Time flies. It’s been 4 years since Giftpack’s foundation. There is gradually a structure as I read, ask, and actually practice. From building a minimum viable product (MVP) to targeting the marketing and entering the upsurging stage, my responsibilities have changed a lot.
What really motivates me to write this article is the conversation between other startup entrepreneurs and me — we always talk about the essentials that make companies grow when we chat. I received many feedbacks from the entrepreneurs whose companies had been closed. I believe if I take this chance to share some concrete examples of what CEOs do in the days they don’t have time to sleep would raise the possibilities for other startups to stay alive and create more values.
Since Giftpack is in its growth phase now, let’s dive into how we got here today.
According to the experienced entrepreneurs, there are overall three fields if we breakdown the things CEOs need to do: find money, find people, and find direction. To be honest, this is still kind of general. Personally, I think a CEO’s job can be categorized into the following parts:
As a CEO with technical and design background, I have a high expectation of the product and its future. I built most of the early products with the core team. In the process of growing, it is vital to make sure the products are developing in the expected direction. As a result, I have never missed any meeting relating to the decisions of products techniques and design. Until now, the work I output still contains a huge portion related to the products. Ideally, before building complete front and back-end, data science, and design departments, I will be in part of the product development and be the main decision-maker of the main product.
This actually has to do with the fact that I’m afraid I’ll become a CEO who only talks and hardly does anything. I have a strong passion for techniques and design. Hence, I need to be able to create things with my hands whenever I wish.
I got some feedback from other CEOs who don’t have a background in engineering or design and they usually don’t know the operational details of engineering and design. At the same time, having too much interference would lead to irritation from the team. The most crucial part is to deliver the vision, and let the professionals deal with the technical tasks. By doing this, you are nurturing seeds and building team’s achievement at the same time.
This is the part where I spent the most time when we were entering the growth phase. Giftpack is a people-oriented company. We have been trying to run our business in an environment which is welcoming and helpful to each other. I further divide this into several subcategories for operating:
HR has always been a necessity while contradicting with developing sales. Especially in the early stage when we wanted to prove our business model works in a short period of time, we sometimes overlook the efforts we should be devoting into managing people. From recruitment, training system, evaluation, reward and punishment system, and employee retention, to alumni association, every single part determines the power of output and branding of our company.
In the article “Giftpack HR — Gifterns”, I documented how Giftpack designed a recruiting system. There will be more follow-up articles sharing the details of each position. Based on different business models, the direction and needs of each company’s recruitment vary. A big portion of sales in Giftpack requires gift delivery people (Packers) to complete together. Under the impact of sharing economy, “Giftpack HR — Packer Recruitment System” also has documented the evolved recruitment process.
As for a more systematic and personalized HR system, we still have plenty of room for improvement. There should be more articles to follow up on this in the future.
About employee retention, there are two things to consider so far:
・Sense of achievement
・Continuous growth and input of resources
Sense of achievement depends on whether the employees have enough experience and set short and long term goals for the whole team to have endless flow of motivation to the next goal. The most effective psychological example is:
Give a task that seems can be accomplished but require quite a bit effort
Tasks that are too easy or too difficult are unsuccessful assignments, those don’t help but eliminating everyone’s passion for work.
Not only in startups, but most of the rapid-growing companies are also often so busy to work extra hours, having phone calls and meetings, only people with strong perseverance will try to find time and cultivate their own skills. The ideal situation is having a learning mechanics started by the company itself or the managers, including fast and effective training, study groups, and seminars. A clear and systematic design for growing and practice will keep the well-performed employees and encourage the team’s competitiveness.
Our product team currently has a really good experience using Oreilly Safari online learning platform. It’s reasonably priced, so here is the recommendation: O’Reilly Media — Technology and Business Training
I believe every founder would picture how their company culture is like. What would others think of when speaking of Giftpack? Our intern culture is an initial step. Total remote working culture (see “Giftpack HR — The Culture and Framework of Remote Working”) and sharing working space are all changes we’ve made to differ from traditional work environment. For a CEO, implementations of software, establishments and inputs of new rules are important. Currently, we don’t have COO at Giftpack. We expect to be more contagious in this part after having a COO.
