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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

7 Guiding Principles I Used to Build My Billion-Dollar Business

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Forty years ago, I started my business, ComPsych, with an idea and $1,000. Fast forward to today, and it’s the largest provider of mental health services in the world, serving 78,000 organizations of various sizes from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, helping more than 163 million people across 200 countries.

I often get asked how I did it, and I always come back to my guiding principles for business and life. Here are those seven principles that guided me as I built my company from a startup to what it is today — fulfilling my wildest financial dreams and the commitment to my mission — that can also help you build a lucrative and personally fulfilling business, too.

Related: Have a Business Idea? Here’s How to Put It into Action.

1. Imagine the unimaginable

It’s imperative for entrepreneurs to set their sights not just high, but into the stratosphere. When starting out, don’t limit yourself by setting too modest of a vision. “Dream big” sounds like a cliché, but it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. History is littered with entrepreneurs that others thought were crazy before they ultimately achieved unimaginable success.

You will of course need to set incremental goals along the way, but throughout your journey as a business owner, remember that the only person who can truly put a cap on your business’s potential is you.

2. Commitment vs. committee

One business school trap I see entrepreneurs fall into is spending too much time trying to build consensus. Instead, focus on building commitment to your vision. Why? Because bold ideas often aren’t embraced by consensus. I frequently say that reversion to the mean is a compromise for mediocracy: Trying to satisfy everyone often results in your ideas becoming a shell of their original concept. A classic example of a “committee” project is where everyone is heard and no one is happy.

Instead, hire a group of people who believe in you and your unimaginably large vision, and who are inspired by the future and the potential you see.

3. The crowd is usually wrong

Challenging the crowd mentality is not only positive, but essential. If you want to differentiate yourself, why would you do exactly what competitors are doing? My advice: Chart your own course.

When I started my business, everyone else was trying to provide care to every corner of the country through their own disparate offices and internal clinicians, which is impossible to do effectively. I bucked the trend, embracing a nationwide network model. This centralized approach allowed us to offer broader services at a lower pricepoint while decreasing bureaucracy and overhead. We were instantly competitive, and grew rapidly as a result.

Fast forward to today, when online-only tools have become the status quo, and we’re still going against the grain as a hybrid provider who offers both digital tools and telehealth services as well as the industry’s largest in-person network and comprehensive organizational support services.

4. Hire for elevation

As you grow from a small team (or even a team of one!) to a business with dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees, you’ll see how important it is to hire with intention. I believe the people you bring on board make or break your company. Seek out people who will push the business forward.

These people won’t all look the same. Some will have a wealth of valuable experience in the field while others will come from different backgrounds. What’s most important is that they exemplify the characteristics that are central to your mission and culture. Frankly, I value qualities like intellectual curiosity, tenacity and rigor as much, if not more, than traditional experience because I know those are the type of people who thrive at my company.

5. Be smarter than the problem

Most issues in business have relatively simple answers. We’re the ones who overcomplicate them. As humans, we have a tendency to catastrophize. This can lead to a ton of extra work and heartache.

Instead of spinning in circles, I lean on the old Navy axiom, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Think simply about what the problem really is (hint: it’s usually not what everyone is talking about) and how to solve it. This straightforward, thoughtful approach is often not only the most expedient, but also the most effective.

6. Perfection is the enemy of success

While we all strive for excellence, remember that focusing too much on perfection will be to your own detriment. Like the iconic Nike slogan, sometimes you have to “Just do it.” There will be opportunities to iterate and improve in the future. In the meantime, work to execute your vision as best you can while recognizing there will literally always be room to grow and improve.

If I waited until everything was perfect, I would not have done most things. Executing quickly but thoughtfully is the key. Over time, you’ll hone your instincts, see continuous patterns and learn to trust your gut when it comes to taking decisive action. The biggest thing is to not agonize unnecessarily or become immobilized while you weigh your options. The worst decision you can make is no decision at all.

7. Be bulletproof

I believe integrity, and hence, your reputation, is the most important thing in business and in life. When I say “be bulletproof,” that means live your values 100% of the time. This ensures your business never waivers from its mission while building a reputation people trust. It also fosters a culture of accountability and helps insulate you from criticism stemming from hypocrisy.

Nearly 20 years ago, Warren Buffett popularized the notion of the “newspaper test” — the concept that if you wouldn’t want something you did published on the front page of a newspaper, then it isn’t the right thing to do. It’s an easy way to ensure your actions match your words.

These may seem like straightforward concepts, and they are. The challenge comes from implementing them as you navigate unforeseen adversity. It’s the rigor and discipline of applying the same set of principles to every situation that will make the difference over time. After 40 years in business, I’ve come to realize that nothing is insurmountable. With unabashedly large dreams, an unwavering commitment to your vision, confidence to chart your own path, the right people beside you, a bias towards simple, smart action and strong values to guide you, you’re likely to succeed in not just business, but in life.

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