For a man who has started seven companies (with four successful exits) and is currently running three companies simultaneously, Michael Medema seemed pretty chill. Medema sat down in t-shirt and flip flops to chat with ID members about his experiences scaling startups. His resume includes company sale prices valued at a cumulative $54 million.
His current company, Keono, a digital marketing company which he started in 2011, claims revenue of $18.5 million and has been listed on INC. 50 four years in a row as a “Best Workplace in the U.S.”, among other accolades he said. Medema is a serial entrepreneur with chops. As an ID mentor, he’s willing and able to help others, so ID members were listening closely.
Stay Debt Free
In a staccato delivery style, all business and fast facts, Medema advised ID members to avoid debt if at all possible. He said organic growth is the best growth and the way to achieve organic growth is through personal selling. He said it’s okay to start small, and not to spend a lot of money on marketing at first. For super small companies, if there’s a little money—like $500-$1000 per month to spend–founders are better off hiring sales reps, even 1099 sales reps, to follow up on leads and close deals.
Hook a big client, do something great for them and then leverage that success on to the next. He said to be realistic with financials and remember “Cash and data are king. Debt is crippling.”
Focus on One Thing
No one can be all things to all people. As an example, Medema said his particular strength is on building great companies and teams—fast—and then getting out. “I’m not the CEO to take a company to the next level. My sweet spot is from scratch up to $25 million.” He said to focus on doing one thing great and figuring out how to scale fast.
focus on doing one thing great and figure out how to scale fast.
Get a Great Team
While you’re lasering in on the thing you do best, he advised company leaders to hire slow/fire fast to cultivate a capable team, a powerful network and a high-functioning company culture. Founders have to do everything alone at first. But when it’s time to hire, he said to try to pay on results as much as possible (see paragraph three). Use consultants and 1099 them. Find and hire interns to help. They’re willing and able to work to gain experience. (Hint: the ID partner colleges and universities are full of them!)
Be Ready to Change
“If you’re not changing, you’re dying. I change quickly. I’m always looking over my shoulder,” Medema asserted. The people in the team change, the customers change, the product changes and the markets certainly change. Founders need to be prepared for that. Founders also must “Constantly share their vision, direction and plans with clients, vendors, team members, investors and so on. Keep the vision strong and continue to ask questions and challenge the norm,” he said.
Use the Network
Medema was impressed with the level of talent and vision in the room. He recommended that business founders and owners at Innovation DuPage take the headphones off and work together. ID members could share knowledge and resources and even combine resources to hire needed talent, if possible.
He said, “Most of the companies all have similar issues so leverage the group and discuss key issues together (i.e. prospecting, hiring, etc.). Although the companies are unique and in different stages, sharing ideas would be greatly beneficial. I’ve learned a ton from business partners, friends and other business owners, so network more so you too can learn the ropes.”
This rope is one every ID member will want to swing on! ID Member Symone Lewis, founder and CEO of Barelastics, said “This was amazing and worth every minute.”
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