MP spoke with Bill Voss, a Texas native and avid fisherman who has always been an outdoor enthusiast. Over the years, through his own experience and those of friends and family, he saw a need for an online marketplace to help shoppers who are passionate about the outdoors find the best recreational gear for their next outdoor adventure. Since then, he has made it his mission to fill the unmet void within an underserved market and founded the first customer-focused, community-driven online marketplace for the outdoor industry.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I've always had a can-do attitude, and this project requires it.
It takes a long time to prop up an actual marketplace, and Everest is no different. There are so many moving parts, and ensuring all are there and working correctly has tested my can-do attitude.
I still wake up every morning reflecting on how far we have come and how far we have to go.
I grow a little stronger every day.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Of course, there are moments of loneliness.
Still, it’s less about being alone in this and more about being the person at the top who is responsible for the company's success and for my employees' livelihoods.
In making decisions, strategizing, pivoting, checking tasks off the list, etc., there isn’t loneliness there, just responsibilities that need to be prioritized.
I have a few people who have been with me from the start on this journey and we have been able to support each other through the successes and failures we’ve come across on the way.
I think trust in a vision is important, and I trust my team, so I don’t feel like I’m a lonely entrepreneur.
I’m just trying to get to that ultimate goal or even just to the next goal. I’ve got a team around me, and we’re in it together.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
Certainly, lack of sleep is up there.
I am regularly responding to emails around 5 AM and texting our employees well before their workday starts. I have nightmares about failing and dreams of success. I sleep about five hours a night.
I go to sleep thinking about Everest and wake up thinking about Everest.
I’m always thinking about what we could be doing better.
I don't have the luxury of waffling over decisions or accepting anything less than true and serious dedication.
I have to make choices fast and trust my team.
It’s been a learning curve, but I think it’s made us more agile and enhanced our company culture.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
Yes and no.
I have a buddy who named his company after himself. I think that’s a common thing and can be a big mistake. Building a company is hard enough, but giving it your name adds another personal layer to it.
Not that it matters, but the perception is out there, and that’s hard to ignore.
Of course, my name will always be tied to Everest. It's nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time.
I certainly wouldn’t change it for anything.
I don’t want to be lurking in the shadows. I want people to know I believe in Everest 1,000%.
If we fail, it’ll be that much harder for me, but I’d instead think about how awesome it will be when we succeed.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. Losing sight of the mission
We started Everest to build something unique to help people from all walks of life get outside. And I sometimes worry that we’ll make a few choices that seem right in the moment and then find ourselves as just another one of the big guys only worried about the bottom line.
We try to ensure we hire people with the same sort of scrappy and passionate values that we started with. We look for people who love the outdoors and want others to get out there too.
But I sometimes worry that 5 or 10 years down the road, we’ll resemble the guys we’re trying to differentiate from.
Keeping our mission clear to everyone who comes aboard and always remembering to see the big picture helps with this.
I don’t fear the small failures or even the big ones. They help us grow and learn and be better for our customers.
But complete failure keeps me up at night.
One day having to throw in the towel – that thought haunts me.
I’ve had to learn to live with it.
Simultaneously believing that we will get to where we want to be and knowing that it’s possible we might not.
I hate saying it out loud, but it helps me to name the possibility and then dismiss it.
It’s better to acknowledge the possibility and then work harder to fire up our troops and keep the cart moving in the right direction.
I don’t worry about our ability to scale, but I know that many startups have felt that way, and then when they hit success, they couldn't keep up and ended up going under.
We dedicate a lot of time to ensuring we’re meeting our customer and seller needs where they are at so that we don’t fall victim to the same issue.
I ultimately believe that our processes will work out in the long run and that our plan to scale will support us.
But my fear of that bringing us down has driven me to prepare for it. I
think every entrepreneur should do the same.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
It’s easy to go with the guy who talks a big game and charges ⅓ of what the competition does.
But in the end, it always costs more time and money than it should.
2. Tunnel Vision
I know what I want, and it can be hard to take a step back and remember that what I want doesn’t matter. What the customer wants is what you need to provide.
I can think “XYZ” is the coolest functionality and so cutting edge, but if the customer doesn’t care about it - it doesn’t matter that I thought it was awesome.
It’s all about the data and the information you get from your users.
3. Hiring Too Fast
We have hired some serious duds, and it takes so long to be able to admit it to yourself.
We’ve gotten to the point where we know pretty quickly if someone is a good fit (and I’m sure this will change as we grow), but now if you aren’t helping us towards our goal, it’s not helpful to have you on the team.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. A Business Plan
It sounds like 101 starting a company, but so many people go out into the world with an idea and haven’t flushed it out yet.
Who are your customers?
What do they want?
What will they spend?
What kind of financing will it take to get you there?
How much will it cost you to acquire each customer?
How long before you are profitable?
These are extremely important questions you need to know the answers to.
2. Not Using Available Tools
Automation is your friend. Email flows, drip campaigns, abandon cart pop-ups, task managers, time trackers, and more.
There are so many tools out there that make management so much easier. And still, people resort to manually sending emails, using spreadsheets when a task manager is more efficient, and generally wasting time when a computer could do tasks much faster.
Nothing replaces the human touch, but we need to know that it’s important to work smarter, not harder.
3. Ignoring the Customer
You are building something for the people!
Nearly every new business aims to make something easier for a group of people. And that inherently means community.
A community out there wants your product - support them, and they will support you.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
1. Task Managers
We use a great task manager that allows us to prioritize tasks, add in dependencies, and create timelines that we can stick to.
We aren’t 100% amazing at using it all the time, but it keeps us all on track.
2. Meetingless Days
Again we are still working on this, but at least for our tech team, we never schedule meetings on Tuesdays or Thursdays. That means our developers have all Tuesday and Thursday to have their hands on keyboards, working on real issues, instead of being stuck in meetings.
3. Clear Goals
We make sure everyone knows their particular goals each week, and they work towards them. Of course, fire drills come up each week, but priorities help.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
Let me know when you find out!
When I first started, I was not great at this.
But as we got into a good groove, I realized that time off makes everyone a better employee. It’s easy to feel like you need to work through the weekend, but I realized that I’m a better leader when I’ve had a little break to get outside and hang out with my family (hopefully without worrying about work).
That balance is a work in progress but knowing it’s important is the first step.
What are some key pieces of advice that would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?
It’s never going to be easy!
1. Get the Right People on Your Team
A company is just a group of people working towards a common goal, and the goal is so much more important than each person’s previous experience.
Finding people who share your passion for the mission is more important than finding someone who looks great for the role on paper but ends up as a clunky fit for company ethos.
it’s so easy to dream and to see what your company could be one day.
But what's important is doing one thing well before you expand to doing all the things you want to do.
One day you’ll be able to do them all (or most of them) well, but you have to start with one and stay laser-focused.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It’s not as hard as you might think it is. It’s definitely not easy, but if you get the right people on your team who all believe in the same mission and have the same passion, you can create the thing you have dreamed of.
You aren’t alone.
If you want to build it, other people do too.
Responses provided by Bill Voss, Founder and CEO at Everest.com.