LA Photo Party just passed our ten year anniversary 😱 and I’m astounded to look back and see all the progress we’ve made. We’ve come a loooong way and it’s high-time we took a look at how in the hell we did it. So to honor ten years of success, I wanted to share ten nuggets of wisdom that have served me well:
1. Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Greener entrepreneurs often sell themselves short because of a lack of experience, or because they think that’s how they’ll corner a market. But offering your services for a lower price in order to beat out your competitors doesn’t do anyone any favors. Not only does it cheapen the entire industry, but it will start your business on a perpetual contest with your own bottom line. Instead, focus on quality, creativity and your unique offerings. Be the best at what you do and know your worth. If you can clearly convey why your experience is going to be better than the competition, you’ll never have to work for less.
2. Work On the Company, Not In the Company
When I started growing LA Photo Party, well into my first couple years with a smaller team, I was still making lunch for everyone, hopping on tech support calls, even taking out the trash. Basically staying busy with a lot of day-to-day tasks I could’ve easily delegated instead of focusing on what only I could do: grow the business. To help get me out this habit I focus on the 3Ds: Decline, Delegate and Do. As a leader, you have to start saying no to things you shouldn’t be doing, and just simply stop doing them. What’s left will be the important items that you need to Delegate to your team (which you’ve hired diligently, see below), and what only you can Do. Focus only on those important items (and the ones that bring you joy!) by trimming the fat out of your day to day through Declining and Delegating.
3. Don’t Get Too Comfortable
When the market crashed in 2008, LA Photo Party lost a vast majority of our corporate clients overnight. Thankfully, we’d built a business and reputation around serving multiple clientele, so while corporate events got slashed, people were still getting married, turning 16, and throwing holiday parties for their friends. We were primed and ready to pivot our focus to private parties, weddings, quinceañeras and mitzvahs for a time. The lesson here was: you never know what source of revenue could suddenly deflate, so don’t get too comfortable, and keep expanding your business so it can weather any storm that comes your way.
4. Innovate Fearlessly
A couple months ago Pokemon Go was all the rage, this week it’s fidget spinners (or are those already uncool? Quick: someone ask a hip teen what’s cool!). Keeping up with the ever-changing events landscape is a monumental task…so stop! Get out ahead of trends by staying creative and taking bets on new ideas you generate in your company. For us, our photo sharing software, underwater photo booths, virtual reality booths, and constant new features have helped us meet our client’s needs before they knew they wanted them. If you’re waiting around for trends, by the time you adapt to them everyone else has moved on, so why not get creative and be the ones setting them?
5. Follow the Writing on the Wall
Expanding our services beyond events and into software began as a necessary way to give our clients a seamless experience, but has evolved into one of the best business decisions we’ve made. Because we use our own booths and software at events, we are invested in creating the best quality products so one arm of the business can support the other. Like a weird bicep curl 💪🏼. It also means that we can provide comprehensive support for our clients who use all of our products. This differentiation has become a key to our success but it wouldn’t have happened if we’d stayed “just a photobooth company.” So whatever direction your success takes you, follow it!
6. Hire Slow, Fire Fast
Hiring folks to fill your company will be (if it isn’t already) a simultaneously joyful and incredibly stressful endeavor. These people will shape the company you’re trying to build so don’t rush it. Here are some hiring guidelines we follow to make sure we get the best fit:
- Introduce candidates to future coworkers to check culture fit, but also to notice anything they might withhold from a hiring manager that they’d tell someone else
- Assign projects to complete ahead of time to assess their ability and whether they’re really invested in the position
- Bring people into the office more than once so they can relax and show how they’ll interact when not influenced by the artificial stress of an interview
These are the folks you’ll entrust with your baby, so take the time to make the right choice, because the wrong one could hurt you much more in the long run.
On the flip side of that, sometimes you have to let go of people who are not a good fit for the company, even though they may be people you like. The first time I ever let someone go, I waited far too long to see if they’d course correct, only to add to my stress and their prolonged damage to the company. When I finally pulled the trigger, I spent a few days wracked with guilt, before finally breathing a sigh of relief. If someone’s not a good fit, you’re doing both of you a favor by letting them find their next step, and you’ll get on with your lives a lot easier if you act quickly.
7. Build Leaders and Get out of their Way
Part of delegating is relinquishing control, but also trusting others to lead. As we grew LA Photo Party into a company large enough to have sizable departments and managers, it became pretty clear that the people who started as individual contributors were growing into managers and independent leaders themselves. In order to foster that growth, I started a leadership committee that meets once every other week on top of an annual planning retreat, in order to include them in the process of growing the company. They have ownership over their paths and the directions their departments are growing. Once your trusted leaders are established, you can feel better about relinquishing control, allowing them to make mistakes, guiding them when necessary, while holding them accountable to a clear definition of success.
8. Be Intentional about Company Culture
As an events, software, and hardware company, we hire a diverse group of people. It’s easy in the early days, as you’re hiring friends and other people instinctually, to develop a common culture without really having to talk about it. Once you get to a certain size, however, the culture starts to influence, and also be changed by, where you take the company, who your managers hire, and large decisions being made by your leadership team. We set down our company values early (and I bring them up in every interview) to declare what’s important to us and what dictates our work styles. For example “We Surpass Expectations” means that we don’t set rigid SLAs for responding to customers, we just know that if it’s been a couple hours and a client is still in need of an answer, we’re not doing our jobs. Set your values early and they can be your gut check in minor to monumental decisions.
9. Set Phasers to St-… I mean Scale
Starting scrappy is a great way to fuel hyper growth early on, but as you continue to grow and start setting loftier, long term goals, you need to free up creative space in your mind by putting the day-to-day minutia on autopilot. Set up systems for your bread and butter activities so they can be taken care of easily, then use the rest of that mental focus to plot out and achieve bigger tasks that require creativity and strategy. We just set one-, three- and ten-year goals and we’re only going to get to them if we create systems for things like events, so we’re not texting back and forth making sure someone remembered the green screen. Once you have a task that’s repeatable and replicable, make sure it’s taking up the least amount of time.
10. Go Big AND Go Home
Many founders get stuck in a myriad of traps when they start to grow their first company, or maybe the one their proudest of, but the one I see far too often is investing too much to the point where they give up their lives. I know the term “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot, but truly, what’s the point in running a good business if you’re not running a good life? Delegation and relinquishing control are huge parts of letting go of a massive workload, but in the end I truly believe I’m happiest, and do my best work, when I make time to let my mind rest. For me this means time with the family, time to read, and time to exercise.
Bonus: Feed your employees
Ok I know I said ten but I’m throwing in an extra: feed your staff! I started making lunch for folks way back in the day and found out quickly it was the best way to foster a community, build in a natural break, and get people talking to one another (side benefit: innovation!). We have a chef come in every day now to fix lunch for us and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a CEO. Don’t overthink it! Everybody eats lunch.