Being under the age of 30 and the CEO of a company—especially a fast-growing company—isn’t all fancy cars and private jets. In fact, it has been more driving junky cars (the door of mine broke off picking up a board member once), living in my parents’ house and aging prematurely.
In the nine years since HireVue’s original co-founder Ryan Money and I started up out of Westminster College, I’ve learned firsthand that building a great company is harder work than I could have imagined. Despite high-profile stories like those of Twitter's Jack Dorsey or Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship recently found that of the 549 founders they surveyed, the average age of founders when they started their ventures was 40 years old, not 20.
While every CEO has a learning curve, it seems the younger you are, the steeper yours might be. But it doesn't have to be: What follows are critical tenets I learned over the past nine years that have helped me manage that curve:
- Never try this alone. HireVue would not be where it is today without family, friends, mentors, fellow CEOs and countless others who never said, “Give up and go get a real job.” You have a team you work with every day, but you also need a team around you of people who cheer you on from the sidelines. Work to find it, invest in building it and then treat those people like the deities they are.
- Always question the “standard process.” If not for this simple principle, HireVue would never have been founded. In my senior year of college, Ryan convinced a professor that, instead of taking an internship necessary to graduate, we should be able to start our own company as a test. Certainly not standard protocol. In fact, the idea for HireVue itself came from questioning the status quo; Tivo was exploding at the time, and we thought, “Why couldn’t job interviews also be recorded and watched on-demand too?” The only caveat I’ll add is this: Don't make these choices in a bubble. Bounce ideas off people you trust to give you good advice. Be a sponge for their feedback.
- Passion is even more important than usual. You have to have the drive to push yourself—and others around you—day in and day out. And that extra dose of passion comes in handy when people doubt your credibility or acumen on account of your age. Just accept that in the beginning, and probably many times along the way, there are going to be tough days. If you don’t have a fire burning in you to push you through, when everything bad that can happen happens (and it will), you may not make it.
- Learn to hire—and manage—executives much more experienced (read: older) than you. I am still in awe of the caliber and experience of the leadership team at HireVue. It excites me to come into the office every day to collaborate with them. But sometimes, it can be plain overwhelming when you consider their backgrounds. At the end of the day, being clear and confident in my management style, understanding the role of founder, and knowing that they are learning too as they build something along with me helps ease the fear.
- Know when to get out of your own way. One of the greatest lessons I learned is that sometimes, the best decision you can make as a young CEO is to have the sense to step aside when you may be standing in your own way. A couple years ago, I was able to see that there were still things I needed to learn. So, we brought in David Bradford as CEO, a seasoned leader in the tech space. David has since become chairman of our board and I have re-assumed the role of CEO, but working with David in that capacity gave me 30 years of experience in two years.
Of course, not every young CEO faces the same challenges. There are those of you out there who are just plain awesome and never have any difficulty, right? But for the rest of us, if you lack passion, get overcome by ego or insist on going it alone, the going won't be easy—and you’re probably not going to have much fun along the way either.
Mark Newman is the founder and CEO of HireVue, a digital interviewing and interaction platform named "HR Product of the Year" for 2009, 2011 and 2012 by Human Resources Executive® Magazine and a 2013 Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 honoree. He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.
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