What does the practice of the Japanese martial art Akido have to do with running a small company in a cutthroat sector?
According to Sean O’Neal, both require super human relaxation under the most dangerous circumstances.
The 41-year-old president of high-flying ad tech company Adaptly operates in the hyper-competitive startup world. Since his company’s founding in 2010, Adaptly has opened four offices and is now about to open its fifth in San Francisco. Its revenues have grown by triple digits every year since its founding, which compares to an estimated growth rate of 60% for the top 30 private ad tech firms.
O’Neal, who has a track record of helping companies grow, has some valuable insights into how to lead a company in what he calls an “innovation race.” Regardless of industry, we are all seemingly running a marathon just to stay in place, which is why his lessons have wide applicability.
Here are seven ways O’Neal has found success:
Forget the idea that you can jump on every opportunity. Instead, pinpoint the initiatives that will have the biggest impact on your business. Be ruthless about prioritizing.
You can’t repeat important points enough. Even if you think you are repeating to the point of ridiculousness, repeat once more. While this might sound easy, it’s not. “It takes determination to stay focused when often you are simply repeating yourself again and again,” says O’Neal.
Don’t bother tallying up the number of hours you’ve worked because to some extent you’re always working. Expect to spend weekends, early in the morning, and late at night planning, reporting, emailing, and strategizing.
Most of your traditional work time will be spent in meetings or interactions–about half scheduled, the other half unplanned. And even when you’re not working, you’re working.
“I always come out of the shower or off the squash court with three or four ideas I didn’t have time for elsewhere,” says O’Neal.
Companies need a phenomenal amount of energy to succeed in today’s quicksilver world. Don’t parse out your energy, but exude it liberally among teammates, as well as customers, partners, vendors and investors.
“I can recall numerous occasions,” says O’Neal, “where my increased enthusiasm resulted in increased excitement from a customer–even when the content was less than exciting.”
Not only do you need an enormous amount of energy, but it must also be controlled. Think about a rocket that if not properly directed spins out of control. The same principle applies to business. What’s crucial is to be on a defined trajectory.
Don’t be fooled by this one. O’Neal is not just referring to technology innovation. In fact, innovation needs to cascade throughout a company, resulting in improvements in all areas from operational processes to sales engagement strategies to finance and accounting.
In a fluid market, you need to be able to turn on a dime.
“The ability to respond quickly to changing trends and competitive forces is critical,” says O’Neal. “Leading a hot company in a competitive market requires a fair amount of Aikido-like discipline.”
Running any business is no walk in the park. And running a business in a high growth, competitive area is as tough as it gets. But if you’re determined to succeed, O’Neal’s seven ways are a good place to start.