4 Ways to Ensure Your New Business Will Be a Heroic Journey, Not an Epic Failure

Taboola's CEO on the power of people and appreciating your foes

The hero's journey is an archetype that appears across literature, movies and TV—and even in the world of business where every entrepreneur is the main character of his or her own story. The call to build something great is no less significant or full of adventure than a protagonist's journey in a blockbuster film.

Adam Singolda Alex Fine

The typical hero's journey begins with a call to leave a previous life behind and move into a new condition with unfamiliar rules. Such an adventure is inevitably filled with countless ups and downs, as the hero confronts unforeseen challenges and undue pressures to succeed. Following on this hero's journey concept, here are four entrepreneurial learnings of mine which I hope will help inspire anyone starting his or her own heroic business odyssey:

Build a culture of mistakes—or, the economy of good enough
No hero gets it right on the first try. What I like to call the economy of good enough is about embracing and even encouraging fast failure, trying new things and staying nimble. In the beginning, you are faced with two important questions: What path will you choose? And how fast will you move? What matters most, however, is that you simply get going. Making mistakes is part of the journey.

AOL's Tim Armstrong is often credited for his creativity and bold decision making. While his tenure at AOL has not been an easy one, he was able to reinvent the company. Under his leadership, AOL expanded its digital content division, acquiring TechCrunch and Huffington Post, considered a big bet at the time but one that became a major asset. He can also be credited with building new advertising platforms, investing in video—making AOL second only to YouTube. These are all moves that ultimately led to AOL's recent acquisition by Verizon (full disclosure: AOL is a strategic partner of Taboola).

Surround yourself with people who move you and your story forward
A strong team helps you survive internal and external pressures and will often act as mandatory mentors throughout your journey. Early on, many investors I met (strongly) suggested that I shut down my budding startup. I almost did close the doors three times, but the team surrounding me was able to stay strong and ultimately succeed in building a new category to help users discover things they may like and never knew existed. I strongly believe that for most businesses, those who are intelligent and passionate will not only figure out what more experienced people know, but will also improve on that experience by taking risks and throwing themselves into the unknown—discovering new ways to solve problems.

And when it comes to a company's culture, and how teams should work together, I advocate that everyone from CEO to intern should feel empowered to express their opinions, and be prepared to back it up with some research, knowledge or reasoning. I hired a chief technology officer seven years ago who never hesitates to tell me when I am dead wrong, whether we are one on one, or in front of the entire exec team. This is an illustration of our culture, where we talk about everything—the wins and the challenges.

There are countless examples of this within organizations today. Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg have often discussed that the foundation of their relationship is complete transparency. When they first began working together, Sandberg requested meetings once a week where Zuckerberg would offer her feedback. He liked the idea so much he asked that the feedback in the meetings be reciprocal. Today, their relationship has evolved so that they provide feedback in real time rather than wait for the end of the week.

Every person is a potential main character
It's important you inspire your team at large to feel like co-authors of your story. With studies showing 70 percent of employees are actively disengaged at work, it's probably more important than ever to not only invest in how to scale your processes, but invest in scaling your culture, too.

Appreciate your foes
It may be counterintuitive, but never speak negatively about your competitors, internally or externally. Be humble and appreciate their important role in your journey. Not that I'm not into competition, but I'm well aware how a challenging opponent makes you better. Focus on executing your own strategy with excellence. In fact, without a really good competitor, you're probably at risk of being less focused, less hungry and less successful.

Rising business leaders will know they have successfully taken that fundamental first step and entered into Act 2 of their journey with a resounding win over whatever they feel is their biggest challenge—be it a fundraising round, hiring the first senior person to join the team or even winning your first client.

I recently did a TEDx talk with my dad, Avi Singolda, a musician who flew in from Israel to New York to join me, that compared his hero journey in music to mine in technology. While I spent my life watching my dad on stage, it was our first time on stage together. Ultimately, we both came to several conclusions: that every hero is scared when facing a big change; the importance of mentorship; how most of us hate change; and how having the right team, the right culture and being a little bit obsessed contributes to the story and leads to the company we all hope to build—and the heroes we want to be.

Adam Singolda (@AdamSingolda) is the founder and CEO of Taboola, a leading discovery platform reaching more than 1 billion unique users every month.

This story first appeared in the October 17, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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