The end of each year makes me nostalgic, so as this year comes to a close and a new one is about to begin, I thought I’d write a little bit about how I got started in the Internet industry. If I had a chance to go back in time knowing what I know now, here are a few things I’d tell my younger self about being an entrepreneur.
I started my first company January 1995 and called it CGIM which stood for Cybergrrl Internet Media (later changed to Cybergrrl, Inc.). A month earlier, in December 1994, I had taken a class in HTML and felt empowered after creating my first websites. I embraced my newfound skill and sought out people who might be interested in marketing on the Internet.
My first client was the new head of digital media for the New York Times. He brought me to his office after hours to teach him about the Internet starting with how to go online. He had come to his position after producing an interactive CD-Rom, the cool technology of the moment, but had never opened up a web browser or accessed a website. I was thrilled to be able to teach others about the web and was convinced that “cyberspace” was the perfect place to publish information and reach – and interact with – readers.
The five years I ran Cybergrrl were tumultuous. I was terrified most of the time, mostly that I would make a bad decision and ruin not only my life but the lives of the employees working for my company. I was in a difficult personal relationship at the time that isolated me from others leaving me feel helpless and isolated.
When my company was offered a million dollars investment, I listened to my business partner who warned me that we’d lose control of our company if we took that much money. So we only took a third of the offer. We burned through the money quickly as new competitors appeared, each of them better funded than us and ready to push Cybergrrl out of the way.
I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way in those early Internet startup days.
The following seven tips are just some of the business advice I’d give to my younger self:
1. Respect yourself.
If you don’t hold yourself in high esteem, others will follow you cue. This means sticking to your convictions and trusting your instincts. This doesn’t mean making bad business decisions just to have things go your way but to hold onto your values as you navigate the choices that every entrepreneur must make along the way of building their company.
2. Respect others.
The advice we hear as a child – “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” – is equally valid for adults. This means don’t bad mouth your competition. Don’t complain about other people but instead look for ways to improve your relationship with them or to help them. Taking the high road is always the better choice, period.
3. Hire people smarter than you.
When you’re the boss, the tendency is to hire “underlings,” people who are less experienced so you can “mold” them or because they are “cheaper” than more skilled professionals. The reality is that most people you hire won’t rise to the level that will help elevate your business. Without smart people on your team, you’ll sink, no matter how good you are.
When you have capable people on your team, let go and let them do their job. The idea that only you care enough about the company and the work to get it right or only you know how to do it the way you like it done traps you. You end up doing everything yourself, and you getting lost in the smaller tasks leaving no time or energy to tackle the bigger work that only you can do. Let other people help you get things done.
5. Ask for more money than you think you’ll need.
Whether you’re setting prices for your products or services, taking a loan or getting investment in your company, always ask for more than the initial number that comes to mind. Even if you crunch the numbers and figure out exactly how much you need to make a profit, ask for more. Nothing ever goes as planned, and everything takes more time and costs more than you think it will. Once you’ve given your price, it is harder to go back and ask for more.
6. Get everything in writing.
No matter how well you know someone, no matter how much you trust them, don’t ever enter into a business agreement – especially where money exchanges hands – without getting the terms in writing. And if the deal is big, don’t sign anything until a lawyer – YOUR lawyer – looks it over.
7. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
There is nothing you do on the job that is worth making yourself sick over. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be worthless to your company or organization. Your health and well-being must be a priority over your work or else your work will suffer.
I look back at my first startup and realize that there were some very talented people working at Cybergrrl who were never given the chance to really take charge and shine. There were decisions that were made out of fear and bad agreements that were signed that contributed to shutting down a promising Internet media company.
I didn’t trust my smarts or my gut, and didn’t take care of myself so was perpetually run down and stressed. Not a good recipe for running a business well.
Over the years, I admit that I’ve repeated some of the same mistakes I made back during the Cybergrrl days. But the closer I stock to the advice above, the easier it is to pick myself back up and start over.
Things will not always go your way in business, but if you do good work and treat yourself and others with kindness and gratitude, you’ll be okay.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Check out the stories at Upwork to read more about the entrepreneurial journey.