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5 Tips from a 92-Year-Old Startup Founder

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As one of the founders of a startup software company, I’ve learned a lot. But to be quite honest, I had quite a bit of experience before Workzone started in 2002. I had semi-retired when given the opportunity to be on the forefront of project management and its software solution was too much to pass up. So my new partner, Rick Mosenkis, the CEO of Workzone, and I put together a new company. Our first clients were ad agencies and creative teams that needed to share their deliverables and collateral with clients. It was a natural fit for me, considering my experience leading the sixth largest ad agency  in the Philadelphia market.

Over those years of managing a client service business and now founding a software business, I’ve picked up quite a few stories and ideas that might help startup organizations today. In fact, they probably can help any organization which requires more efficiency and more gratification.

Here are five tips that I think every new business should know about:

1) Don’t Over Promise Or Under Deliver

When starting a business or managing a business, it can be easy to promise the moon. You want to do everything you can to be successful for your clients or customers. One of the best business tools is a satisfied customer who becomes a friend.   But the danger in this is that you could cause a lot of disappointment if you pretend to have expertise in areas that you don’t. When you fail to be an expert, life will be worse for them and for you. If you’re going to be late with a job, let them know well in advance. Most people can adjust expectations but nobody will feel friendly if a delivery is late without warning.

2) Always Go Into Business With Someone Smarter Than You

When I was sales manager for a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, a small ad agency enticed me to join them for a decent salary and a piece of the action. After a few years, a couple of acquisitions and a merger, I became the president of an agency which evolved to be the sixth largest agency in this market. (Before you get too impressed, we probably would have been the 306th largest agency in New York.) The merger was a professional success and a personal catastrophe.

My new partner and I were like oil and water. We tried to be symbiotic, but no dice. If you wanted his opinion about a major decision, no need to talk to him. Just get my opinion and do the opposite. And vice versa. It was a bad scene.

So I left and took the most valuable asset I brought to the merger, a man named Howard Rice. He was and is a creative genius and a much-lauded teacher at Temple University. He and I formed Kalish & Rice, had a great business relationship and remain good friends.

After sixteen years, we sold the agency to a growing national shop and our accounts included the area’s largest bank, the largest convenience store chain in the northeast, several national accounts, the largest utility in this area, several major market publications and many others. Times were good.

The moral of the story is: If you ever have a business partner, try to find one who is smarter than you and with whom you have similar standards of right and wrong. Think about that, too, if you’re considering marriage.

3) Be Honest About What You Can Do. No One Can Do Everything

When I was younger, I had a lot of anxiety about clients. In fact, one called me and asked to get an elephant for his son’s birthday. I didn’t have the confidence to tell him that this wasn’t part of an ad agency’s normal services. The client promised that no cost would be too high.

So I called five zoos. They all said “no.” Finally, the CEO of the sixth one said he could do it, but only if a baby elephant was okay. I was saved. But I should have been more honest with the client.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “No man has a good enough memory to tell lies.” Don’t do it! Lies can become a habit. When the truth gets out, trust declines and the relationship will sour.

Is there ever too much service? Certainly not. Can ill conceived service overcome low self-esteem? No there as well. Good service is restricted by limitations that sometimes are insurmountable. Be forthcoming with your clients about what is possible – both of you will be happier in the long run.

4) Make A Plan That Includes Profits, Timetables and GratificationRelationships Matter

It’s easy in the modern work culture to think that “fun” is more important than the work. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and the business’s needs if you start showing favoritism to colleagues, customers or clients. This could especially plague start-ups, because every startup is driven by enthusiasm.

Dinner or an outing is great every once in awhile, but it’s important to be careful about how you’re spending time and with whom. Especially if you introduce alcohol and then trouble can be just around the corner.

Every successful business is driven by profits. The more profit, the more fun for owners, employees and customers.

5) Stay Smart Under Pressure. It’s Could Be A Test.

When I was president of a small ad agency, we had a prospect who selected six agencies to visit. He provided detailed, written explanations about what he wanted to see in a two hour meeting at each of the agencies. Guess what he did? He showed up more than an hour late and was with his sixteen-year-old son. As CEO, I greeted him and invited him and his son into our conference room. He asked for a few minutes with me first. Of course, I complied. He quickly advised me that he only had twenty minutes for the meeting. My first reaction was anxiety; then came the anger. I came very close to refusing, but decided to talk anyway. He asked seemingly unrelated questions about my childhood, my artwork, my vacations. It felt weird to me. We got the account, a very big one for us, and I learned that he did that with every agency. Honorable? No. Do I recommend it? No way. For him, it was a way to see how the agencies “work under pressure.” I don’t suggest you do something similar with your employees or clients, but it’s important to stay cool under pressure. You’ll learn a lot when you’re a little off balance, sometimes even more so than a well-practiced pitch.

Conclusion

In my years, I’ve seen a few ups and a lot of downs. But these tips and examples have been important in my success, whether leading a large advertising agency with client services or helping to start a SaaS business before anyone really ever used that acronym. I’m proud of what we’ve built at Workzone and happy to share my thoughts with you.

 

This guest post is courtesy of Allan Kalish. He is a co-founder of Workzone, a web-based project management software company. Previously, he was the co-founder of Kalish & Rice, a premier ad agency in Philadelphia and a member of several boards in the Philadelphia area. He is a former President of the Philadelphia Advertising Club and was inducted in the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 1994. Allan is also a veteran of the U.S. Army. In World War II, he fought in major battles including the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. 

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.
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