10 Industry Leaders Share Their Best Lessons From 2014

From Pay Pal to F*ck Cancer, and every industry in between: Real business advice from entrepreneurs who’ve been there.

10 Industry Leaders Share Their Best Lessons From 2014
[Photo: Flickr user OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS]

December is the time to set goals for the year ahead. Whether it’s making a resolution or forming a strategic plan, most of us are looking forward. But December should also be the time to look back and glean lessons from the current year.


Ten entrepreneurs, CEOs, and industry leaders share the challenges they encountered in 2014 and the lessons they’ll carry forward:

1. One-size-fits-all is not a global strategy

— Hill Ferguson, chief product officer for PayPal

As PayPal expanded into 15 countries during 2014, the company learned that persistence and commitment are necessary for international growth. “You will be challenged because not all markets are created equally. Regulatory and compliance issues were front and center for countries like Turkey and Russia. You need a flexible platform so you can build products that actually serve the market you’re trying to enter,” says Hill.

2. Use the short time you have

–Ben Huh, CEO Cheezburger

When Ben Huh, CEO and founder of Cheezburger, saw that his life expectancy was 83, he realized what he does with his days is important. “There is only a limited amount of time in all that we do. This applies not only to projects, campaign, companies, but also to life. There is no shame or fear to want what we want to accomplish. Once we know that, we can find a way,” he says.


3.Hire slow and hire well

–Melody McCloskey, CEO and cofounder of StyleSeat

The people you hire are your business, says Melody McCloskey, CEO and cofounder of StyleSeat, an online booking service for stylists. “If you rush it you’ll end up having to let them go, which puts you back further than where you were to begin with,” she says. “Our top hires have helped drive some of the biggest and most impactful product and business decisions. It’s frustrating to take the extra time to find the right person but it more than pays off in the end.”

4. Focus on authenticity

— Tristan Walker, founder of Walker & Co.

Tristan Walker, founder of the health and beauty company Walker & Co., says he found success when he stopped trying to please others and focused on his own expertise and interests. “You need to pursue the idea for which you are the best person in the world to solve that problem,” he told Stanford University Graduate School of Business. “When you are authentic, you care more and that comes through in the product and the brand in such a compelling way that customers will believe it.”

5. Growing means trusting

Daniel Lubetzky, CEO and founder KIND Healthy Snacks


During 2014, KIND Healthy Snacks expanded its operation from a core team of dedicated generalists doing several jobs to a large, professional organization with specialists. The shift taught CEO and founder Daniel Lubetzky an important lesson about trust: “I was once the founder, leader, salesman, box packer, delivery man, and collections officer all at once. Now it’s crucial that I create space for others. We’re striving to create a culture in which everyone understands how every interaction will define what our company is today and what it will become tomorrow. If you can inculcate that in your team, you will be in a position to step back and let others lead.”

6. Two heads are better than one

–Julie Greenbaum, cofounder of Fuck Cancer

Charities compete with each other for donations. Julie Greenbaum, cofounder of Fuck Cancer, found that by joining forces with a partner and merging two separate organizations into one new charity, both sides could go further. “I’ve learned the importance of collaborating instead of competing,” she says. “When you let go of your ego and open yourself up to learning and working with others, you put yourself in the best position to grow. You will undoubtedly improve and create a greater impact in ways you would not have achieved on your own.”

7. Don’t make life decisions based on money

–Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code

As founder of the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology. She started her career, however, as a corporate lawyer, based on the encouragement of her parents who immigrated to the U.S. in 1973. “They’ve always put a big emphasis [on] picking careers where you can actually go make money and support the family,” Saujani told Marketplace earlier this year. But the choice to become an activist was a good one: “Now, I have a fraction of the money I had when I was a corporate attorney and I’m really happy,” she said.


8. Know who you serve

Ben Chestnut, CEO and cofounder of MailChimp

Chestnut was monitoring a competitor’s Twitter timeline in 2014, when he noticed they retweeted an inspirational quote: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” “At first I thought, ‘Yeah, you keep posting cheesy inspirational quotes while I eat your lunch, buddy,’ but the quote wouldn’t get out of my head,” he says. “It was at a time when the reality of running a company with over 300 employees had just sunk in. There’s a point where being a loner is necessary, then there’s a point where being a loner will kill you. Someone once told me that I got to where I am because I’m relentlessly serving customers. I need to keep doing the same, but now I have different customers: my employees.”

9. A strong culture is part of an exit strategy

— Russell Glass, founder of marketing company Bizo (acquired by LinkedIn)

In 2014, Russell Glass’s marketing company Bizo was acquired by LinkedIn, and the entrepreneur learned that the key to a smooth acquisition is having high-quality employees. “Moving from a 150- to 6,000-person organization is a huge change, and can put significant stresses on the people at the startup. With a strong culture that promotes entrepreneurialism, flexibility, transparency, and open communication, however, these changes can happen quickly and significantly increases the odds of a successful integration,” says Glass, who is now head of B2B product for LinkedIn.


10. Feed your soul

— Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media

For Zuckerberg, 2014 was the first year she allowed herself to be a “three-dimensional” person. “Instead of focusing solely on my career and my family, I also gave myself permission to take time for one of my personal passions, theater. The result? Every night I went to bed feeling happier, creative, and more fulfilled. Because of it, I was a better leader, a better mom, and a much more interesting dinner party guest,” she says.