Your first 50 hires will define the long-term trajectory of your company. Focus on hiring people that are kind, optimistic, and curious, have an excellent work ethic, are empathetic, are self-aware, and have the judgment to do the right things when no one is looking. If you hire that caliber of person, you will attract more people like them.
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 Peter Ord, Founder and CEO of GuideCX®.
Peter Ord has revolutionized the client implementation and onboarding process by creating the most advanced tools for delivering value faster for clients. GuideCX is the top choice for implementation project managers and client success teams to invite, guide and engage their customers. Peter is driven to help companies create a customer-centric onboarding experience that’s unforgettable, makes the right impression and builds trust.
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?
As a sales leader, I was constantly being pulled back into deals after they were sold. I was asked three questions on a continual basis:
1. When are we going to get the product we purchased?
2. Who is responsible for what during the implementation?
3. Can you demo the rest of my team that didn’t participate in the sales experience?
The “aha moment” for me was getting a “Your package is late” notification from Amazon. I realized that there are many experiences in the B2C space where “Onboarding” or the “After Sales Experience” is a top priority (Apple, Domino’s Pizza, etc.). I felt that these same expectations were bleeding into B2B and that it was no longer acceptable to keep customers updated via manual processes. That’s when I decided that creating a product centered on inviting, guiding and engaging customers through an implementation experience was worth the risk! I’m happy to report that the market is loving it.
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 wife is my rock. It has been said that the true success of an entrepreneur is how well their immediate network supports them. Meaning, are those closest to the entrepreneur going to think less of them if they fail? If so, the entrepreneur will be afraid to fail, and if you are afraid to fail at this stage, that can be crippling. I’m thankful to those closest to me, especially my wife, for supporting and loving me unconditionally. That’s what gives me the courage and energy to keep on pushing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our product is viral in nature because GuideCX customers invite their customers to their own “Custom Guided Experiences” within our product. We have the benefit of having our product in front of a ton of people. The more elegant we make our customers’ customer experience, the more successful we are. I’m proud that much of our growth can be directly correlated to how much people enjoy using our product. It’s true product-led growth.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A common phrase you will hear in the hallways of our office is “Rising Tide Raises All Ships,” which means that our success is your success. That applies to our employees, our customers, our investors, and our community. Recently, with funds raised internally within our team, we sent one of our employees to the village of Mounzoun, Mali, with the Mali Wellness Foundation to install water filtration systems that improved the lives of over 10,000 villagers.
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?
- Grit. There will be situations that present themselves that you have no experience dealing with. Grit is what gets you through these times. It’s the will to figure things out, make things work, and come through better on the other side. For example, a pivotal moment for my company came when we received a cease-and-desist letter regarding a trademark infringement with our old company name, delivered the day before Christmas. We quickly mobilized, hired a trademark attorney, changed our company name, and executed a rebranding strategy, amongst a whole lot of other initiatives. What appeared as a huge problem ended up being an amazing opportunity for our company to progress. We came out better on the other end!
- Perspective. Nothing is ever as bad or good as it seems. Going through the 2008 financial crash taught me that there is always opportunity in adversity. The experience prepared us for opportunities that presented themselves as the global pandemic took hold of the world in 2020. We doubled the commissions for our sales team during the pandemic to encourage them to continue to build pipelines during a tough market, knowing that things would eventually return to normal. The relationships we have built during the pandemic are paying off in dividends now that we are at the tail end of this challenging market.
- Perseverance. “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” This quote is an all-time favorite of mine. If you “show up,” there will always be an opportunity to learn. If you don’t “show up,” you rob yourself of those learning moments, which paralyzes progression. With GuideCX, we often move forward with imperfect plans knowing that if we don’t move forward, we will rob ourselves of learning opportunities. If we wait for the illusion of “perfect,” we will never progress.
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 submitted my resignation to my last CEO (that had only been in place for less than a year), she told me I was not ready to venture into starting a company and that there was more learning for me within my current role. While I understood the motivation behind that comment was to retain me, I respectfully responded that it was not my belief that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or any startup CEO/founder was “ready” to start their venture. I acknowledged that her evaluation wasn’t wrong; I merely challenged the premise that being “100 percent ready” was necessary. It’s the grit, perseverance, and perspective that push founders to succeed at any stage. It has been said, “If you don’t feel uncomfortable from time to time, you probably aren’t challenging yourself to grow fast enough.” Starting this company has definitely pushed me to my limit, which has accelerated my learning and growth. I’m better as a person for having not followed the initial advice of “waiting ’til I was ready.”
