10 Things I Learned From Starting A Business
In 2003, my wife, Kacie, and I made the conscious decision to become entrepreneurs. She hated her job, and we wanted to replace the money she was bringing in with money she earned doing something enjoyable. What started as us “warehousing sheets” in our spare bedroom has grown into an international consumer goods business. For the last 16 years, we’ve been wholly focused on making Malouf better, one day at a time. Here are some of my insights on starting—and growing—a successful business.
1. Success is relative
In any for-profit business, financial success is essential for operation. If you’re not making money, you can’t support your staff or any other causes. But for me, success means a lot more than purely financial gain.
When Kacie and I started this business, we knew we wanted to exist as a positive part of people’s lives, not just a tolerable part. Success comes from employee satisfaction and retention. We want the creative gates to be open, for people to have a vested interest in their work. Sustaining business—building something great and growing—and retaining employees is a big marker of success.
I also think success means carrying an organization beyond the walls of a building and the scope of business. I don’t want to keep the talents of this company limited to what we produce. I want to use our success to support others. I’ve been soul-searching a lot lately, trying to envision a bigger picture where we positively impact the world long term. We created the Malouf Foundation in 2016 because we had the means to support a charity with 100 percent flow through, and we’re fighting child sexual exploitation and trafficking every day. The Foundation feels like the greatest success to me.
2. Laughter is important
As I said, I’ve been focused on this company for 16 years and keeping things fun is essential. Personally, I love joking around and using humor to keep everyone on their toes. See our April Fools videos for the past few years if you need more context. You know, I’m still waiting for my employees to roast me at one of our Thursday morning staff meetings.
3. Feedback is gold
I think it’s also important to be approachable and open to feedback. When your employees have access to you and feel comfortable approaching you with input and ideas, a world of possibilities opens up. I’m not saying it’s easy to be that available, but it’s always worth it. Plus, you get to know your employees on a different level. That’s been—by far—my favorite part of this whole thing.
4. Empathy is crucial
I’m constantly trying to be empathetic and see things from different points of view. Remember at the heart of every disagreement are two people who are passionate about their opinions—that means they care about your company! They care so much they are willing to fight for it.
5. Good relationships are sustaining
We rely on third-party retail partners—more than 15,000 of them—for most of our customer interactions, so it’s important to understand the perspectives of those partners. Feedback helps us understand a retailer’s capabilities and learn how we can help them develop their initiatives. But more importantly, we want to be pleasant, kind, and empathetic. The same principles of how we treat people inside the organization apply to how we treat people outside the organization. We want to be friendly and helpful, with our customers’ best interests in mind.
6. Entrepreneurship is hard
If you’re thinking of starting a company, brace yourself—it’s going to suck sometimes. Be tough. Get advice from people who will be brutally honest and completely realistic with you. Be prepared to go into the negative and have a buffer to fail. Because you will (at least once).
7. Consumers are evolving
To keep consumers invested in your brand, stand for something that’s bigger than business and bigger than money. We recently became a benefit corporation. This means that as a company, we’re concerned not only with revenue, but also with our corporate social responsibility for society, workers, the community, and the environment. Customers, especially young shoppers, are looking for companies they feel good about and driving businesses to be accountable for every choice. Millennial shoppers are willing to put their money where their mouths are—be ready to impress them.
8. Leadership is individual
I’ve always tried to lead by example. I work hard, and I expect my employees to bring that same kind of fire to the table. Positive pressure to exceed expectations is exciting. We invest in talented people and push them to explore their skillsets.
9. Inspiration is everywhere
We recently took a big step and launched an entirely new product category: furniture. We were inspired to redefine how retail partners displayed their products in-store. I’ve always noticed that a sea of white rectangles can be intimidating and uninspiring. It’s hard for people to imagine those products in their homes, so we decided to make products that enhance displays. Making furniture wasn’t in the cards for us originally, but we were inspired to radicalize our product offering.
I think it’s important to remain open to unexpected avenues, which goes against the traditional theme in business, “Do one thing and do it better than anyone.” Don’t paint yourself into a corner—do one thing well and then hire a bunch of people who do other things well.
10. People are the heart
Building a company from your passion is rewarding and fulfilling. I think people sometimes can get lost in the hard business of it all and lose the fun and the connection to people. All our benefits and values come from a core of empathy, and that’s why we’ve been able to recruit so many talented people to our team. And those people have lifted this company up to be something I would have never imagined. Find people you trust and admire to help you get your vision off the ground. Great people are the key to great business, and I feel lucky every day to be surrounded by these friends I call co-workers.
Hopefully, my insights may be relatable in some way to the challenges you’re facing every day in business. Thanks for listening!