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Work Smarter, Not Harder, to Scale Your Business

Many entrepreneurs identify with Thomas Jefferson’s saying: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” It’s a lovely sentiment and it might even be true in the early days of a startup. But if you hope to run a high-growth company, working too hard can actually result in you running out of luck and putting your business growth prospects in jeopardy. Here’s why:

Say you start a business and it begins growing. All of a sudden, you find yourself overwhelmed by the workload. You are wearing multiple hats and there’s not enough time to wear any one of them well. That’s exactly the point when every entrepreneur doubles down, and lives, eats and sleeps their company. Sound familiar?

Tom Villante, CEO of the popular payment processing platform, YapStone, founded his company 16 years ago, and it now processes over $15 billion annually. I wanted to learn how he was able to relentlessly focus on scaling his business. And, thanks to a colleague, I was able to hop on the phone with him.

The fintech scene is exploding right now, and YapStone has become the largest electronic payments processor in vertical markets, particularly ones in the sharing economy, like apartment and vacation rentals. The rate at which both have rapidly expanded to create this new class of tech “unicorns” tells me anyone successful in the space has some advice about scaling/rapid growth. Tom’s partnership with HomeAway, which was recently acquired by Expedia for $3.9 billion, was most impressive to me, and a sign that his business is nailing its target verticals and should only continue to grow.

He said, “Times have changed since the 1700s. Today, working smarter achieves a much better result than working harder. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in going all in and focusing on your business. Yet, it’s crucial to be efficient while growing your business and giving it scale — and part of that is about leveraging resources to keep from being spread too thin. Without our ‘work smarter’ strategy, we could have easily gotten mired into the day-to-day running of the business and not been able to build the payments platform that we have today.”

Tom offered the following points to help guide you in your quest to work smarter, not harder:

Hire People For Growth

Tom sees founders often choosing to handle a lot of work themselves, rather than delegating to others within the organization. As a manager, you should hire and reward people who are willing to pitch in and venture beyond their official duties.

The other side of that coin is long-term thinking: Onboard only those people who can grow with your business and become one of its leaders. Your next hire shouldn’t just fill the current position. Think about their potential: Can they can grow with you, and help get your business to where you want it to be?

Set Clear Goals

Always think about your employees strategically. How would you like them to develop and contribute to your team? The best way to communicate these desires is by setting clear and measurable goals for each employee.

An important key to strategically developing your talent pool is training. Columbia University researchers reviewed 16 case studies of employee training, which revealed that ROI on training ranged from 100 to 5,900 percent. Beyond the outstanding economic benefits, training keeps employee skills sharp and facilitates the adoption of new scalable technologies. It also makes employees feel valued.

Inspire Your Employees

Motivated employees are effective employees, and managers can offer numerous resources to inspire their team members. A Harvard Business School article suggests that many employees are hunting for three traits from their employer:

  • Equity: respect and fair treatment in areas such as pay, benefits and job security
  • Achievement: pride in one’s job, accomplishments and employer
  • Camaraderie: productive relationships with fellow employees

By providing these traits, managers can do their part to instill high motivation over time.

Know What You Don’t Know

Self-awareness is key to your success as an entrepreneur. Recognize the things you don’t know or are not good at, and outsource those to an expert.

One of the most frequent mistakes that Tom sees entrepreneurs making is trying to reinvent the wheel. Taking an example from the payments industry, he often sees marketplace and e-commerce companies trying to build or customize a payments solution without performing their due diligence first.

Do what you do best: Focus on your core business and tap into other people’s expertise rather attempting to fasten a second-rate version of their wheel.

Leverage Technology

In the age of the cloud, if you don’t make technology your friend, you’ll be left in the dust. Software as a Service (SaaS) makes it easy for organizations to leverage technology and increase efficiency. The need for an upfront investment is eliminated. And with everything hosted on the cloud, there is no need for IT resources.

Technology frees up your team to scale by making their work more efficient. The Slack platform is one of the best tools for managing organizational communications, as it facilitates team member chatting, sending files, and keeping everyone up to speed. Tom’s team also uses Trello and Basecamp to keep projects organized and make sure that everyone knows what they should be doing, and the deadline for each deliverable.

Thomas Jefferson may have been one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, but his words of wisdom may not be leading you in the right direction. Instead, find ways to work more efficiently so you can stay focused on the big picture. Hire the right people, nurture, and train them properly to build a lasting company culture. Draw on external expertise, and leverage technology to the best of your capability. Heeding Tom’s advice and following these guidelines within your own business will help put you on the right track to free up your time to focus on the most important thing: managing your company as you scale.


BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

Image Credit: CC by Dan Moyle

About the author: Erik Huberman

Erik Huberman is the founder and CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service outsourced CMO and digital marketing agency based in Santa Monica, CA.

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