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My third employee got an attractive offer from a former colleague of mine and decided to move on from GuideCX to provide a better livelihood for his family. Losing this individual at our early stage didn’t just mean we lost one-third of our horsepower: It meant we lost an individual to grow future teams around. It meant we lost a “founding team member.” At the time, I was still bootstrapping the business and growing at a respectable pace but not fast enough to retain top-tier talent. I learned a crucial lesson at an early stage on the importance of speed: Fast growth attracts top-tier talent, and if I was going to be successful at creating a category-leading product for implementation managers, I would need to accelerate my growth to attract amazing talent. Thankfully, that has happened and continues to happen. I’m still courting that same employee to come back to GuideCX and have faith he will rejoin us soon (hopefully).
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 father was an entrepreneur. I watched him succeed and fail. Many times, his failures were due to external market conditions that were outside of his control. There were three important lessons that he taught me that I’m striving to teach my four daughters.
- Don’t allow yourself to be consumed with resentment or hostility towards others. Doing so grants others a degree of control over you. Good and positive feelings free you and allow you to function with more clarity and on a higher plane.
- Have the presence of mind and judgment to recognize dysfunction and work around, over, and through it.
- None of us have the luxury of “batting a thousand,” “scoring every time we touch the ball,” “making all of our three-point shots,” “winning all of our races,” and “getting straight A’s.” We learn more from our struggles than our victories. Regardless of the “arena of life” we find ourselves in — whether it be academic, sports, employment, relationships, community, or church — it takes creativity, judgment, and hard work to survive.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy and is filled with challenges, failures, and 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 and lows of being a founder?
If there were no “lows,” it would be impossible to experience the joy of the “highs.” I’m a believer that the joy is in the journey and not the destination. The startup culture is the best-kept secret in the workplace because of the life-long relationships that can be forged in the trenches.
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?
The answer to this question depends greatly on what your competition looks like, who you are trying to sell to, and what type of product you are building. I’m a believer that money clouds judgment at the early stages. Be careful not to spend like a drunken sailor; if you are using your own money, you will be much more disciplined in your approach to finding enough product-market fit to justify more gas to put on the fire. Proving “patterns” should be your #1 focus. Investors want to see progression through iteration. This comes through recognizing patterns.
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.
Here are five things that I attribute to the early success of GuideCX:
- Your first 50 hires will define the long-term trajectory of your company. Focus on hiring people that are kind, optimistic, and curious, have an excellent work ethic, are empathetic, are self-aware, and have the judgment to do the right things when no one is looking. If you hire that caliber of person, you will attract more people like them.
- Successful startups have founders whose networks support them unconditionally, ranging from your spouse or significant other to your mentors. When founders have strong networks that support them unconditionally, they won’t be afraid to take risks.
- Too much money in the early stages can cloud judgment. It’s crucially important to establish patterns of product-market fit before scaling. If scaling happens too early, it’s money flushed down the drain.
- Startup founders need to know when to ask for help and when to figure things out. Identifying challenges that require the grit to figure things out vs. the challenges of soliciting advice from those that have “been there before” can help you accelerate growth.
- Successful startups make the transition from making decisions based on anecdotal information to data-driven information early in their lifecycle. Measuring user behavior and “Aha” moments and correlating that to growth metrics can be the silver bullet to accelerating growth. Invest in business intelligence in the early stages.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- They optimize for growth at all costs and fail to home in on what their “ideal customer profile” looks like.
- They scale before product-market fit has been established.
- They fail to teach those around them how to help; many do not know how they can help unless they are taught how to.
- They only measure topline metrics and do not know what is driving the success or failure of their business.
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?
Prioritize two things at all costs:
- Your health
- Your relationships
Success can only be enjoyed if those closest to you are with you when you get to the destination.
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.
My father always said, “When your love works, everything works.” As a new father, he gave me parenting advice to never do anything to erode the confidence of your children. He told me that everything I do and say should be designed to increase their confidence. I feel fortunate to have been raised by amazing parents, and I’d like to find a way to pass on the many principles I feel that I’ve been lucky enough to receive to parents around the world.
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? Why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Guy Raz. His podcast, How I Built This, has been instrumental in not only giving me the courage to start a company but also helping me think through the many challenges that I’ve faced and continue to face. He has interviewed many successful CEOs, and my hope is to one day be one of those successful CEOs as a guest on his show.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!