’re doing something right.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That’s easy, too. We are literally saving families from the agony of divorce — the stress, the animosity, the incredible financial cost. Most importantly, we’re helping children avoid much of the turmoil. Anyone who’s been through a difficult divorce will know exactly what I am talking about. If you’re going to get a divorce, I can’t overstate how beneficial mediation is to families and children when compared to the alternative.
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?
These are universal to every entrepreneur: one, the need to forge your own path; two, the capacity to treat life as an adventure; and three, a desire to build your talent stack.
I’ve always had the need to forge my own path and to be in charge — to lead the project; to work for myself; to be the boss. It’s what drove me to start my own law firm. I couldn’t stand working in the background, doing the grunt work. I wanted to be in court with the clients arguing a case. Sometimes it can get you in trouble. It’s easy to forget how difficult it is to be the boss.
Treating life as an adventure is also important. Starting a business is an adventure and while you need to take it seriously, you also need to have fun with it. If not, you’ll get burned out. With SnapDivorce, there are always challenges to deal with — difficult cases, keeping mediators on track, finances, IT issues. But I love to be involved in the marketing. It’s a challenge I enjoy. Designing our website, branding, working with Google. I love the challenge of seeing how fast we can grow. Along these same lines, you have to have a willingness to fail. Otherwise, you’ll be too conservative in getting your business to grow. We’ve spent a significant amount of money going into markets that haven’t worked out. But it’s led us to be more strategically focused on our growth. I’ve also wasted countless dollars on bad marketing efforts, but it’s taught me what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, you have to have a hunger for knowledge — to learn every aspect of your business inside and out — and to build your talent stack. You’ll need to understand financing, accounting, sales, hiring, human resources and marketing, to name a few. I personally spent a considerable amount of time learning branding, search engine optimization, marketing, Google AdWords, and the psychology behind consumerism. Adding this knowledge to my talent stack has been invaluable.
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?
I try not to live with regret. I’ve made my fair share of bad decisions, but I’ve learned a lot from those experiences. The reality is that no one really follows advice, at least not advice they weren’t already inclined to follow anyway. We all suffer from confirmation bias. We “take” the advice that support what we already want to do and reject advice to the contrary. Therefore, I can only blame myself for any poor choices I made.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Running a business can definitely be a lonely experience. You question yourself all the time. You feel responsible for others. There are no two ways about it — it’s tough.
I remember early on in our journey with SnapDivorce, we had spent a lot of time, money and effort developing the concept, creating our website, advertising, and doing PR. Then no customers showed up. It was pretty devastating, and I pretty much abandoned the idea. Then, one day a few months later, a potential customer called for some information. When she heard what we did she was so excited because, after calling many other attorneys and businesses without luck, it was “exactly what she was looking for.” Her enthusiasm was really a wakeup call. In that moment, we knew we really were onto something. It was like a jolt of lightening that gave us the energy to persevere.
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?
As I said earlier, I can confirm that it can be tough to be the boss. I found a lot of inspiration from a book I stumbled across early on in building SnapDivorce. It’s called You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero. It gave me the inspiration to commit myself to my idea, and fight through the failures and setbacks. It also made me realize I would never succeed if I kept half of myself in my traditional law practice as a back-up plan. I now share that book with all our clients at the end of their cases in the hopes that it will inspire them to live the lives they desire post-divorce.
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”?
I’ve definitely experienced the emotional highs and lows. I think the key is to recognize that you’re going to have them and, rather than celebrate or sulk, focus on continuing to make steady progress towards your goal. I follow the 1% rule, which I read about in an article on Roger Dooley’s neuromarketing blog. The basic idea behind it is that if you improve your business 1% each day, due to the compounding effect, you’ll double your results in 43 days. I’m not sure it’s worked quite that well, but it’s definitely worked and has been a motivator for me. I highly recommend Roger Dooley’s blog to any budding entrepreneur.
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?