Although startups don’t have enough funding in the early stage of foundation, I still think a corporate needs to have clear planning and vision for the future structure of the organization, and changes dynamically based on the current business development stage. In this way, you can build your organization within the shortest time and provides the biggest output. Some may think, “what good does it do to think about this so early?” In the past 4 years, I always get in touch with people I want to work with 2 years before we actually work together. This idea comes from an investor who had huge impact on me. They always build relationships with potential startups years in advance and keep in touch with them. They’ll act immediately after the startup’s annual revenue reached the lowest benchmark for investment. In the past few years, I’ve been having a good relationship with them and build much trust, which gives me a bit of inspiration.
I started trying to get in touch with leaders I admire in the industry. Some of them, luckily, found Giftpack through recruiting channels. A lot of times, there are no specific purposes, just to learn something from them and keep maintaining this trusting relationship. Usually they get in touch with the company in the early stage when we were lack of capital and maturity, while I believe there must be some kind of intertwine in the future when company grows bigger.
For Gifrpack, the sales are not limited by boundaries and crossing many countries and cities, we need to be more conscious of the needs of talents and have clearer understandings and planning of the structure. Finding more talents to the company at proper times is a task we’ve been facing.
This is a part where I feel most at ease. For now, the structure of Giftpack is not complicated nor having too many people. As long as we provide execution plans, process reports, and make sure everyone has a consensus of the direction, the company is going to be fine. I believe in the process of growing, we’ll need to have more issues do deal with and be more sensitive. I’ll write more articles about this when Giftpack grows to that phase in the future.
What CEO says matters a lot to the general public and the company. In the early stage, I liked to write all the personal thoughts on social media platforms. Sometimes it spread positivity and sometimes it’s for drawback and self-reflection. Speaking the truth is actually not a very good example for PR. At this moment, I don’t really share my thoughts on social media on the business journey or other rational feelings. Instead, I write blog articles to create a niche.
The press releases and the spreading news on the Internet have critical influences on the credibility of the company, sales opportunities, and branding. The CEO’s image on the Internet will reflect the company’s image largely. It requires a lot of cares for many details and sensitive topics (although I still prefer to be an outspoken person).
Many CEOs would start going on TV shows, talking on the stages, and some might write books or blogs to build personal brand on the basis of their professional knowledge (there are CEOs starting a band to realize their dreams, too). No matter in which way, I think it is very admiring to see people express themselves with genuineness and keep chasing their dreams. Luckily, Giftpack is a brand with many heartwarming stories and we will carry these stories on our business journey.
Entering the growth phase, we’ll need more channels to promote ourselves. Recently, there is a trend of starting a Podcast, which is an option for the new generation.
When I started a business in Silicon Valley, I was very fascinated by “This Week in Startups” by Jason Calacanis. He invites entrepreneurs and investors to talk about everything every week. Friday night is always a calm “me time” This Week in Startups
Most of the early clients and partners deals were closed by the CEO. Expect from understanding the market and the needs of clients firsthand, I also can learn more about the skills for sales and negotiation. This enabled me to sign several contracts even though I don’t have an educational background in commerce. I learned to express myself better and visualize how our company should look like in the market by receiving others’ feedbacks. If other success with one try, I would do it ten times just to be successful, too.
When I had more than 7 or 8 sales phone calls each day, I would usually take the chance to see how the sales do their jobs. We organized a Playbook which guides us on how to compose an email, how to pitch, and trying to learn more about how they used advanced technology to do the statistics for a more modernized sales strategy. Having this learned, we can input this into the team’s sales pipeline and evaluate it.
I remembered back then I learned a lot from Hubspot with the colleagues and cultivate different skills in the progress of learning.
