David Waring is the co-Founder and CEO of FitSmallBusiness, a site devoted to helping small business owners make the best decisions for their business. David co-Founded FitSmallBusiness in 2013 and has grown it from $0 to 7 figures in revenue and over 80 employees with no outside capital. FitSmallBusiness is read by over 1 Million small business owners each month.
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Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
David Waring: My name is David Waring and I am the CEO and co-Founder of FitSmallBusiness. Our mission is to deliver the best answers to your small business questions! I started Fit Small Business in 2013 and our site is now visited by over 1 Million small businesses each month. When I am not working on Fit Small Business I enjoy spending time with my family and playing golf.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
David Waring: I may be the exception to this rule. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur from a very young age. I even started my first business which was collecting and selling aluminum cans when I was 4 years old. Over the years I had several other businesses from doing lawn care and landscaping as a teenager to selling real estate while I was in college. My first “real job” out of college was working in finance in NYC and that’s where I became addicted to the internet and building internet businesses.
Two lessons I have learned along the way that I hope will help others are:
- Everyone says that execution is 99% of a successful business and that is true. However if you get the 1% which is the idea wrong, no amount of execution will fix that. So choose your business idea wisely and remember that timing is important. Many companies failed during the early days of the internet like Webvan (online grocery delivery) not because their idea was bad but because their timing was wrong.
- Choose your partners wisely and make sure to always have a well articulated partnership agreement. This is important not only because their may be a falling out at some point, but also because the simple act of thinking through what happens if there is a falling out helps you get aligned with your partners from the beginning and makes it less likely that you will have a falling out later.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
David Waring: My company publishes the website FitSmallBusiness.com. Our mission is to deliver the best answers to your small business questions. We answer questions on everything related to choosing the best software for your business to how to market your business and beyond. What is unique about our business is that we hire actual industry experts to write and review all our content, so you are getting advice not from a professional writer who may know very little about an industry but from someone who has been there and done that.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
David Waring: The best way to become a CEO is to always be learning from others who have been successful taking the path you want to take. The good news is there has never been an easier time to learn and all the information you need is freely available through sites like ours as well as YouTube, Apple Podcasts, etc.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
David Waring: One of the biggest “secrets” I have learned as CEO of a company that has grown substantially, is that you have to contiunously reinvent yourself at each new stage of growth. This is hard for most people, including myself, because what made you successful at the previous level of scale may actually hurt your chances of being successful at the next level of scale. For example when we started FitSmallBusiness.com my business partner and myself were the only employees, so in addition to being the CEO we both had to also play every other role in the firm in order to be successful.
Once we were large enough to start building out our team, it was important that we moved away from doing all the day to day work that made us successful at the previous levels of scale and started focusing on training and empowering others to do that work.
The person that inspires me most is Elon Musk. I think what he has accomplished with SpaceX, Tesla and elsewhere is absolutely phenomenal.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
David Waring: When the company is smaller the CEO may need to wear many hats in order for the business to be successful as there is no one else to wear them. The actives that are uniquely the responsibility of the CEO at any level of scale are setting the strategy and communicating that strategy and vision in a manner that inspires others to join you and continue to be motivated to help build the business over the long term.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
David Waring: The biggest challenge by far was having to scale back our business via layoffs during the pandemic. We had run into some issues with scaling prior to the pandemic, and Covid exacerbated those issues and led to our second round of layoffs in a year. Keeping the remaining team focused and motivated to continue turning the business around was a large challenge.
There are a few things that we did that I think helped us and got us back to growth that I think other CEO’s can learn from as well:
- Treating laid off employees as well as possible sends a strong signal that you care not only to those that are laid off, but just as importantly to the team that is staying. In addition to providing severance we also allowed the team the rest of the day to say goodbye to their team mates, exchange contact info etc. This small gesture went a long ways not only with those affected by the layoff but also those who remained with us.
- The only way that I know of to regain the trust of those who remain after a layoff, is to be as transparent as possible with those that remain about the current financial health of the business, and what the plan is to turn the business and try and avoid future layoffs. By providing extreme transparency into our financials and our turnaround plan, we regained the trust of many of those who remained who we would not have been able to turn the business around without.
- When going through any reorg, keep the people that you need for the business you have today, not the business you had prior to the downturn that led to the reorg. In our first round of layoffs, we kept too many managers that were needed at a larger level of scale but that we did not have enough work for in the scaled back version of the company.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
David Waring: Not being transparent with their team. People are not stupid, if there are issues with a business they likely recognize them already. By hiding those issues from your team you are also depriving them of the information needed to help fix the issues.
Not trusting and empowering their teams to work autonomously and diligently. CEO’s and companies that institute technology such as remote work monitoring are sending a strong message to their team that they do not trust them to get their work done which is the opposite of the message that is going to motivate them to try their hardest.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
David Waring: Being transparent with our team with what the issues are and how we. plan to solve them. Making the difficult decision to cut expenses dramatically in order to get back to profitability and back into growth mode as quickly as possible. Focusing on the few things that really drive the business and ignoring everything else.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
David Waring: The biggest challenge for our business is how we deliver the best answers to people’s small business questions at scale. It is relatively simple to deliver an amazing answer to a few questions, but a much harder problem to do so to the 10’s of thousands of questions that small business owners need answers to in order to operate their business successfully.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
David Waring: Much of what I was taught in business school, and that I think most business schools teach about marketing, is only relevant to businesses that already have product market fit, and have a substantial amount of money to invest in things like television advertising at the national level. Up to this point this information has been pretty useless for me, and I think it leads people who are starting and marketing businesses without millions of dollars in advertising spend to focus on the wrong things.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
David Waring: The most difficult decision of the last year was the decision to temporarily scale back our ambitions so that we could fix the foundation of the business. What made this decision so difficult was that this meant tearing down a lot of what we had worked so hard to build over the proceeding years.
The positive impacts are that we now have a much stronger product for our readers and a much stronger foundation on which to grow.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank David Waring for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with David Waring or his company, you can do it through his – Twitter
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