An entrepreneur is who gets called when the toilet is clogged in your building. If you’re an entrepreneur, you go find a plunger… and you unclog the toilet.” - Dave Overton, Symph CEO.
Being an entrepreneur, and being a good one, is never easy. Just because you own the business doesn’t mean that you have the most convenient job description. It’s quite the opposite. Founders face lots of tough dilemmas and challenges just to keep the company thriving.
Take it from Dave Overton, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Symph.
From his experience, Dave shares the five challenges in building a tech company from scratch and maintaining it, and shares what founders can do to conquer these obstacles.
1. Maintaining a sustainable cash flow.
“Cash flow is really, I would say, the hardest part in running a business because you might have enough projects coming in your pipeline, but your salaries and payments to run things internally— they’re always recurring.”
Dave explains the challenge of maintaining a cash flow that would be enough to provide for utilities, for maintenance, and most especially, for the workforce.
Tech companies like Symph which develop software are usually dependent on projects that aren't always long-running ones. Projects come and go, but the workforce shouldn’t. Dave emphasizes that the team should be kept and made sure to be provided with the compensation and benefits they need, because the team is what you need more than anything else. You’d want to keep them happy especially because you know they can deliver the satisfactory service you want to give your clients.
2. Finding committed talent.
“You can easily find talented individuals anywhere. But talented individuals who will align with the company’s culture, your vision, and be willing to go through difficult challenges with you, work with you, and make things better for the company, those individuals are hard to find.”
As Dave puts it, finding a team that works for you and works with you is not very easy.
Symph is blessed to have a passionate and dedicated team that is one with the company in striving to achieve its vision of changing the world, each in their own way that fits into our bigger picture perspective.
One tip Dave would give employers who also desire to find this kind of team members is to look for referrals from the current team:
“We usually ask our own team, ‘Hey we’re looking for someone else who can do this. Do you know anyone?’ It’s personal because you’re asking your existing team to think about it from this perspective: ‘Do I wanna work with this person? Would this person give a good output? Would I want to be assigned to doing a project with her/him? Or not?’”
3. Dealing with clients.
“We want to know what they expect. We want to understand what their expectations are for something so that we can position ourselves and do our best to meet those expectations.”
It’s common to have a love-hate relationship with clients. It’s great when things go well as planned, but it’s not when certain expectations of each party don't meet.
It is always an extra effort to make sure collaboration with the client is effective, but the effort is always worth it. Clients want the best for their companies and we want to be able to deliver significant value to them, so the work to be done is making sure the efforts to achieve those goals is going in the same direction.
4. Establishing effective pricing systems.
“You have to think about that for a moment— the perspective of the services that you’re providing, and how you price yourselves because your pricing actually sets expectations.”
For tech companies, especially in locations that are known for outsourcing (like the Philippines), pricing is a struggle. Clients expect you to price cheaper than usual, while delivering the best quality of outputs. Dave reiterates that these things don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Companies, especially those that are just starting, should thoroughly understand how their pricing works internally and externally. They have to analyze and think about their pricing strategy, and be confident in it.
As you go along, you will learn new things and observe certain changes in the value exchange between your company and your clients. Sometimes, you will have to do multiple changes in your pricing system, and that's okay. We ourselves have undergone different pricing strategies to come up with our pricing now, and we will continue to improve it as needed, as we grow.
5. Being responsible to do, well, everything.
“You have that challenge that, as required, you kind of have to do everything that everyone does.”
As the founder, the owner, or the CEO, you really have to get down to doing things. If you want to be a leader more than just a boss, you do what everyone else does, whenever it’s necessary.
At the same time, Dave emphasizes that you also have to spend your time appropriately, since you also have to manage all the operations from a macro perspective.
“Are you working on improving the way that your business operates? Are you working on the process that your business uses to ensure that client expectations are met? Are you working on the process of how you deliver websites or how you design things? Those things are valuable as well."
Based on all these things, the idea of starting a business and maintaining it is actually harder than it seems. Many think that being an entrepreneur is this cool, amazing, easy-peasy thing, where you just craft the foundations and then sit from your president’s chair and watch everything go smoothly. It’s not.
It takes passion, commitment, and consistent diligence. The path would be long and rocky to take, but not impossible. With passion, commitment, and diligence, you’ll get by.
Oh, and as a founder, you need to sleep too... with caution.
Unclogging toilets is not a must for anyone to be a successful entrepreneur, but it means that you really have to be willing to get up from your president’s chair, walk towards whatever needs your help, and do something about it even if your hands get dirty, for the sake of your company.
Like Dave says:
“You have to question yourself: ‘Do I really want to get my hands dirty?’ You know, life’s gonna throw you clogged toilets. How are you gonna handle it?”
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