The odds of a small American business surviving five years are only 50%
The odds of a small American business surviving five years are only 50%. When I started THRUUE five years ago, I didn’t think about that statistic and the 50/50 chance I had of failure. From my view, the true failure would have been not attempting to build this company in the first place.
Now, as I look back on the odds of our growth and success, I am filled with gratitude and reflection. Building and sustaining a company takes skill, perseverance, luck, collaboration, imagination, and focus. Most importantly, it takes comfort with failure and an eagerness to learn. Each year, I find myself approaching our anniversary with one thought in the forefront of my mind: what have I learned since I started this journey?
Five Leadership Lessons from My First Five Years of THRUUE
- Have the courage to try. It may not be easy to turn an idea into reality, but the opportunity is there if you have the right idea and a clear path to revenue. Heck, even companies without paths to revenue are formed every day. By starting THRUUE, I have experienced things I never could have imagined in my previous career. I have grown into an entrepreneur and a CEO. I have learned to look at the world differently and to work with people in new ways. If I were still perched inside a large company with leaders above me, I would lament the unique professional growth that founding and building a company provides. Taking the leap to start THRUUE was risky, but I have grown as a person and a leader far more because I took the risk and pushed beyond the comfort of my former role.
- Every failure makes you stronger. This has been said a hundred different ways by a hundred different leaders (and for good reason.) Failure is how we learn and how we grow. In my tenure as CEO, I have failed many times. I have made decisions that still haunt me, and choices that were poorly considered. And five years in, I have learned that mistakes cost a lot more when you “own” them than when you are only party to them. But for every mistake I’ve made, I have learned new ways of thinking and acting, new ways of looking at and solving problems. This has made me a better leader and THRUUE a better company.
- CEOs are special people. For most of my career, I have advised CEOs and their leadership teams. The advice I gave in my 20s feels far removed from the empathy I now have for C-Suite leaders – especially CEOs. From hiring, firing, and meeting payroll to managing a board and partners, keeping up with technology, and managing risks, it is one thing to be a consultant to CEOs and another to know what it feels like to walk in their shoes and manage fear with their view of the world. There is a deficit of mature, seasoned CEOs with the capacity to lead organizations in this age of constant change and tumult. Those who step up to the task are special, and deserve incredible support. Once I became a CEO, I understood this in a different light.
- Don’t overreact; don’t underreact. My son William is a pitcher. After a tough outing on the mound earlier this year, he called his mentor Gavin Wallace for advice. Gavin said: “Don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low when it comes to baseball.” The same could be said of life and of business. When running a company, you can’t overreact to the information (good or bad), but you can’t afford to underreact either. So how do you strike the right balance? I have always found reflection helpful when overwhelmed. Five years into running a company, I better understand what reflection means for a leader. I’ve learned to slow down, to process the information coming at me, and to act with intention. When you don’t have the full and balanced picture, pause. Balance in all things makes for better decisions.
- “It all comes down to people.” Of everything I’ve learned while running a company focused on the intersection of strategy and culture, the true value of the people you work with is what stands out most. Culture (the norms, narratives, and attitudes of your people) truly drives so much of your company’s success or failure. Everything that happens – every mistake and every win – is tied to the efforts of your team, the input from your advisors, and the interactions with your customers. While Automation and Artificial Intelligence may be all the buzz right now, people and what they can make happen when inspired will remain at the heart of business. I value my interaction with every employee, mentor, and client I have worked with these past five years. My dad said it often as I grew up: “It all comes down to people, Dan.” How right he was, and still is.
As THRUUE celebrates our fifth anniversary, I offer my deep, deep thanks to all who have guided me, taught me, thought with me, and trusted me over the years. I have gratitude beyond anything I can convey in a few hundred words on a blog post.
Now, on to the next five years of designing, building, and growing THRUUE.