I started my first business at eight years old, buying and selling Beanie Babies, to afford an electric guitar. I liked the feeling of buying something for a low price, then selling it at a markup at the right time. Little did I know, I’d just discovered my passion for growing young companies.
Years later, I had moved beyond plush toys and into digital marketing. My online music company, Fame Wizard, eventually evolved into a business education platform for musicians. I replaced myself with a new CEO at Fame Wizard to start a T-shirt company called Swag of the Month. Looking back, I wasn’t destined to sell toys or T-shirts; I just loved how it felt to start with nothing and grow a successful business.
So, I started advertising my expertise as a marketer. I quickly realized that there are thousands of digital agencies and experts, but saw that the vast majority of them knew almost nothing about digital marketing within the industries they served. And the good ones required long contracts and lots of cash.
Despite the oversaturated market, I saw my opportunity to get it right where no one else did: I created Hawke Media, hired a few people, then went to companies and showed them our no-contract, a la carte options. I used my experience to give my pitch credibility. Before long, I was succeeding in a market everyone considered to be tapped dry.
The importance of passion
You can start a business about anything. But if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t see it through, and the business won’t grow.
In college, for example, I started a business called Stormwater Maintenance Company with a friend. We built and installed filters for storm drains. New California laws had created a need for such devices, and we got in early enough to experience quick growth.
Despite setting up the company, building the sales and marketing plans, and even completing the legal work when we couldn’t afford a lawyer, I left the company to finish my degree. I believed in the business plan and the opportunity, but I didn’t care about storm drains enough to see it through.
No matter how much I enjoyed facilitating growth, I knew that when the going got tough, my heart wouldn’t be in running the company.
Avoiding failure is avoiding the true meaning of life
Just ask Arianna Huffington; despite her incredible success, she failed many times as an entrepreneur, especially early on.
A total of 36 different publishers rejected her second book, for instance. And while HuffPost eventually took off, Huffington saw many very negative reviews of her site when it launched, but they didn’t deter her. Experiences like these not only helped her learn to not fear failure, but also proved that what her mother used to tell her was true: “Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s a stepping stone to success.”
Trying to avoid mistakes and failures is the quickest path to stagnation because you won’t take risks that can lead to growth. Identifying that truth before I became too invested was the tipping point in my entrepreneurial career. By taking risks and discovering your passions, you can build the skills you need to grow a company while staying open to the opportunities worth pursuing.
How to grow a company in any industry
Don’t let naysayers decide what kind of business you should run. Follow these four steps to start a successful company in any area.
1. Fill a need
The surest way to find a successful niche is to fulfill a need that no one else does.
When I started in digital marketing, I didn’t do it because I stubbornly wanted to work in that field. Instead, I observed that existing players didn’t fulfill the needs that I personally had while running other companies, so I decided to fill them myself. When I started offering better service options, clients started appearing out of the woodwork.
Identifying your differentiator is the most difficult task when starting any business. For us, that meant providing great services, which eliminated most of the market, then offering month-to-month options, which eliminated the rest. By building our brand on that differentiator, we have been able to establish a reputation based on how well we fulfill legitimate business needs.
2. Have an insatiable appetite
Successful entrepreneurs feel an insatiable need to grow their companies. If you get comfortable, you’ll stop growing, and other companies will overtake you before you realize it.
Set measurable goals along your path to bigger achievements. When you realize that your larger goal is within reach, don’t pop the champagne and sit back—acknowledge your accomplishment and establish a new goal before you surpass the old one. If your goal was to grow your revenue to $1 million, set a new goal of $5 million. When you acquire 10,000 users, set a new goal for 100,000.
Don’t just set challenges for your company; set them for yourself, as well. Read more books, attend more workshops, get to know every team member—whatever it takes to keep you hungry.
3. Don’t follow the money
The more you focus on your personal pocketbook, the fewer opportunities you will have to celebrate success and create long-term goals.
Pursue growth because you want to run a successful company, not because you want to see the numbers on your bottom line grow. For some of the most successful people in the world, the challenge of growth has been more important to their journeys than the monetary successes along the way. Think about Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; they’re obviously not in it for the money—they can afford anything they want.
Remember, you’re building a company to create something great, not to buy a boat with the profits.
4. Enjoy the journey
You can’t be successful if you hate every day of the work it takes to get there. My “30 Under 30” accomplishment was a big talking point for friends and family. For me, it wasn’t any more important than the achievements I regularly share with my team.
Keep your next challenge in front of you, but remember that building a company is supposed to be fun. It’s not about reaching the end goal of retirement with a billion dollars in the bank; it’s about going into work each day excited to accomplish new things.
When you do that, not only will you establish a culture of growth that will weather any storm, but you’ll have a good time while you do it. I don’t know how old Warren Buffett is, but there’s no way he’s still going strong because he has some larger goal in mind that he has yet to achieve—he just loves the inherent thrill of the chase.
Keep your perspective
Don’t crash into a saturated market assuming you’ll make as much money as everyone else in it. I dove in headfirst and worked hard to build my company, and today, new players hoping to strike it rich are jumping into our space without any idea of how to succeed in this industry.
Not only do those types of people not last long, but they also kill their reputations, which could have helped them start other successful companies if they hadn’t gotten over-eager.
You never know how many chances your company will get, so don’t go all-in blindly. Follow these strategies to approach growth the right way. Fulfill a need, stay excited about growth, run an honest company, and you will find success every day.
Erik Huberman, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, is founder and CEO of Hawke Media, one of the “Top 50 Startups in LA” and one of the “Top 10 Happy Places to Work.” Hawke Media is a leading outsourced digital CMO agency for companies including Evite, Bally Total Fitness, Verizon Wireless, Eddie Bauer, Red Bull, and many other large and small brands. Erik and his team provide a full sales, marketing, and ecommerce team without the overhead. As a serial entrepreneur and a brand and marketing consultant for eight years, Erik previously founded, grew, and sold Swag of the Month and grew Ellie.com’s sales to $1 million in four months. Erik is also available to be a keynote speaker.