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In the Entrepreneurial School of Hard Knocks, Hindsight is 20/20

By: Claudia Mirza, CEO - Akorbi

16 November 2017

Today GALA shares the third installment in the new blog series “If I knew then …” by Claudia Mirza, CEO of Akorbi.

The lesson learned: invest in talent and expertise

Akorbi, which my husband Azam Mirza and I co-founded in 2003, has been our entrepreneurship lab and university – filled with trials, successes, and growing pains. Over the years, we have grown together as partners and entrepreneurs.

In the entrepreneurial school of hard knocks, hindsight is 20/20.  Of course, there are many things I wish I could have done better or understood sooner. For example, it took me years to realize that a successful business stands on three “legs:” 1) sales and marketing, 2) finance and controls, and 3) operations. Businesses can become dysfunctional when these legs aren't in adjustment. For example, even if a company has lots of sales without solid operations, customers can leave due to poor customer service. If you have good sales and good operations, but lack financial controls, the business can be exposed to serious financial risks. Or if there are solid controls and operations, yet a strong sales team isn’t in place, the business simply can’t grow.

Some of the other things I wish I would have realized sooner include:

Investing in seasoned industry professionals is key

As business owners, we lost precious time trying to solve problems ourselves. We now realize that experienced professionals provide a lot of depth to operations, increase customer loyalty, and bring fresh and strategic ideas. We didn’t invest in high-level talent sooner because we were afraid to make the investment.  Since hiring seasoned executives and managers, our business has grown rapidly, year-after-year.

Talented CFOs are critical to developing solid financial disciplines

People can play a lot of games with start-ups and naïve entrepreneurs. If you can't afford a full-time CFO, get a proven fractional CFO or corporate financial leader who has been tested in that role multiple times. Be careful to select someone with a proven record of successful contributions to other businesses. Ask for references and verify their track-record.

Industry expertise is critical when hiring salespeople

Finding experienced sales people who can bring in, close, and retain good clients is one of the most difficult tasks in a business. Take the time to invest in salespeople with expertise and industry knowledge. Lead development can take a long time. However, when you hire salespeople with industry expertise and the right connections, the sales process can evolve much more quickly.

The right culture attracts the right people

Good performers aren’t always a match for your specific culture. Unfortunately, it takes a single bad player to destroy a company’s culture. With millions of job openings in the current economy, top talent is attracted to the right culture.  However, creating a culture that motivates and creates a high performing work environment takes time to build. So, it’s important to invest and preserve your culture. Empower your team members to become its biggest advocates, and watch it grow and prosper.

Understand our strengths and strongest roles

Entrepreneurs don’t always make the best business managers. Many of us are creative beings who like to innovate. Fortunately, there are good business managers who can run a business once a solid operation is in place. As an entrepreneur, I prefer to stay focused on innovation and creation, so I allow my managers to run the business.

Being an entrepreneur has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling roles of my life.  And, despite the challenges, I have no regrets.  Every step along the way has led me to where I am today - leading one of the fastest-growing woman-owned companies in the world.

Claudia Mirza

As Akorbi’s visionary CEO and co-founder, Claudia has led the company’s impressive evolution from a language translation company to a global provider of multilingual business solutions, including interpretation, staffing, contact centers, learning services, localization and more. Under her leadership, the company has become an award-winning, fast-growing, international company with more than 930 employees and 5-year growth (from 2012-2016) of 1,267%. According to the Women Presidents’ Organization, Akorbi is the 8th fastest growing woman-owned/led company in the world. Claudia is a published author in key industry publications, sought-after speaker, inventor with patents-pending, mother, mentor and philanthropist. She’s also an advocate for woman-owned small businesses.  She recently participated in a round table discussion at the White House with other female entrepreneurs.

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