My decision to get into my own business was made while sitting on the floor of my 600 sq ft 1-bedroom apartment with a laptop full of Google searches and a gut feeling of a promising idea. A week later, I would hand in my notice to my (almost) 6-figure full-time job with benefits and a 401k plan, a few weeks shy of my 27th birthday.
You can certainly label my action as bold, reckless, or both. I can confirm, without a doubt so many years later, that it was certainly naive.
Aside from working as a receptionist, bookkeeper, hostess, dishwasher and occasional waitress in my family's businesses growing up, I had no practical experience, strategy or foresight as to what I was getting into.
In hindsight, perhaps being naive was a blessing at that time. After all, you can't be scared if you don't know what to be scared about. Unfortunately, that didn't change the number of mistakes or problems I invariably faced as a small business owner with dreams of hiring employees, scaling up, and selling the business one day.
As a kid, I was always slow to catch on to ... well, just about everything. Things simply didn't 'click' in my head until way after everyone else had already moved on to the next thing. So, when growing up as a 1st generation Asian-American kid with all the parental expectations of getting straight A's in school, I harnessed the power of sheer determination and raw studying to graduate with honors in both high school and college. By the time I was 21, I also developed perfectionist tendencies and nurtured a serious case of an imposter syndrome that would stick with me.
Naturally, I relied on the same persistence and grit that I had learned in my adolescence to start building my first business. I read books, listened to podcasts, consumed massive amounts of online content, and of course, took it on the chin over and over again as I navigated through some tough business challenges. I was relentless and there were many days where I didn't think if I could expand my mind any further than I already had.
By year six of my business, I felt steady enough as a CEO to admit the need to make a major pivot because the company wasn't where I wanted it to be and wasn't going where I wanted it to go.
Yes, we were profitable but our margins weren't high enough to be sustainable or attractive to a good buyer for the business in the future.
So, how can I increase my company's value while consistently revving up revenue but keep or even lower my cost?
That was a real challenge in a service-based business.
The answer was simple: I needed to productize my services and streamline my operations so we can systematically perform all the functions of the business in a consistent and predictable manner.
The execution was harder: For my business, this meant creating new service packages, new pricing, hiring and training our staff differently, rebranding, changing both our sales and onboarding process for new clients and spending a whole lot of time documenting these processes and procedures so my employees had the tools they needed to help carry out what we were aiming to have done as a company.
I spent two years head's down, learning how to systematize my business and turning the company in the direction I wanted it to go. After the end of two years, we finally started running in the right direction and I was (thankfully!) seeing the return my invest of time and money.
Then, eight years after I started the company, I closed on the sale of my business to a private buyer.