Timing is Everything. What works today may not work tomorrow, and what may not work yet just needs time. Some things were almost waiting for COVID to happen — technology helped to close the gaps across the country and basically allow for employment arbitrage. It’s all about timing. If you wait too long, someone else may run with a project and you miss out on being the market leader. But if you get to that point, it’s even more important to make sure everything is in line as you set the tone for the market and always keep your competitors in mind.
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 Scott Turman.
Scott Turman is an IT expert, entrepreneur, and founder of several companies. Most recently, he is the founder and CEO of BrightRay Publishing and the author of How to Build Your Brand with a Book: Establishing Yourself as a Published Expert. He lives with his wife and son in Maitland, Florida.
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’ve spent the bulk of my career in tech. I’ve written code and cryptographic systems at NASA, Disney, the Department of Defense, and a bunch of other Fortune 500s. Eight years ago, I switched over to working for myself as an entrepreneur. BrightRay Publishing is my first company that’s not tech-based, and it’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I had been trying to write a book for close to ten years and couldn’t for the life of me get it done. I was without the discipline, the training, all those things that go into being a writer — I had none of those things. I teamed up with Zoe Rose and we worked out a solid process to finally get it done, from the book cover to the final chapter.
Three months later, we had a finished product!
Following the publication and success of my book, I had several people ask me how I (really) did it and if I could do it for them, too. That’s when we understood there was a need in the market that we could fill, and it bloomed from there.
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?
Craig Ceccanti has been instrumental in helping us see the market for this, as well as just general startup advice. I met Craig in the 2000s while we were working at the Florida House of Representatives. He’s gone on to start a bunch of companies like Pinot’s Palette and T-Minus Solutions. I figured he had a book’s worth of startup experience in him, but no time to write it. I reached out to him and he became our first real client. His book, A Founder’s Guide to a Software Startup, will be out this summer. You can stay updated on his book release at his website, www.craigceccanti.com.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our system is more accessible and timely than a lot of others in our industry. We strive to make sure this process is personalized and support our authors’ voice and wellbeing in a very fair and professional setting. Everything is all us — no outsourcing. That way, we guarantee that exclusive experience.
We weren’t expecting this to work so well; one wrong decision and we could’ve easily gone off the rails. Since this happened during the pandemic and we had already been running with Zoom, it seemed meant to be when otherwise (in non-COVID times) this may not have worked out so well or been so successful, but now we have a sturdy platform to run with no matter the setting.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would say this all ties back into accessibility. Not everyone is able to write a book, but we make it so people CAN. Something our friend Craig mentioned, “It’s like you’re giving people superpowers.”
Not only are we helping get these books written where they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, we get to consider the people that their books will reach. Each author’s audience will get to learn from and be inspired by these stories — the outreach is immeasurable.
We feel so lucky to be able to work with celebrities, tech founders, surgeons, high ranking military officials, inventors, and truly historic figures and provide this service that gets their messages out to the world in a way that people didn’t even realize was possible.
Another layer that’s super important to us is being able to provide opportunities for writers in a capacity that aren’t readily available, especially in a way that eliminates worries of being exploited and rightly supporting our staff. What jobs that are available to writers right now do not pay fairly for their work and talent, and we are really proud to be one of the few places that do.
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?
1.) Everything is a pivot. Making sure you have the ability to change on the fly and keep a level head is integral to success. I look at everything and make sure if for some reason it doesn’t work out, I have at least five contingencies behind it. One of my biggest examples of the pivot was a company I started with my wife thirteen years ago. When my son was born, my mom had given my son a gift that happened to have lead paint in it; thankfully we caught it at the right time but it made us think there had to be a way to quickly test things for lead in the home. We worked with someone who had a patent for these and slowly kicked it off the ground; soon after, the laws had changed about lead paint in houses and we pivoted immediately to gear those test kits and meet that demand and turn a greater profit than the initial target.
2.) Part of being able to pivot comes with flexibility and learning on the go. Pretty much nothing will go exactly as planned, and so you need to be prepared for your plans to change. If you can’t accept that the genius scheme you’ve outlined isn’t working, then you won’t be able to make it work, period.
3.) This next part always sounds like some kind of commencement speech, but a tried and true characteristic is tenacity. And that doesn’t mean just doing everything on your own. A lot of it is knowing what has to be done and letting go of what you don’t know how to do to a team that has the right skills to make things work. Being able to follow through and commit with all of this is probably the biggest point to drive home.
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 was working for NASA, someone told me not to stand out — “if you make waves that’s a sure way to get fired” and “if you shake things up or make too much noise they’ll immediately get rid of you”. They didn’t want to hear about change.
I sat there for a year and was so unhappy with my job; I couldn’t affect anything, and it reached a point where I had to leave because I was experiencing no growth. I knew it wasn’t for me.
When I got to Disney, all I did was make waves. That set the scene for me to continue in jobs that I could grow in and have room to increase efficiency, productivity, and that was celebrated. Definitely the worst advice was to sit down and stay quiet. If you’re ambitious, all it does is make you miserable.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I was in a pretty cushy job right before the dot com crash. When that bubble popped, I went from living pretty good to squatting and couch surfing in downtown Orlando. There was a whole year where it was impossible to find work; an industry that you could initially come in with no qualifications suddenly had insane job requirements and massive layoffs.
