Worrying – what a waste

Building SMART Technologies didn’t come easily. I worried a great deal about money, staff and the multitude of responsibilities. Looking back, the energy I put into worrying and the concurrent loss of sleep didn’t help me or the business.

High Jumper

People often ask if there is anything that I would do differently in business with the benefit of hindsight. I was 34 when Dave and I started SMART Technologies, and for 25 years we were faced with many challenges and opportunities and grew a very successful technology company. To an outsider it might have looked like smooth sailing. After all by the time that anyone really heard about the company, we were growing at a rapid rate and it might have looked like a dream come true.

Challenging from day one

That view couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was literally a challenge from day one. We couldn’t attract external investors, so the company was not properly capitalized from the outset. We spent a significant amount of energy trying to attract investors, but all we had to show for it was a pile of 43 rejection letters.

The next major challenge was attracting the right people to help us grow the business. Time and time again people told us that they just couldn’t see coming to work for a company with such a novel product that was untested in the market. People were looking for greater stability and maturity, something that a start-up simply does not offer.

Couple that with a skeptical market that was slow to adopt and we had the perfect storm of conditions that did not bode well for a smooth company development process.

Undeterred in our mission

Through all of it, Dave and I were undeterred in our mission to make a difference with our products. We saw opportunity everywhere. A single sale would energize us (and our small team) and keep us committed to the company and everyone associated with it.

Worrying for nothing

But I was a worrier. I knew the hill that we had to climb to get to stability let alone success. Friends had invested in the company, and I worried about being able to preserve their capital let alone give them a return. I worried about making payroll, and that worry was compounded by our need to dip into our retirement savings to make payroll, not once, but twice. I worried about the health and safety of our plant staff, so much so that it was almost impossible for me to sleep until the plant closed after the second shift.

As it turns out, the energy that I expended worrying was wasted. I can see no correlation between my worry and anything good that happened in the company. Sleeping little didn’t make one iota of difference to any of the metrics that we needed to deliver.

Focusing on our customers

What did make a difference was having a passionate, creative team of people deeply committed to doing their best for our customers. They shouldered a load and did so happily. They built camaraderie and developed strong friendships in the process. They took pleasure and energy from small wins. In short, they were a team, committed to each other and our customers and channel members. Creativity coupled with our great team, our collective perseverance and hard work were productive ways in which we addressed the challenges.

I should have worried less.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.