Aytekin Tank kept his day job long after he started Jotform. His approach to developing his company, which helps people create more functional online forms, was to find a solution to a common problem and to do it slowly. Now, fully 10 million people use Jotform products. Writing in Entrepreneur, Tank shares his best advice on how to build your business sustainably, from finding an idea to gaining customers to developing your company’s culture. For Tank, leading means setting parameters and providing support as staff members build their confidence and expand their knowledge. He discusses how to delegate well and advises getting help when you need it – before you start drowning in your inbox.
- Jotform’s founder Aytekin Tank took his time building his company – without outside funding.
- The idea for your company should come “directly from need,” not from a brainstorming session.
- Take the time to build a culture that works for your business model.
Jotform’s founder took his time building his company, without outside funding.
Aytekin Tank started Jotform to help people create forms online. He developed accessible “what you see is what you get” methods so users could set up the forms they need. And, he did it without any outside funding. Jotform wasn’t an overnight success, but overnight success was never Tank’s objective.
“I list these milestones…to reinforce what’s possible when you take your time and pursue a single, evolving goal.”
His company’s 15-year anniversary inspired Tank to share some of the knowledge that helped him build Jotform successfully. His advice ranges from how to start a company to how to deal with culture, teams and growing pains.
The idea for your company should come “directly from need,” not from a brainstorming session.
Before Jotform, Tank created forms for the editors at a media company. The job was monotonous, so he crafted a template others could modify easily.He released a free version of his form-making product and continued in his day job. By the time Jotform had a stable product and paying customers, Tank could afford to work for himself full-time. He started his business alone, learning what he didn’t know as he went along.
“You can start slowly and fund your growth with profits.”
First, Tank advises, leave behind the dream of becoming a tech unicorn. Getting a solid product out to even a few clients is a true success. Tout your innovative solution in your marketing materials, blogs and media posts. Seek customer feedback to improve your product in alignment with the issues your customers raise. Getting it right is far more important than releasing a bunch of quick, bug-filed iterations.
Consider your first 1,000 users as your “family.” Take time to understand what they need and support those needs. As you build and improve your product, let others know, but concentrate on your core audience.
Track two critical metrics: Are people using your product and how do your employees feel about the company? Without positive numbers for both, you won’t have a company for long.
Take the time to build a culture that works for your business model.
Tank teaches new hires to function as team members in order to build cohesion and mutual respect. His first five employees became the template for the cross-functional groups that now work throughout Jotform. If you hire a huge number of employees at once, expect widespread confusion as well as damage to your corporate culture.
Tank established a physical office, and – following his team-based ethos – he made sure it was set up comfortably. He advises entrepreneurs to provide ergonomic chairs, large meeting tables, work-station options for workers who prefer to stand, comfortable lighting and green plants.These expenditures demonstrate to your employees that the company cares about their health, welfare and enjoyment at work.
The way you and other senior employees behave daily creates and sustains your culture. Leadership is part of that. Tank models his managerial style on parenting: He sets “the parameters” and gives his employees the freedom to do their work.When he delegates, he explains the “why” behind each task to support his team members’ efforts.
“Let people learn and develop confidence, and don’t expect them to improve instantly.”
Develop procedures and processes that help you and your people accomplish what you must. Recognize that staying motivated and creative can be difficult. If you’re stuck and feel overwhelmed, get help. Tank waited 15 years before hiring an assistant. He wishes he’d signed one up much sooner.
Provide a larger vision for yourself and your team, while retaining a ferocious focus on your core product and audience. Your vision and focus inspire your staff to contribute individually and collectively to your organization’s goals.
Your public persona – your fame – as an entrepreneur will be fleeting. Never focus on publicity for yourself. Instead, establish a platform featuring blog posts, articles or interviews that demonstrate your expertise and talk about your company. To protect your health and enthusiasm, let mistakes go and set aside time for activities that sustain your soul.
About the Author
Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the author of Automate Your Busywork and many business articles on his blog, www.jotform.com/blog/. In 2016, Jotform was ranked as one of the “most entrepreneurial” privately-held US companies.