Grant McNaughton

@grantmcnaughton

Back to Day 1

Deciding to operate my business full-time this summer is something that sounds sexy — “entrepreneur” is a buzzword that permeates the business world. Yet I always find myself returning to Day 1 whenever I resume full-time operations of my company.

To give you some background, I started Ventus Business Solutions (formerly Ventus Web Design) when I was 12 after taking a web design course at Mount Royal University. At the time, all I wanted was a Starbucks Gold Card, and figured using my coding knowledge to make websites for friends and family could help me get the gold.

I’ll let the first website speak for itself:

My first website — September 25, 2010

Needless to say, any Computer Science student could easily design something better in an hour. However, I recognized there was the chance to make some money in web design if I improved my skills. I began reading Smashing Magazine and every Web Design for Dummies book I could to try and understand how to make my websites look better.

The Apple App Store launched in 2008. By 2010, developers were pushing their apps onto the App Store, but many of them didn’t have a website. To try and drum up business, I began emailing any app developer I could find without a website. I got plenty of no’s. But, I did get one yes. And this was the email that started it all:

Cold-email to Anusen app developer

I will forever be grateful to Anusen (www.anusen.com) for deciding to take the risk on me. Hundreds of coding hours later, we produced Anusen:

Each page individually coded in HTML, you can imagine the trouble I had when trying to add a new section to the navigation bar and updating every page with it…

Deciding to email those app developers was a Day 1. And, it’s a place I return to frequently. How will I find new clients? How do I sell myself? What value do I bring to a business? How am I going to pay for hosting? Why did I lose that client? Questions like these dominate my Day 1 headspace, and I think they’re very normal for any startup. Behind the glam of “entrepreneurship” is hard work, and success is a result of that hard work.

Aeropostale T-Shirt, frosted tips, and an iPod Touch. Grade 8 was a high point.

Entrepreneurship can also involve some good luck coupled with a willingness to get yourself ‘out there’. Being 14 years old, I had a good story, and after pitching myself to Lisa Kadane (@LisaKadane) at the Calgary Herald, she decided to interview me for a story on the websites I was making. On May 9, 2011 I saw my smiling face and iPod Touch on a full-page spread of the Calgary Herald which was syndicated across Canada.

I rode the wave on that story for years to come. From strategic consulting companies to children’s authors, I always seemed to have clients coming in. During the school year I would reduce the number of clients I took on and ramp it back up during the summer. Long story short, I got the Gold Card.

More importantly, though, were the mistakes I made.

Being an entrepreneur has given me the chance to continually fail, and the fact that I was a teenager meant there was very little at risk when I did fail.

The best email to receive

I didn’t secure a website well enough. I failed to deliver on time. I didn’t enable my auto-responder while on vacation. I chose a web host that suffered crippling downtime, jeopardizing a mission-critical website launch. I didn’t develop web design contracts, and a customer ran away with a website for free.

I will forever remember the moment I got a call from a real estate agent I was completing a website for. I’d just received a haircut and was walking to my dad’s truck. I hadn’t responded to this client’s emails for a while, and had provided no communication as to why. The client was clearly unimpressed, and I remember climbing into my dad’s truck and crying after talking to the livid client. At this point, I had a Day 1 moment. How was I going to solve this problem? After swallowing my pride, I recognized I needed to overhaul how I approached customer service.

This was a tough email for 15 year old Grant to send

From that point forward, this quote has guided me:

“Under-promise and over-deliver” — my dad

Expectation management can make or break a startup business, and it is incredibly important to be transparent with your customers, employees, and self. People aren’t monsters, and being honest about upcoming problems will always be a better strategy than attempting to do damage control after the fact. This isn’t just a business strategy, this is a life strategy. From arriving on time to a date to turning down involvement opportunities that spread you too thin, being honest with yourself as to your time and abilities will always lead to better outcomes.

Entrepreneurship looks sexy. Overpriced business cards, GQ-style business casual, and working on the cutting-edge of creativity. Almost all entrepreneurs will encounter a Day 1, though, and I believe how you answer the question of “What do I do now?” is the difference between success and failure. Day 1 isn’t a single-occurrence — it happens every time the ‘next step’ you make has a lasting impact on your business. It can either be Day 1 of your business evolving, or Day 1 of finding a new job.

I’m back to Day 1. Sitting in a coworking space in downtown Calgary, the question in my head is “What now?”

We’ll see how well I answer that question.

It’s impossible to write this without thanking the hundreds of people along the way who have helped me get to where I am today — Thank you for taking the risk of hiring a teenage web designer with an iPod Touch and frosted tips.

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