This is a hard question, because really, both choices are correct. We’ve grown through bootstrapping. Our path has been to build a business model that works, and which can be expanded profitably. We’ve also been considering venture capital to finance a more rapid expansion, which can’t really be done through bootstrapping. But I’m not sure we’re there yet. I think we’ll be reevaluating that option over the next few months.
I suppose founders should ask themselves if they are able to grow the way they want with the profits their business can generate. If not, and they need to scale rapidly, or if they are in a line of business that requires a substantial amount of capital up front, then I would recommend seeking out venture capital.
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.
The first thing you need is a viable market. Ask yourself, what is the true size of your potential market? Can you sell 100 or, better, 100M of whatever you are selling each year? Then ask yourself how much of the market you can realistically capture. Finally, figure out what your expected profit on each sale will be. If you think about a highly successful startup like Uber, their potential market for rides was enormous. If they captured even a small segment of that market in each city, they would have millions of customers.
Once you’ve established a viable market, you need great branding and marketing. It’s how you stand out from your competition; it’s why consumers will choose your product or service over a competitor’s. Branding also dictates what you can charge for your product. It’s important to realize that branding is much more than a name and a logo. Your brand is what consumers think and feel about your product or service. Starbucks is a great example of successful branding. When consumers buy Starbucks, they’re not just buying a cup of coffee. They’re buying an emotional experience — in essence, comfort and predictability in a cup. That’s why Starbucks can charge a premium for, in my opinion, terrible coffee. In fact, the high price they charge is actually part of their branding, and it makes their customers perceive that the coffee taste better. Brilliant.
Marketing goes along with it. Can you differentiate yourself and make people remember you? 1–800-Got-Junk is a great example here. They’ve managed to take a totally obscure industry of consumer junk hauling and turn it into something everyone knows about. There are now a few copycats out there, but I can’t imagine calling anyone but 1–800-Got-Junk for that service. Again, awesome branding and marketing.
A great team is also crucial for a highly successful startup. Unless you’re a one-person show, like a comedian, you can’t do it alone. Great employees are invaluable. They bring fresh ideas to the table. Employees will make or break your startup. Do all you can to keep the good ones and quickly get rid of the bad ones. We were extremely lucky at SnapDivorce because we started with a core team who really believed in our concept and were invested in every step of building the business.
I’m not sure why I didn’t mention this first, but of course the product or service you plan to sell needs to be distinctive. The best branding, marketing plan, and team won’t be able to save a product or service that no one wants. A great product or service will practically sell itself.
Last, but not least, you need a solid plan for expansion and profitability. Once you’ve perfected your product or service, have a solid brand and marketing plan, know your market and have your team in place, it’s time to expand. You need to know how you’ll go about it and how you’re going to finance it. Successful expansion is much more difficult than people realize. Any small problem is magnified exponentially when you scale up. You also need to know how and when you’re going to turn a profit, and how you’re going to manage it. Planning, and evolving your plan, are crucial, every day.
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?
Failing to follow the five key factors mentioned previously; and not being careful about how working capital is spent. You have to treat it like it is your own money.
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?
I have never been one to burn the candle at both ends. It’s the quality of your effort, not the quantity that counts. Just manage your time well. A strong foundation is also critical to success. Put your health and your family first. Get eight hours of sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and, most importantly, spend quality time with your loved ones. I’ll also note the best ideas to improve your business almost always come when you’re away from work doing something else. Your mind makes amazing connections when it’s at rest.
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. 🙂
Effectively ban social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. — through repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It’s one of the worst things that’s happened to our society in quite some time. It’s especially terrible for kids.
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.
I’d love to have lunch with Scott Adams, who’s best known for writing the comic strip Dilbert. He gave me the Red Pill! He’s written some great books on the subjects of persuasion, subjective reality, and life habits. Having been trained as a lawyer, I always thought people were logical and that facts matter. When it sunk in that this was false, it was a real eyeopener and it lit a fire under me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’d love to have you check out our website at SnapDivorce.com, which is packed with information on how we provide a superior divorce process. I also blog at SnapDivorce.com, and will soon be launching a podcast.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!