Recently I went on a trip to Portland to meet with Ziba, a design firm that was founded over 30 years ago. I’ve been running my development studio JAKT for almost four years now, and I thought I’d been in business a decent amount of time. Visiting Ziba made me remember that I’m just at the start of the journey.
On my visit I was keen to learn more about what enabled Ziba to be successful over such a long period because any firm that lasts more than 30 years is doing something right. Over the couple days I was there, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Ziba’s founder. Here’s a few things I took away with me on what it takes to build a long-term business that can outlast the original founder.
Culture is the foundation.
A business that does not have a great culture founded on strong values will not last. A culture is what survives over time, past when the original founder started the company. Look at any great company that has been around for a long time and you will find a great culture.
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Over the past four years I’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs and worked closely with a number of them. I’ve helped in all aspects of starting a business, from the initial legal setup, to defining the product and business model, to actually designing, building and iterating on the product. I’ve seen a ton of different approaches to building a business. There’s no one “right” way to do it.
However, what I have realized is that those who succeed have three things in place. When one of the three is missing, success becomes a lot more difficult.
Those three things are: knowledge and expertise; strategy; and execution.
Knowledge and expertise.
The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with have an advantage of an acute knowledge in whatever industry they are targeting. They have become experts by spending time learning about the problem they are trying to solve and the target market. Thus they are naturally in a better position to start a company.
For example, Jopwell (a company I worked with) connects Black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American professionals and students to amazing companies. Jopwell has two black founders that have personally experienced the recruitment challenges with top tier companies.
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