Speech given by Kim Jones, CEO of Vérité, on June 25 , 2015.
Recently I was asked to speak at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Cohort graduation ceremony. This program is an investment by Goldman Sachs to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education, capital and business support services. Here’s my speech.
Good evening, thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this prestigious graduation ceremony. I wish I had a program like this when I started Vérité. The program truly gives the entrepreneurs the ability to cultivate inspiration and the insight required to forge ahead knowing what best steps to take and which to avoid. Another huge value is that the cohorts are building a platform for relationships and growth. It got me thinking……
What was my inspiration?
What inspired me to start Vérité? It’s not like I’m your typical entrepreneur. I don’t like risk and I didn’t grow up dreaming to be a business owner. I was a law enforcement major in college.
What’s worse, I didn’t have any funding and was limited on the amount of personal funds I could spend. All I had when I started was a vision, a desktop computer, and a Laser Jet printer. So what inspired me?
I was inspired by a vision of changing the way communications were produced and delivered. I wanted to produce and deliver differently, not how it was done at that time. The power of technology and bringing the idea to life is what inspired me.
That said, I went ahead and started Vérité in 1993. In the beginning, we were taking video, brochures and other collateral and putting them on CD-ROM, the hot technology at the time.
This was monumental for marketing and advertising industries because it allowed corporations to easily reach international channels with CD. This created brand awareness on an international scale that had traditionally been out of reach.
From there, we ventured into DVD and animation. This was the trend that paved the way for us to be a truly digital agency and one of the first of its kind. We were asked to animate disk drive products and to make them look and sound like motorcycles racing along the screen.
We realized then, that the better we understood the creative objectives of our customers, the better we understood the technology needed to deliver and implement campaigns.
Ultimately we moved into web design, web tools, and also mobile applications. We’ve lost a lot of color along the way, but it’s made us a better digital agency at the forefront of creative and technology trends.
Goldman Sachs offers cohorts a path to inspiration, greater knowledge and a platform for relationships. They say you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve learned many tough lessons along the way, that’s where knowledge comes in. What were the most important lessons for me?
I started with a Dell computer and an HP Laser Printer. I gave myself a year of runway with minimal credit card debt. I decided I would be bootstrapped and not take investor dollars. The idea was so new, the market was emerging, and I felt the best way to get out there was self-funded.
It wasn’t easy, I had no portfolio, and I had to talk customers into working with me without any work under my belt. I had to invest in the potential liability my company may have endured if we didn’t pull the project off. It was very difficult persuading our first customer to work with us, but we did it. We convinced a customer to do a worldwide channel marketing campaign on CD. It worked and we went on to do many others.
Here are some tips that I recommend when it comes to money:
- VC funding has a potential upside, but I wanted to control my company and grow the board the way I saw fit. Bootstrapping requires strong financial discipline, but it’s worth it.
- Always stay in the black. Don’t let your company live beyond its means. Your ability to manage financials will make you or break you so keep your debt low.
- Position yourself financially for the many roads ahead. At some point you will need equipment, employees and other resources. Know and plan for this. The dollars and how you handle them will speak volumes.
- Know your strategy. Do you want to be acquired or reach certain growth goals? How you manage money will greatly affect the outcome of your goals.
I was so naïve, I thought most people just agreed on things and sealed the deal with a handshake. I was wrong; most handshakes need a back up agreement.
Get clear agreements, set terms that everyone understands on the front end. Work with a professional to ensure your agreements are best practice.
Have Your Own Business Be Your Own Boss
I don’t think so. The banker, employee, partner, and customer are all your boss. I’m not saying that being a business owner isn’t rewarding, I’m just saying that if you’re thinking that you can make all the decisions all the time, you’re wrong.
Other factors can affect your decision-making, other employees, etc. There have been many times when I have not made the final decision on something at Vérité. Circumstance, employee opinion and other factors often shape final decisions.
Stick to Your Values in Business
I know that “values” is a highly overused word. It makes me cringe when I hear it sometimes, but it is really fitting when it comes to fair and honest business. Here are my core business values:
- Do what you say you will do
- Stand by the customer in bad times and good
- When you purchase something, make sure you pay for it
- Never sacrifice your integrity for a business deal
- Be honest in your business dealings
Your Platform for Relationships and Growth
Great relationships can be the biggest contributor to your success. Customers, partners and advocates can bring the real deals to the party.
Giving back is equally important. Over the years of your success, make sure you’ve helped out a cause related non-profit or had your employees help out with a fund drive. This not only gives you a great reputation, but inspires great karma too.
Don’t ignore your platform for relationships and growth. Apply them to your business:
- Understand your relationships. Listen to them, how can you fit into a potential solution and bring a positive outcome to the table.
- Help others out. Whether it’s a job search or a recommendation to a client, remember what comes around goes around.
- Always return a call or email from a networked associate. I know people in high and low places that don’t return calls or emails. It’s unprofessional and tacky. Unless it’s blatant spam or solicitation, be courteous and answer the inquiry.
- To create the best business relationships, know your own objectives, network where it makes the most sense, and start the conversation with a win-win topic. The best relationships are win-win.
Congratulations Graduates. I admire your willingness to explore all the best practices knowledge and resources that will give you the tools to be successful. I admire your tenacity to be a business owner and create jobs.
It’s very lonely at the top, it can be a tough place to be. Your experiences, vision, knowledge, and relationships will help you during the tough times and keep you on top of your game.