How to Create a True Work-life Balance – Lessons from a Lifelong CEO
“Work smarter, not harder.” It’s one of the business world’s oldest cliches – but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. In fact, if you really know how to do it, you can make an entire career out of it – and for the most part, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
I’ve been told that I’m genetically unemployable, and yet here I am, serving as CEO of Model Match, where I’ve been since 2014. But that journey started long before I ever started my first company. In college, I was a management information systems (MIS) major, and I believed in computers and automation long before that was really a thing. What we call the internet today barely existed then, but the question for me has always been, “How do I create efficiencies using technology?” Because I was so big on learning and trying to figure out how to create those efficiencies, that essentially became my career path.
The technology has changed, as has the world in general, but that path has essentially remained the same, and it still depends on three key principles:
- Solve problems in scalable, marketable ways
- Put the right people in the right places
- Embrace technology without letting it control you
The first real thing that I did in the mid- to late ‘90s was create a company called Wazzu, which was the first company to create turnkey websites for small business. So right when domain names were becoming a thing and the ability to put small businesses online was still relatively new, I was already using my technology background to build e-commerce sites for small businesses nationwide. Like a lot of dot-coms at the time, we grew fast, quick and hard – until, like so many others, we got hit by the dot-bomb. And we got hit hard.
I took my core IT staff and we focused on outsourced development, but from an efficiency standpoint, what I really missed having was the super expensive phone system and there were no real options to replace it as a much smaller business. So long story short, we ended up developing one that could not only be used by us, but thousands of other small businesses nationwide, and that’s what turned into my next company, PBNext. At one point, we had 60,000 small businesses on our phone system across the nation, and it all came back to creating efficiencies, which, in this case, meant creating a powerful phone solution for small businesses that didn’t cost an arm and a leg on a subscription model. But, it all starts with people.
Putting the right people in the right places will help you sleep at night. That was a hard lesson for me to learn because as a younger entrepreneur, I was unhealthy. I wasn’t working out or surfing or doing any of the other stuff that I normally love to do, because I was so focused on making my company successful. And the reality is, the problem is always going to be there tomorrow. In any business, it’s the people that you put in the right place to empower them, and when you empower the right people, that’s when you see the most success. It’s the ability to be that guide and be that mentor and be that influence – and it doesn’t matter if it’s one project or five projects; put the right people in the right places and lead the charge.
A lot of entrepreneurs, especially when they’re in startup mode, want to hold on to every aspect of their business, from marketing to finance to implementation to customer service – you name it. I believe in putting the right people in the right places to grow the entity because if you can’t scale, you can’t grow – and one person can’t scale anything. And in a way, Model Match was born from that.
Model Match’s number one goal is to help people with their work-life balance. Our candidates are only looking for one of two things: better work-life balance or more money – and we provide both. And even for our partners, they’re spending time and energy trying to remember a meeting or trying to remember where a particular candidate is or trying to remember generally how they’re doing. The Model Match platform manages their growing pipeline and optimizes producer engagement. If they’re following the plan and they’re following the technology that’s guiding the plan, they’re not going to let anything fall through the cracks. That doesn’t mean you never have to work hard, but at least you know you’re working smarter. That’s something that I’ve always done from a technology standpoint. In the case of Model Match, we applied those principles to create efficiencies for a business that was already successful, but would greatly benefit and grow exponentially from being streamlined through technology.
Hammerhouse had already been incredibly successful in mortgage recruiting, handling branches across the country and billions of dollars in production. But I wondered how we could take their best practices and turn that into a software solution for recruiting – and not only for the mortgage industry. From a business standpoint, we’re solving a problem, but in a way that has a revenue model behind it. From a technology standpoint, I have always believed in letting your customers guide the product. Often times, if you just let a technology team build the product, you end up with something that they think is useful, but is not actually useful for the customer. So, we spend an enormous amount of time talking to our customers about our products, and our backlog of product development is really driven by the customer’s needs, and not by what I or my team might think is the next greatest technology feature of all time. When helping people becomes your true goal – your true focus – and the way you run your business reflects that – that’s a true work-life balance that’s built to last.
Commentary by Kirk Waldfogel. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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