Luckily, things picked up a year later. I met my wife and thankfully was offered an opportunity to write lawmaking software for the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee. The fact that my wife met me when I was jobless — she’s pretty awesome. I’d have to fly out four days out of the week, but she stuck with me while I got back on my feet and she’s still stuck with me today. ☺
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 don’t know really know where I get the drive. I’ve just always that wake up early, go to sleep late routine. But Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Workweek was the book that really made something click. That book paired with the birth of my son, and I had suddenly all the motivation in the world to work as much as I needed and as hard as I could to make things work and everything would be okay. Becoming a parent will kick your ass into gear like that.
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 would say this isn’t something that always applies to me. While highs and lows happen around all the time, it’s all about how you let that affect you; if you keep a level head and always find yourself in the middle ground, it prevents you from getting upset with the lows and keeps you grounded with the highs. That’s part of the skill set that comes with being a founder — being level-headed.
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?
Everything is in terms of payroll- — it’s the biggest expense and you have to have people. To know if you can move forward with things or need to build up funds, I always think, “Do I have 4 months of payroll, 5 months of payroll? What’s my runway?”
As long as I can get to that kind of runway where I’m comfortable enough and can sleep at night, then I know that we can bootstrap it. If not, we definitely need to raise money. People are everything, if you can’t support those who are there to get your project done in three months versus it taking years on your own, this might not be a project that has the bandwidth to be successful.
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.
Always bet on the jockey, never the horse. The ability of founders and operators to forage on and see around corners is the difference between failure and success. It’s always about who the leader is and if they have that mental fortitude to go crush it or do whatever it takes to get the job done. Even if the project (the horse) is incredible, a project will not make it without the right captain. The “Five Things” that most contribute to this success are:
1.) The idea must have a market that will purchase it. You have to make sure your idea is tenable, that it can actually generate revenue. Go prove that the market exists before you spend six months of your life making something that amounts to nothing. The sooner you fail, the better off you’ll be. Spending six months creating Tinder for Cats (kidding, of course) and realizing too late that there isn’t a market for your app will chip away at your resolve, confidence, and bank account. The idea must have a market that will purchase it.
2.) Find the right people. This is a two-fold response because you have your personnel, and you have your partners.
Always pick your partners carefully; opt to have none if you can. Make sure it’s for all the right reasons, that this person fills a need in your business model and is a true asset. If the project depends on a skill that you don’t have, establish a partnership where they are someone who makes things work how you need, and how the project needs.
On the other hand, know if it’s not something you can do without a team, make sure to hire the people you need to get the job done. People are among your greatest resources when it comes to getting things done; having the right people doing the right tasks is a surefire method to accomplish your goals.
3.) Ability to Let Go. This not only means delegating out certain tasks, but also compromising on points that are moot will get you far. Things aren’t always going to be perfect and when you look at the big picture, getting caught up in the minutiae of tiny details isn’t going to work. Likewise, you have to be able to call the time of death. If something isn’t working, you have to shut it down and let it go. If it’s not paying, if you have no runway left, the best option is to move on from it and regroup when the time is right.
4.) Timing is Everything. What works today may not work tomorrow, and what may not work yet just needs time. Some things were almost waiting for COVID to happen — technology helped to close the gaps across the country and basically allow for employment arbitrage. It’s all about timing. If you wait too long, someone else may run with a project and you miss out on being the market leader. But if you get to that point, it’s even more important to make sure everything is in line as you set the tone for the market and always keep your competitors in mind.
My grandma used to say, “It’s later than you think,” as in when you think you have more time you don’t. You have to go as quickly as you can (within reason) because it could be all over in ten years, one year, one month. While that logic didn’t count for her as much, as she lived to 103 years old, between your life and the lifetime of your business, keeping track of the clock and ensuring progress in that time will help more than you can imagine.
5.) Ability to Pivot. The ability to reassess what you think is a constant, as it may not be a constant, is incredibly important. Otherwise you would be going down a path just because you’re in love with an idea, but that idea might not be able to make you money, which is the way for startups to be successful.
People hate hearing that their “baby” or idea is “ugly”, or isn’t working out, but sometimes the baby really is ugly and there’s no recovering from that — unless you can pivot. Being able to modify the groundwork and actually letting that happen is the best way to turn something on the brink of failure into something profitable and meaningful.
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?
Back to the idea of being in love with your baby — if the market deems it ugly, as in, it doesn’t make money, know that you have to be open to the idea of pivoting and doing whatever it takes to make money, otherwise the business will never get off the ground. If you can’t do that, you have to consider calling the time of death. These startup endeavors should be viewed as an enterprise, not a singular stoic project.
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’ve seen a lot of other entrepreneurs think that taking care of themselves is somehow “weak” or “selfish”, but it’s really selfish not to. If I don’t make sure that I’m okay, I won’t be of any use to the people who depend on me. To keep myself sane and stay active, I go on regular runs (consistency is key!). I also make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Really, it’s just a matter of keeping up with that small stuff.
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 want to encourage everyone to go out and do their own independent research on anything they may vote on. It’s really important that the voting population does not allow themselves to be manipulated by distorted data or untrue facts. Verify everything that you read, hear, and see before forming your opinion and making your stance on any matter.
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 would love, love, love to grab lunch with Dave Grohl because he is the coolest person alive. No other explanation needed. ☺
How can our readers further follow your work online?
BrightRay website: http://www.brightraypublishing.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!