Dave Boehl is a digital media entrepreneur in the online advertising space. He’s the founder and CEO at GraphicBomb, an online media publisher and performance ad network helping travel advertisers such as airlines, booking sites, hotels, and cruise lines reach consumers with high travel booking intent. Follow him at @daveboehl.
Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
I’m sure I’m not alone in looking up to Elon Musk. I often try to think about my business the way I think he would — sort of like, “What would Elon do?” Most people overlook how customer focused Musk is, since he’s mostly known for being a technologist/engineer. But if you look at his past and current businesses, he’s always had a very clear customer in mind and a unique value proposition. In the Zip2 days, it was helping print companies get online. With Paypal, it was making online payments easier for consumers. With Tesla, it’s about targeting affluent professionals who want a fast car without carbon guilt. With SpaceX, it’s about targeting government agencies and businesses that want to lower their costs to send things to space.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
My first boss and mentor taught me that business is about relationships. It may sound obvious, but it’s an easy thing to forget as you build your company. You might get overly focused on product development, legal issues, branding, corporate structure or other important things. But all of that is really secondary to the nurturing of the relationships your company has with customers and partners. If you think about it, every business transaction is actually created between people inside those companies. These people have to have an agreement and then see it through. If you don’t have that, you don’t really have a business. With B2B businesses, this is even more important to remember. Losing even a single customer could have large negative consequences.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
The biggest mistake I made was not starting my business sooner. It’s an advantage to have youthful energy when starting a company, and that kind of energy is harder to muster as the years go by. The second biggest mistake was not firing a bad customer soon enough. I once had a customer who was behind on paying their invoices and I was too kind. I let them rack up about $20,000 in receivables before I realized they were going out of business and I might never see any of that money. I ended up getting about half of that back, but it still stung.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
The first hour of the day is a precious time. It’s when I’m the most rested and creative. So I channel that energy into something fun that I’ve been looking forward to doing. Sometimes it’s working on a new software feature or planning a new project or doing some research on a new business idea. I’m sure a lot of people spend the first hour of their day getting organized or by having a status meeting. Those tasks are important, but they can really zap the creative juices. I find it better to do organizing activities mid-day or even late at night.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Protect your downside. I learned this from reading a Richard Branson article. It’s really great advice. When just starting out, it’s very easy to get overly excited and to over-invest financially, or even to over-pay for things on your way to launching the business. You think you’ll just make it back later, but it’s really hard to dig out of a hole. It’s much better to be extremely frugal with your cash in the beginning, and you’d be surprised how much you can get done for free or super cheap if you try. Here’s a practical example: If you are building the very first iteration of a software product, don’t hire software developers. Just learn to code yourself by taking a couple of online classes.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
For any aspiring entrepreneur, I’d recommend getting your first customer before you think you’re ready. That’s the one thing that will transform your idea into a real business. It might sound scary to get a customer before you think your product or service is fully developed, but it’s absolutely necessary. You might be surprised who your first customer will be, and it might change the direction you take the company in a big way.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Success is personal. We all have different definitions of it. It’s important to remember that success is fleeting. For me it’s usually a milestone in the company’s life. I celebrate milestones with my team and then we all move on to the next one. Steve Jobs said, “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” If you consider that there are no limits, only plateaus, you should set new goals every time you achieve success.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.