By virtually every metric possible, 2016 was a big year. From technological advances to an unprecedented United States election, many things are different than they were 12 short months ago. Below, the founders of five multi-million dollar tech startups share their biggest lessons from 2016 and how these lessons will help shape their companies in the year ahead.
Don't Let Fear Define You
Sam Tarantino, co-founder and CEO of now defunct music service Grooveshark, says 2016 is the year that he decided not to let fear define him. When Grooveshark was forced to shut its doors in mid-2015 (after a five-year legal battle seeking a $17 billion judgement against his startup), Tarantino didn't think things could get any worse. Two months later, his best friend and Grooveshark co-founder died suddenly at the age of 28.
"I hit rock bottom after Josh's death," Tarantino says. “I felt like I let everyone down. My greatest fear was realized, and on top of that my best friend was gone." Tarantino says a change came when he ultimately decided not to let fear define him. He's embracing the possibility of future failure — in part because virtually every success story in history is a story of repeated failure — as he launches his new music tech startup, Chromatic FM. If fear of failure is keeping you from reaching your full potential, check out these five strategies from Forbes to conquer your fear once and for all.
Create Systems to Save Time and Money
Joshua Dorkin, founder and CEO of the online real estate social network Bigger Pockets, says his biggest lesson of the year is the importance of building systems. “It's critical to systematize your business as much as possible," he says. “We spent a lot of energy focused on building systems this year and we intend on using those systems to help us scale more quickly in 2017 to aid in our onboarding, risk management, knowledge management and in countless other ways."
Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of the problems that arise in small businesses can be greatly reduced by building systems that address pain points. In a detailed article for Inc., founder Lee Colan outlines how business owners can improve efficiencies in their businesses by implementing processes used by franchisees.
Leverage Your Strengths to Outpace Your Competition
Tal Eidelberg, founder of medical software company Intrigma, says his biggest lesson in 2016 involves change and focus. “We operate in the healthcare market, and whenever there is a regulatory or social change the larger companies have a difficult time reacting quickly to meet the newly emerging market needs," he says. “This window of opportunity creates a golden opportunity for a smaller, more agile company to maneuver quickly and deliver a solution."
Eidelberg says the key to making this work for your business is two-fold. First, you must constantly monitor the landscape your business operates in to look for “cracks." Second, you must have a key understanding of your strengths relative to the other players in your market. “When an opportunity comes up that aligns with your focused skill set, go for it. Don't wait for the rest of the industry to move first," Eidelberg says.
Evaluate Yourself as the Company's Leader
Kevin Conner, founder of tech firm Vast Bridges, says his most valuable lesson this year is the necessity of finding the person who is ultimately best-suited to run your business, even if that person isn't you. “This is counterintuitive, as when you start a business, you automatically think you will and should be running it," Conner says. “It's so ingrained in us that we actually never have that conscious thought, but we immediately just start operating that way."
Conner says in 2016 he took a step back and began developing the leader who will soon run his business. Conner says this will help put a better-suited leader at the helm of the company, while also giving Conner time to pursue other ventures.
If you're a founding CEO who is unsure if you want to continue to lead your company through a growth stage, check out this Kauffman report on CEO evolution in the startup world.
Don't Shoulder All the Responsibility Yourself
John Rampton, founder of digital wallet company Due, says his biggest takeaway from 2016 is that he wasn't leveraging his team properly. “This lesson really hurt me," he says. “ I've hired the top people in the world, yet still relied on myself for answers." Rampton says it's important to regularly look outside yourself for answers. “If you hire the best, you have to be willing to learn and grow from the best." Rampton says that although it was a hard lesson to learn, Due has flourished since adopting his new mindset.
There are several ways to crowdsource ideas from your executive team, employees, or board. Asking for help doesn't always have to mean setting up a scheduled meeting with a set agenda. A simple SurveyMonkey survey (or even an email or Slack message) can help generate quick feedback and potentially provide great ideas that you may not have thought of on your own.
What's Your Biggest Lesson From 2016?
Did you know that sharing what you've learned from your mistakes — either with your network or just writing it down for yourself — can help you learn? So go ahead and share your biggest lessons learned in 2016.
Here's to appreciating everything that made better leaders in 2016, and hoping that 2017 will be the best year yet.