3 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being a CEO for 20 Years
My company would never be selected as the ideal case study in a business school for linear success. In taking an atypical path, we’ve still had successful outcomes, regardless of what the traditional MBA curriculum might say. I’m not knocking education. I believe in the value of academic pursuits and knowledge-building. I’m just pointing out that there are multiple paths to reaching a desired outcome. My business is proof of this, despite many hurdles along the way.
For instance, we had the unique challenge of creating demand for something that wasn’t widely established: infrared textiles. Our textile ingredient brand, CELLIANT®, relies on the power of infrared technology to promote muscle recovery, increase local circulation, and provide other physical benefits. Infrared is not new, but we are applying it in new ways, and there has been a learning curve associated with that.
Since there was no historical demand, we had to create awareness, but also set new price structures, validate the technology, and conduct costly clinical trials, scientific research, and mechanical testing. And did I mention that the product itself took eight years to make?
The point is that when it comes to overcoming challenges, our team has hit all the high notes. We started with three people. We spent all our time at trade shows. We bootstrapped for years. We hit a stride in the late 2010s only to be impacted by the pandemic. It’s been a cycle of long incubation periods punctuated by fast growth.
Through it all, I’ve been able to watch the team’s evolution and evaluate the company’s unique arc. Below are what I would call “life lessons from the CEO” that I hope will help you on your journey to becoming a fulfilled, successful entrepreneur.
1. Let go of idolized views of entrepreneurship
Being a founder can be highly rewarding. It can also be lonely and challenging. Though you can have an advisory board and surround yourself with smart people, no one tells you what to do. You have to make decisions, even if they turn out to be the wrong choices for the moment.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t upsides to entrepreneurship. I’ve had many moments of pride when our team’s tenacity paid off. Reaching $1 billion in retail sales was a huge win, for example. Our hybrid workforce functions as a flat-structure organization. We’ve worked with incredible brands, including Under Armour, Medline, Mattress Firm, and Sunlighten. We’ve published nine studies and just had our 10th accepted for publication.
The point is, you shouldn’t go into this world without a heavy dose of reality. The path you start out on is unlikely to be the path you end up on.
2. Accept that you’re going to have to say no
I’m still learning to say no. It goes against everything I believe in as a successful entrepreneur. When I meet with people and have new opportunities, I want to say yes.
However, I know saying yes to everything can be detrimental. It stretches you too thin and can lead you on tangents. Even if something feels like your “only” chance, you need to be more selective. You don’t have to engage with everyone. You can be protective of your energies.
An added benefit to saying no is you’ll teach those around you to do likewise. The greatest advantages of entrepreneurship are becoming a role model and leading by example. When your employees know that it’s okay to say no, they’ll be happier and less stressed.
3. Keep learning, growing, and staying honest
This is my fourth company. I once thought of my first three ventures as failures. Now, I can see that they defined and honed my actions to this point. I’ve only been able to make that discovery by being open.
I feel like I can learn something from all my interactions. It’s why I study the Johari window communication model to help me understand others’ perceptions of me. When you embark on a journey of self-discovery, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Additionally, you’ll be able to remain focused.
For instance, I never want to lose sight of my goal: help people through science-backed technologies. My vision for CELLIANT® is to become a way for consumers to be healthier and more satisfied and find alternative methods of looking at healthcare. Knowing who I am helps me stay true to my objectives for my own–and my company’s–good.
Like all entrepreneurs, I’ve hit the wall. Yet, I’m blessed (and maybe cursed) by eternal stubbornness. In two decades, I’ve worked to validate my belief in the possibility of a holistic product that could revolutionize textiles. It’s been well worth the ups and downs to get here. I hope your founder experience is just as rewarding.
Seth Casden is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hologenix, LLC, inventors of CELLIANT®, a blend of natural, thermo-reactive minerals that transforms the body’s heat into infrared energy, resulting in stronger performance, faster recovery and restful sleep. Seth’s experience as a wellness entrepreneur is informed by a background in business administration, his work in private equity, his oversight of over ten clinical trials involving CELLIANT, and a lifetime of being an athlete. This article was originally published on Inc.com.