My team asked me to write down the lessons I learned in the 2 years since we launched. I must admit I have never called myself an entrepreneur, but I am definitely a founder. Having established Cosmic Centaurs and developed it into a 10-person company in less than 24 months, I had my share of pits and peaks, and here are some of the lessons that have stuck with me.
1. Just do it, faster than everyone else
I was lucky to start this company in Dubai. A city and country that converted the desert into a global city in less than 50 years. When you live in a place like this, every year is an eternity.
2 years in, we have filed a patent, a trademark, developed a proprietary methodology called the Omnichannel Organization, brought Cosmic Conversations to market, and launched AION. I was recently talking to a partner in a consulting firm about our IP. He asked me where we got it from. I said: “We created it”. I have never enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed seeing the look on his face. I also know I have Emaar to thank for this. I used to think tech was agile until I met the real estate industry in Dubai.
2. Remain Optimistic
Every time I get the urge to panic, I remind myself that 50% of Fortune 500 companies were created during an economic downturn. The odds are in our favor. You won’t make it to day 2 if you don’t fundamentally believe that things will work out.
3. Developing resilience starts with having purpose
Cosmic Centaurs exists to help teams thrive in every environment. I hate it when people say they want to change the world, but we are truly hoping that the teams we support do end up changing the world. We also exist to create an engaging, curious, happy place to work.
By staying focused on the end goal, obstacles and hurdles become an intrinsic part of the process.
4. Be disciplined
I had the (mis)fortune of working for a startup that failed 10 years in. It was an incredibly painful experience, both emotionally and financially, for all concerned.
When I started Cosmic Centaurs, financial and quantitative discipline were non-negotiables. We developed a yearly strategy and budget from year 1 and we report on our KPIs (both operational and financial) on a monthly basis. This report is reviewed with all of our staff, including interns every first week of the month.
This doesn’t mean we don’t stray off budget when it’s the right thing for the company, it just means we have a compass. The budget itself is reassessed every 3 months based on what we’ve learned.
This level of discipline allows us to measure the health of our organization, create sufficient resources to invest in new ideas and people, and continue pushing ourselves to excel. It’s also what pushes us to kill some of our darlings when the data is telling us that they’re simply not sustainable. Making the right decisions for your company is all about what you say NO to.
5. Remain Agile and Keep an ear out
It’s difficult to plan ahead when the world around you is emerging. Your ability to remain agile and listen to the emerging melody is paramount.
I recently watched a documentary about a company that was called General Magic. Now that's a name! General Magic was an Apple subsidiary, founded by Scully when he was CEO (after Steve Jobs had been ousted and before he was begged to come back). General Magic employed the smartest Apple engineers, and they were working on what you would now identify as an iPhone; touch screens, apps, emojis, etc. They were funded by Sony, Motorola, Matsushita, Philips, and AT&T Corporation. Some of their employees went on to be the creator of the iPod, the founder of eBay, the creator of Android, the CTO of Twitter, and the list goes on. They were so focused on building their product using a private network that they missed the internet. THE INTERNET!
Don’t be that company. Remember that the map is not the territory.
6. Make mental connections, celebrate your range
I had my latest great idea while watching a Netflix documentary on the gaming industry called High Score. Our team has a combined experience in a dozen industries, and there are just 10 of us. We celebrate cognitive diversity (the inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives because they think differently) and so should you.
7. Hire people with the right mindset, you can train for skills
I am deeply convinced that the Centaurs who truly believe in our mission are the ones who will create real long-term value for our clients and company. Centaurs are curious, compassionate, creative, disciplined, and they never settle for anything less than Excellence.
They are also passionate about making the workplace a better place.
They can be taught everything else.
I have made the mistake of hiring for skills, and it never works out.
8. Have accountability partners
From the very early days of the company, I actively set out to assemble a group of really smart and really caring people to act as my informal advisory. They’ve never met, and some of them may not even be aware of the weight of the responsibility on their shoulders.
But I knew that these were individuals that I would be seeing at least once a quarter, if not monthly, and I knew they would ask me how things were going, and expect a long and detailed response. I knew I had to have a good one too.
Whether they realized it or not, they were (and continue to be) what helps me to remain accountable for progress and growth.
9. Believe in the power of the network, and ask for help
I cannot tell you how many people have contributed to getting us as far as we’ve come. That’s not to say we are going to succeed necessarily, but I’ve had strangers send me wireframes to help me improve the company’s website, and INSEAD colleagues, connections, and professors volunteer their time and connections without asking for anything in return. I have been showered with generosity and I consider my personal duty to pay it forward. I never say no to a conversation or LinkedIn connection request and I always make time for people who ask for it.
But it all started with me recording a podcast about losing my job less than 10 days after it happened. The network can’t / won’t help you if you don’t put yourself out there.
10. The universe is abundant
We believe that the universe is abundant. Our goal is to help as many leaders and teams as possible, that’s why we create content on a weekly basis, in the form of articles, worksheets, our Centaur stage series. When I talk to prospective clients, and they share some of the issues they are dealing with, my first response is to share some of the resources on our website from our ritual bank to our worksheets. When someone tells me about a competitor, my reflex is to reach out and share some of my learnings with them.
And lastly, document everything, introspect often, bring others into your process early, no matter how ashamed you are of it, fail forward, stop and celebrate your wins, and over and above everything else, remain optimistic.
I recently spoke on Creative Mornings Dubai, alongside Cosmic Centaurs Senior Consultant Tala Odeh, about the story behind Cosmic Centaurs, and our professional and personal friendship. Check it out here!