Until this year, Giftpack finally has the chance to have many excellent salespeople to join the team. They provide a better and more concrete pipeline to boost the maturity of sales system. In the early 3 years, it was all the efforts of the CEO and the interns to explore and learn from the market.
This is one of the most painful topics for a CEO in terms of fundraising. Although I always believe that we will meet someone who admires our products, looking for an investor can be an endless journey and even if there is only 1 person out of 1000 is willing to invest in your company, you’re very lucky (no, I would say I’m in good luck as long as they reply). I’m sure there is a huge room for improvement. All founders must have their own investor list, the number can be from hundreds to thousands or ten thousand. Keep good relationships with them and act at the right time will result in good outcomes naturally.
For Giftpack, we did use our own money to find direction in the market. We only fundraised when we really had a tight budget. While from the standpoint of an investor, only a few angels were willing to put their money on us. There are more in the Silicon Valley, but very few in the Asia Pacific (except for China). We corrected our mindset. Only when we see an obvious growth would we look for fundraising, instead of getting money from investors by no reasons. We were able to higher the company’s valuation through revenue and wouldn’t lose 20% of the stock market in the early round. It has been totally different from the time 2013 when we were able to have much money from investors. Having the ability to get revenue and balancing the profits and loss allowed us to have more space for negotiation.
It takes a lot of time for fundraising, and there is a big chance that the ROI is going to be zero. During this period, I realized that it really takes connections and relationships. I’ll write more about this if someday I finally catch on this, not just making the slides for fundraising eye-catching. I thank my team for forgiving me to report: We sent out 400 emails this week. We had 70 opens, and 20 appointments. Conversion rate is 0.
In order to completely understand every detail and cost of the operation of a corporate, and design a structure for money flow, having the knowledge of accounting is a basic criterion as a CEO. Back in college, I snuck into another department to take intermediate accounting classes. I figured Taiwanese accounting by myself by reading books thereafter. While living in US, China, Hong Kong, and Japan, I ardently learned the local accounting details too. With the help of experts in different countries, I now have learned tax mitigation and other related skills.
In addition to bookkeeping and paying salaries, I successfully integrated accounting reports across different countries and designed a flexible framework for cash flow in order to keep the snowball rolling.
The next thing to deal with is the relationship with banks, use of credit cards and building of credits. The relationship with the internals of banks is crucial at this point. You can’t foresee when you’ll need a loan. Under the pandemic, people who have internal relationships were able to hollow the bank, leaving others to wait forever.
The conversion of credits is not only based on personal purchasing behaviours, but the company is also a good place for operation. Gaining cashback and getting discounts for flight tickets are all good ways to turn credits into real cash. Paying everything with credit cards would be the stupidest idea.
Every county has its own system of building credits and points. There are a lot of articles online for you as references. My final answer is, high credits points will let you have a huge room for operation between banks.
Chatting with accountants has been a must for monthly schedule. I’m sure I’ll have more to share about M&A and investments as Giftpack grows. I’ll write more articles about this.
As the number of team members rises, I try to distribute my duties, so that I can have more time to take care of the resources integration and management. I personally still desire to code more, draw more design drafts, and immerse myself for deeper thoughts.
I recently took part in Founder Meditation by SoGal Venture. I want to see how people deal with much stress. CEO often needs to be responsible for a lot of things in the early stage, like when something went wrong, changing toilet paper, ordering meals, taking other cases for a living, etc. We need to be like a Superman. I guess we’ll more relax when the company gets into the right track and don’t have to worry about the next meal.
We only have 24hrs a day. If there’s a core team to cover the tasks above, I’m very lucky. Regardless of the company size, these things are essential. Good prioritizing and execution will lead to a better chance to bring the company forward. I witness hundreds of companies closing in NYC under the impact of COVID-19. I still believe no matter the situation is right now, we all still stand a chance to successfully pass through the year 2020.
Archer - CEO & Founder @Giftpack Inc. Made with ❤️ at Giftpack in New York City