Signpost and our customer base are made up of hardworking entrepreneurs. As we all know, the entrepreneurial road is not always an easy one, and I’m sure at one point someone along the way inspired you to keep going, improve your company, or simply to stay grounded.
While countless individuals have helped me in my own pursuits, this post is dedicated to those who have been instrumental in shaping the development of Signpost’s philosophy and culture.
Paul Graham and Steve Blank
Like most start-ups, Signpost began as a small, bootstrapped operation. We worked out of a tiny apartment, struggling to create an innovative product and secure investors. Today, Signpost operates nationwide and has over 1,200 publishing partners. In the beginning, however, it was the principles of entrepreneurs like Steve Blank and Paul Graham that reminded us of the importance to remain humble and continually experiment with our product.
Steve Blank, author of Four Steps to the Epiphany, instilled in us the attitude that it was OK to fail, and that a lot of small failures can lead to one big success. To this day, we incorporate Blank’s Lean Startup methodologies into our own business. At Signpost we have changed our business model multiple times, each time learning something new and ultimately providing a better product for our customers. Our employees think like scientists, approaching each task as if it were an experiment with the understanding that failure is okay, as long as we learn from it. Most importantly we were efficient with our capital — these iterations enabled us to determine the proper time to scale and spend marketing dollars.
Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator, a start-up incubator, has taught us the importance of having a survivor mentality and that hacking is not just about coding, but devising creative ways to solving difficult everyday problems. Despite the prestige of being accepted to YCombinator, weekly dinners consist of rice and beans, a reminder that success comes to those that remain humble and work as if their next meal counts on it. Understanding Graham’s approach to new start-ups was critical to keep in mind when we first started Signpost. Despite positive press we continually strived for creative ways to make our product better. More importantly, we didn’t focus on the number of articles written about Signpost, but instead how many net promoters Signpost had.
Reed Hastings and Dharmesh Shah
As Signpost matures, it’s been critical for the company to continue to embrace a culture of innovation. There are no better examples to turn to than the ones set by Reed Hastings and Dharmesh Shah. Building a great corporate culture has enabled their companies to grow, adapt and succeed, while maximizing value to their customers.
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, is known for creating a culture of “freedom and responsibility”. In 2009, Hastings outlined this culture in a presentation and we often use it for guidance at Signpost. Focusing on context, not control, for example, has been invaluable in the development of our workplace environment and culture. Rewarding high performance through impact means we have rock stars in every position at Signpost. Prior experience doesn’t matter, but the value they create at Signpost does. We’ve adapted Hastings’ culture presentation for Signpost and new employees are given a copy on their first day of work. By creating a team of stars we’ve built a flexible team that can quickly adapt to changes both in the marketplace and our business model.
Dharmesh Shah,Co-founder of HubSpot, literally wrote the book on inbound marketing. He’s also taught us the importance of setting an example for our employees. Shah is the perpetual advocate of his product – he lives and breathes inbound marketing, which in turn inspires the rest of his team to think and behave similarly. We’ve worked hard to instill a “Signpost wins” mentality that informs everything we do. The entire team needs to be advocates for the Company in order for it to succeed. More importantly, every member must think about how their role affects the addition of new merchants and the overall growth of Signpost.
These entrepreneurs have taught me not only to dream the big idea, but that not enough emphasis can be placed on the execution of it. Their visions, values and methods have played an integral role in the growth and development of Signpost and its employees, and for that I am forever indebted to them.