We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Tomas Gorny is the CEO of Nextiva, a cloud-based VoIP company, which he founded in 2006. As a serial entrepreneur (born in Poland) Tomas has been investing in, building and leading high-performing technology Internet companies for 15 years.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Tomas Gorny: I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My parents told me I started talking about owning my own business and moving to America when I was just 7 years old.
The way I got here was a little unusual. I grew up in Poland and moved to Germany when I was 14 years old to get a better education. While in college, I launched a computer hardware business, but when an opportunity arose to immigrate to the U.S., I jumped at it. The opportunity happened to come just two months before I would have graduated, but it was a simple decision for me. The risk was not in not graduating; the risk was in missing the opportunity to come here. I just couldn’t pass it up.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Gorny: I started my own businesses because I thought that I could do a better job by creating something different than what was available in the market. I strive to make a difference no matter what I work on.
I can recall this kind of thought process all the way back to when I was living in Poland and was challenging things around me. I was not always pleasant to be around me because “Why” was my favorite word back in the day. Actually, it still is.
As a young boy I was delivering newspapers and got fired for making my delivery more efficient. The company I was working for did not recognize the benefits.
When you keep getting pushback at your job, school and the people around you, you are naturally inclined to go [out] on your own. I started working on the things that interested me. Taking care of myself financially was secondary.
I enjoy working with people who are driven and creating products that are being used by others in their daily lives and businesses. We are proud to employ people from all walks of life and provide opportunities that are unconventional. We are competitive, always wanting to win and at the same time having a lot of fun.
It is really exciting to see what is happening here at Nextiva. We are creating an environment that people can feel proud to be a part of. We are part of a transformation in communication and we all feel empowered that we are making a difference in the world.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Gorny: Yes. I actually experienced two pivotal moments. The first one was when I left Germany and moved to the U.S. in 1996 because I knew there were opportunities here unlike anywhere else in the world. It turned out that the company I got involved with had tremendous success which came with a financial reward. We sold the company in 1998.
That led me to my second pivotal moment, which was in 2001, when I went broke. Going broke was the product of many unfortunate circumstances and bad investment decisions, but it turned out to be the best experience in my life. It forced me to discover what I was good at and where I should channel my energy. Most important, it helped me establish strong principles in terms of how to do business that I still rely on today.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Gorny: I am not sure if I received this advice or came up with it, but as an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t have an exit strategy. If you are planning for an exit, your mind is focused on the wrong things for your business. It is the same advice that I would give to anyone today.
Secondly, believe your own BS, it may turn out to be true someday. For example, we believe in redefining markets from the day we start working on a business. Nobody took us seriously; why should they? Today, people pay more attention, since we have done it a few times, but regardless how many times we have demonstrated it, we are still faced with new skepticism.
Believing is just the start. You start with an idea, but you need to do something about it. The work is sometimes hard. Expect it to be uncomfortable but only do it if it is also a lot of fun because if it isn’t, then you can’t expect great results.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Gorny: Focus on what matters. It is so easy for business owners to worry about the irrelevant things that you will forget in a day or two but there are many things that matter large or small that are worth addressing. I take the perspective of the customer/user of whatever we do and luckily I am a very intolerant buyer so everything is annoying to me. This is how I look at our business and make sure that this does not happen to others.
The most important thing is to balance drive for performance with an appreciation for your employees. We take care of our employees because they take care of our customers. Also, we try to do the right thing with the right frame of mind by avoiding shortcuts. [That approach] will always cost more money, but I think that good things happen as a result.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Gorny: More businesses will move to the cloud. It is obvious and we are living in this world but it is surprising how many people still do not see it and believe it.
We are experiencing the trend of people moving to the cloud first-hand at Nextiva. We see many larger businesses adapting the cloud, a development that we hadn’t experienced few years ago.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Gorny: I do not have a single favorite book. For me it varies depending on the context and what we are working on. My favorite book of the moment is The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matt Dixon. The book is an incredible guide to delivering the best possible service. The principles in the book mirror our customer service strategies at Nextiva. I feel like I wrote it myself. It embodies our “Amazing Service Customer Experience.”
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