How’s this for a humbling experience: After more than 25 years as an executive at various tech companies, I now find myself studiously learning how to personally send error-free emails to our customer base.
Trust me, getting into the weeds is one way to confront how much the world has changed. And it’s a great reminder that innovation is fueled by constant learning.
Social media, to give you an idea, wasn’t even invented when I first became a VP in 1991. By the time the likes of Instagram came along, my job was to set objectives. The social media manager would figure out how to achieve them.
Or, I’d decide on a direction for an upcoming campaign, and my staff would develop options.
But now, I’m a startup co-founder.
So, there’s no task above or below me.
Can you imagine anything more basic than this: No, our lovely clean makeup packages do not ship to customers from a big fancy fulfillment center. It’s actually housed at the ideal cool temperature … in my wine cellar. Luckily, makeup is tiny and the wine-cellar-turned-makeup-storage-center is large.
So, when someone orders from NakedPoppy, here’s what happens.
It could well be me who plucks the units. I then put them in a NakedPoppy pouch — which I personally ordered.
Then, I place everything into a NakedPoppy box, which I also personally ordered.
I finish it off with a NakedPoppy sticker, which I also personally ordered.
I’m not saying packing orders is a good long-term plan. But living in the details has its advantages.
For one thing, I’ve learned precisely how long it takes to assemble an order. What can scale and what can’t. How to manage inventory. How to set objectives for our operations manager and what her work consists of.
There’s no better way to learn, and to give birth to a flawless customer experience, than to be in the thick of it.
When you work directly with your toxicologist to decide what ingredients should be allowed in your products, you develop a deep understanding of what’s healthier and why.
When you handle customer service inquiries about YOUR favorite product not working well for others, you get it.
When you craft, assemble and send customer emails yourself, you’re on top of the latest in email technology. And what customers appreciate (hint: be useful, not salesy.)
And, ahem, what about the big stuff? Like business strategy?
I know. It can be easy to get overtaken by learning and doing.
So, it all gets balanced out by an important daily practice.
I start every day by asking, “What’s the one thing I can do today to move the business forward?” That “one thing” involves slowing down.
It might be developing a framework for high-intensity customer learning. Or identifying and recruiting key talent. Or laying out a launch plan.
Some days it’s easier than others to compartmentalize the vital long-term thinking from the short-term “figure-it-out-and-do-it” work.
But that’s one of the joys of starting a business: learning something new every day. There’s nothing like a startup to remind us of the importance of being a perpetual student.
It’s humbling, too.
My former staff gets more respect than ever.