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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Growing Up: 4 Years & 7 Important Lessons

In the last couple of days - more so than ever before - I just realized again how much I've grown up as a person, entrepreneur and also as the co-founder of  WooThemes (where we're releasing our 100th theme tomorrow). This brings about a reminiscence and a reflection of the journey that has lead me to where I am today.

In all honestly, I feel tiny when I have to reflect on the enormous amount of things that have happened in the last (almost) 4 years now. In fact, the enormity feels so big, my memory serves up only vague & fuzzy remnants of some of the bigger things that have happened (whereas the minor stuff seems totally inconsequential now; almost like it never happened).

Here's 7 lessons that I've learnt on this journey thus far and which I think often doesn't get the attention it deserves:

1. Everything Changes. Every 6 months.

Heraclitus once said "the only constant is change" and this would seem a pretty obvious thing to say in a post like this. Fact is, I think that the consequences of this constant change is often understated and I don't think there's much that can prepare you as an entrepreneur / founder than actually going through it yourself.

The thing that has surprised me though is the velocity of this change. Sure, I can go back 4 years and I'd totally expect things to change over time. But if I had plotted big, evolutionary changes for WooThemes in the last 4 years, I'm sure I'd see a trend where everything just changes every couple of months. This also isn't just minor changes, but it's the "throw out everything you think you know"-kinda changes.

I think the two personal skills that got the most exercise in this time, has been my adaptability and my ability to manage chaos. Its the survival of the fittest (read: most agile, most responsive, most innovative) out there and I doubt we'd come this far had it not been for our ability to adapt.

2. Milestones come & go

In four years, we've accomplished so many milestones. But standing where I am today, those milestones pale in comparison to the milestones we've set ourselves for the next year.

I've learnt that no single milestone is that important and that its importance starts fading slowly once you've reached it. In this way, individual milestones are just stepping stones to the future, whether you've got a concrete plan or not.

I don't think one can devalue the significance of individual milestones (redesigns, rebranding exercise, significant product releases, major overhauls / updates etc.), but there will always be bigger fish to fry. Every single time we've reached a milestone, it has just seemed like the most obvious thing to do would be to start chasing the  next one. Future milestones are just much more important than the one's in the past.

3. Haters will be hating

Regardless of your success or hard work, there will always be people that hate on you. If someone else has found a way around this, I'd truly love to know how. :)

I've seen this countless of times: there's just no way to keep everybody happy and more times than not, it is a small minority of extremely vocal, non-customers that hate the most. Whilst this sometimes hurts & upsets, I've learnt that I can't do anything about this and that my best comeback will always be to continue the hard work with my team.

4. Sometimes saying nothing is the best response

Adii circa-2008, got involved in way too many heated debates online. I was always the first one to pour more fuel on the flames, simply to prove a point. I loved that kind of stuff, but in hindsight this rarely had the desired effect and I did much more harm than I ever did good (even though my intentions were good).

Fast forward a couple of years and I'm definitely more mature and level-headed in approaching similar controversies. I don't get involved unless I really have to and I don't allow myself to be baited into saying things that can be turned against me. I'm by no means perfect, but I'm a lot better than I used to be. Sometimes saying nothing really is the best approach; rather let others do the speculation and  assuming, they will be the one's looking like fools.

5. Business is built on relationships

This is one of the most important lessons that I've learnt and the relationship I share with my co-founders, is one of the biggest pillars on which we've built WooThemes. I really doubt that we'd have been as successful as we've been if it wasn't for our relationship.

Beyond this, I've seen the same thing in the relationships we've built within the WooTeam and the interactions we have with each other. There's no way we would've been able to be as efficient and as good at what we do if it wasn't for this inherent understanding of each other as individuals and our respective contributions to the team.

This approach to relationships has also served me very well in making new friends and meeting / working with people that have had a considerable effect on my own life and that which I contribute to the business. Real friends are a dime-a-dozen, so cherish your most valuable relationship and make sure that you do your utmost to maintain them.

6. Branding. Branding. Branding.

The best marketing strategy we've ever implemented was all the time we've spent to personalize, humanize and build our brand. No amount of advertising spend has delivered a return of similar value & significance.

We've never been incredibly pedantic when it has come to our branding, but we've been very pretty consistent about it. We've also invested heavily in making sure that our branding reaches all the corners of our business and that the experience of our customers with our brand is consistent throughout.

This has created customer loyalty beyond belief and I think we've got some of the most passionate, understanding & helpful customers in the world.

7. Diving into the deep end is the only way to grow

We didn't know much about business when we started out. Heck, we knew very little back then and if I compare my "knowledge" today with Adii circa-2008, I'm a 1950's encyclopedia.

The reality is that all of us dived into the deep end when we co-founded WooThemes in 2008. We didn't have the skills to build a business this big (much less did we have the ability to manage a team of 15 people) and we certainly didn't know any of the lessons that I've written down here.

But we got better by doing, we learnt from our mistakes and our experiences. We said sorry when we were wrong, we changed things constantly and we tried to improve with every iteration of our work. If we never left the safety of the shore, there was no way that we could've created WooThemes and become more accomplished entrepreneurs.

[box type="info"]View my talk at NetPropher last year for some more lessons that I've learnt from WooThemes.[/box]

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