Entrepreneurship Lessons Learned from CEO’s of $10 Million+ Companies

Starting a company with big aspirations can get weird. It’s hard to find people who can relate to the pressures and have been there. There are plenty of seasoned professionals with experiences and entrepreneurial insights that have not done what you are trying to do. 

Over the last few months, we’ve had a series of members-only “Power Lunches” where local founders and CEOs were joined by other successful CEOs of companies located across the state. Each of these founders either lead companies that do over $10M in revenue or have exited companies for more than that amount. 

GrowCo’s Power Lunches are open only to member companies so everyone in the room can be open and speak with a sense of freedom and confidentiality.  Below are a handful of repeat notes and lessons learned from these conversations. 

Getting Started

Prior experience. It helps to be a part of a company that has done what you are trying to do. I noticed that each of these founders had industry experience and had been a part of similar companies in the past.

At least one of them had been with a similar company and was in a leadership role when they went from $5M to IPO. 

People

Onboarding is critical. One of the tips from entrepreneurs I heard several times was a focus on the customer and employee onboarding. This is something that I am personally fanatical about so it was interesting to hear. The beginning of a relationship can create a foundation for strength. Make sure you invest the time and energy in having good onboarding processes. 

Fill gaps with specialists. There seemed to be a theme that people used a lot of part-time people and contractors to plug gaps. This could be for a short term while they found the right full-time person or just to cover a specific missing skill. 

Develop talent. One CEO put a lot of trust in interns and developed them to be long term teammates. He said their team was like a pyramid with “grey hairs” at the top, middle-level folks that were experienced and high performing, and then entry-level people with high potential. They loaded the bottom of the pyramid through relationships with the University of South Carolina. They would opportunistically stuff the middle by acquiring talent via referrals and from their competitors. 

If you are in Columbia, you know we tend to lose college graduates to other regions. Two of the CEO’s mentioned that they changed their mind by getting them in the door. Once they saw that there are cool tech companies right here in Columbia, they decided to stay. 

They also had an awesome training program. One company had a program so good that the companies they worked with knew about it and it became part of why people wanted to work with them.  

If you want to fail, hire only people in the US. This seemed to be a common theme. If you want to create more jobs in the US, utilize a global workforce. This could be as small as overseas contractors opening an office abroad in an area where the labor pool and labor costs are more favorable. 

Growth

Peaks and valleys. It’s not always up and to the right. One founder shared how they were growing 20% YOY for 20 years, and then went flat for two years. They weren’t exactly sure why. Not a lot had changed but they were trying to find ways to grow sales and develop new partner channels.

How do we 3x everything? One entrepreneur shared how the vision was always to 3x everything. They were always asking the question; how do we 3x this? They used this mentality to grow their company to $25M in 13 years. This was also a good reminder that things do not happen overnight. 

Establish channels and strategic partnerships. This was a common theme. I believe each of these founders’ companies’ primary sales channels was partnerships. One did not have salespeople for a long time. The three founders were all selling. 

Increased revenue by selling to existing customers. Once you reach critical mass, what else can you offer your clients? How can you help them and yourself with add-on or complementary solutions?

Founder Community

Bootstrapping and resource sharing. Several of the CEO’s talked about how they shared their entrepreneurial tips with others in the early days or took advantage of low-cost or free resources to get going. This included office space, talent, vendors, and more. 

What can you share with others in a similar position? Could you share office space, resources, etc? 

Surround yourself with other founders. You need to be surrounded by and have access to other founders. While it is important to learn from people with a variety of backgrounds and specialties, as founders we can really accelerate our learning curve by talking to other founders.  

These are a few of the entrepreneurial tips for success I learned from these CEO’s. I am excited about the next power lunch because I always take so much out of them. 

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Are you a founder of a high-growth potential company? Let’s connect and see how we can help you get plugged into the resources and entrepreneurial tips to success you need to take your company to the next level and beyond.