Embrace Your Mistakes!
In the latest edition of the "If I knew then ..." blog series, Kimon Fountoukidis gives his younger self some advice. The lesson learned: don't be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them!
When I founded Argos, back in 1996, I was a 26-year-old kid, who didn’t know anything about anything, not to mention zero knowledge about the localization industry. Obviously, I made lots of mistakes. The key takeaway for me has been that you can’t be afraid. Just do it, then fix it.
So, 22 years later when asked to reflect, I still feel like a kid and I still make mistakes, but if you want to hear some of the biggest clangers I dropped, here goes!
What would I say to my 26-year-old self?
Leadership. Dude — my 26-year-old self would pay more attention if I started with “dude” — you are going to grow your business, and everyone is going to turn to you for an answer. You need to be a mentor, be a leader, don’t be a problem solver. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a company where managers are going around saying, “Kimon says….” and then you’ll be resolving conflicts between these little fiefdoms. I know your instinct will be to help your managers solve their problems, as that will seem more efficient. However, for the long-term health of your business, teach your employees and managers to solve their own problems. The best way to do this is with the reply, “what would you recommend we do here?“ It takes some time to get used to it, but it works!
Communication. No matter how hard you try to communicate to employees, it will never be good enough. Don’t worry! Don’t give up, keep sharing the vision, the numbers, and the upcoming changes. Sometimes it’s tough, it does take time, but it’s always worth it!
Hiring. When you are starting out and in bootstrapping mode, hire the best people around, and learn the business together with them. However, once you are somewhat established, focus more on finding great people with experience. I know you think you are super smart and can do anything, if you work hard enough, but trust me: hire talent, don’t try to train people. It’s way more efficient.
Sales management. It’s not the sales manager, it’s the sales people. In fact, forget about the sales manager if you can. Get great sales people, have fewer of them and have them report to you directly or in some other structure. Good sales people manage themselves! You won’t find great sales people through recruiters. You will find them through personal relationships, so get out there and meet them, or meet the people who know them! You won’t be able to bring sales stars in from other industries and train them. The best sales people are from the translation industry who have experience and who have felt the pain of dealing with translation projects.
Sector focus. Your instinct will be to be everything to everyone. It’s quite normal starting out. Give me a job, any job! You need to move to sector focus as quickly as possible. This will make your supplier management more effective. It will also make life easier for marketing. Running around asking for any job will mean you become a transactional business. It’s hard to count on transactional business for repeat work. You want to develop long-term strategic relationships and you can only do this, if you become an expert in a field. You can’t become an expert in too many things. It’s best to choose verticals which have high value clients and will continue to grow in the future. I recommend you look at the life science vertical ASAP!
Tech. Are you paying attention, kid? I have something very important to tell you, and this will have a big impact on your business and on your bottom line. You are not a software developer. You don’t know anything about it. No matter what anyone tells you about how fast they can build it and how awesome it’s going to be when it’s built, don’t listen! Go out and buy off-the-shelf systems ASAP. Don’t try to build stuff yourself! You are going to waste time and money!
Setting up an office in the US. You have great instincts and the US is a great market. But please don’t try to set up an office there by hiring people and hoping it works out. It won’t! It’s too hard to manage a remote site. It will mostly be a sales site and it will be someone or a group of people working from home. Save your money! Go out and buy a small bricks-and-mortar company based in the US that has a production team and all the US business administration stuff. Do this as soon as possible. It’s a very smart move!
The real irony here is whether my 26-year-old self would have listened. I doubt it, because that person is still inside me and can still be stupid and stubborn! I think you need to make mistakes. Isn’t that the point of experience? You earn it, it can’t be given to you. It is also kind of liberating to know that you are going to make mistakes, so go out and make them! So if you are reading this (and congrats for getting so deep into the post) and are thinking about how to solve a problem or handle a situation, don’t worry, you might make a mistake and learn something!
Good luck screwing up!