Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and even bigger obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Szyarto of PS Group Holdings.
Paul Szyarto grew up on the streets of NJ surrounded by violence, without guidance, in a home filled with dysfunction from an abusive alcoholic, drug using father who attempted to kill his mother at the age of 12. Most people don’t survive these situations. Core values supported Paul to rise from the violence, abuse, and poverty in his life to become the influencer he is today.
Paul Szyarto is an Oxford University and Wharton Business School educated expert in business operations and technology and has spent the last twenty years maximizing the bottom line of more than 1000 global companies including Microsoft, Goodyear, BP, GE, United Technologies, Kellogg, Alcoa, Autoliv, Darden, Yum, and many more from the Fortune 500 list by redefining how they operate in regards to people, processes, and technologies. He is an expert in the domains of Project/Program Management, Digital Transformation, ERP Architecture, and Corporate Finance Optimization. In addition, he has personally supported the development of more than 20 entrepreneurial assets with cumulative revenues exceeding 250 million dollars. Paul is highly sought after for his speaking abilities with more than 200 events under his belt, and for his insight regarding business and digital transformation by hundreds of agencies including Fox, NBC, The NY Times, Reuters, The Inquirer, Digital Journal, Data IQ, and many more with impressions reaching millions.
Paul has been directly involved with more than 400 enterprise-wide big data projects throughout the world focusing on ERP, PPM and Integration solutions, with more than 60 of them being SAP deployments. Some highlights include, Jacobs Engineering Group engaging with him to develop processes and a delivery management control solution responsible for the processes, cost controlling, safety, field operations, quality assurance, program management, and delivery of more than 12 billion dollars in client capital. With Microsoft, Paul utilized his business knowledge and coordinated the development of a project controls system for Microsoft’s Datacenter Design Group to manage a 20 Billion dollars datacenter development initiative to build 120 datacenters in various locations with the overall objective to manage over 1000 vendor organizations. When he was at Goodyear, he provided business management guidance and directed a global initiative over a 5-year period to manage the project management aspects for R&D and Global IT utilizing Microsoft’s EPM solution with bi-directional integration to internal systems and SAP. He was a Strategic Business Consultant for the U.S. Navy, providing logistics knowledge to guide the SAP implementation for a 7 Billion dollars SAP initiative and with the U.S. Army with a 4 Billion dollars SAP initiative.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was raised on the streets of Irvington, New Jersey, with a very rough childhood. My dad was the primary agent of chaos. He just recently passed, which I have now found has provided me a guiding light in understanding the direct influence he had on becoming the warrior I am today.
Between trying to kill my mother, abusing my brothers and I, and the turmoil he dished out on a daily basis, there was a clear understanding that I had two paths to consider. It was a choice of a similar road filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse, and more, or to find a way to become a contributor to society. Become a change agent for myself and others.
There was an incident when I was 16/17 that place me in a position where I had an altercation, severely hurting the other party. This brought me to court where a judge basically told me I had to join the military. In all honesty, it was an escape from the life I was living and the path I was going down. That incident changed my life placing me into a very well-structured program surrounded by intense motivation to succeed. I knew in the military if I didn’t succeed someone was going to die. The Navy brought out the person I always knew I was. I became addicted to achievement and perpetual success and from this point forward my life has been focused on achieving milestone after milestone and supporting those around me to achieve similar levels of success.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The current company is PS Group Holdings, which is a technology investment company that supports great companies and ideas to become flourishing assets that generate impact.
My “aha moment” for this current business really came after I sold my last large asset, and I was asked what I was going to do next. I sat there thinking through so many ideas and the plethora of opportunity around me. I knew there was so much I wanted to accomplish, and I needed to make a choice to go down a singular path or find a way to generate impact with many lines of business. So, instead of doing one thing, I decided to try to do many things. I setup a funding structure that would allow me to invest in my own ideas and businesses that I had a passion for. I developed templates of excellence that I established for each idea and business which focused on reach, revenue, margin, with the idea of impact generation. I started with one, after achieving a minimum success target, moved onto the second while implementing a stabilization growth strategy for each asset. Today we manage more than 20 assets that all meet minimum financial requirements but generate incredible impact for many.
Every entrepreneur has an “aha” moment. The difference between success and failure is taking the risk to materialize that aha moment into an impact generating vehicle for so many.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Everyone I meet is a mentor in my eyes. They all have something to teach. I live every day to learn and grow my mindset. From family to friends to co-workers, they have all taught me valuable life lessons that have shaped who I am today. A challenging childhood made me an even greater father and husband. Faulty business deals made me the successful entrepreneur I am today. Every instance that you encounter, has meaning. Embrace it, learn from it, grow from it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The big difference between PS Group Holdings and other investment firms is our focuses on the 3 prong approach to impact generation. Most investment companies focus on revenues and margin. Yes, these variables are crucial to the success of any operation, however there is a variable many don’t consider which is reach.
Reach is the quantity, depth, quality, of consumers that are impacted by the idea or business. See, revenue and margin are the traditional factors when valuing a business or idea. However, reach is more complex. Reach allows you to gain unlimited valuation through only contact as long as you have a plan of monetization. Even if you aren’t monetizing at present, you can develop forecasted monetization models that would allow accelerated valuation creation.
This is the foundation of PS Group Holdings. In addition, my last concern is how much I am making. My obsession is how much impact I can generate. How much change I can infuse into many markets.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I do my best to give opportunity to those that would never receive opportunity. When I was young, no one would have taken a chance on me. No one ever presented me with opportunities to succeed. No one gave me a chance when the result would have been tremendous with a little guidance.
I love to help loyal people who are eager to learn and generate impact. This is my only criteria to help others succeed. I would rather have a loyal person than a highly skilled competent person. You can teach skills and competence, you can’t teach loyalty.
I have helped thousands of people with dozens becoming highly successful in life.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Loyalty, Honesty, and Never Broken mindset.
Like I said, you can teach competence, but you cant teach loyalty. I am loyal to a fault. I never give up on people and I expect the same from my team.
If you cant be honest about who you are, don’t bother. Too many people focus on being someone they aren’t and living a life that is built on lies and dishonestly.
Finally, the Never Broken mindset, meaning, never allow yourself to be psychologically or financially broken. Every event in life will help you to build your tolerance, unveil a new skill, and possibly create a new idea that helps you succeed in life. At one time or another we will all find ourselves truly tested. It could come in a million different forms and in a thousand different directions. But trust me…you will eventually meet your match if you don’t prepare yourself. How you respond to the difficult times is what determines how you’ll succeed during the easy ones. Life can really be horrible sometimes. But the stronger you are, the better equipped you will be to weather the storm and come out the other end.
Succeeding at the business of life is your choice. There are ten core lessons you can apply to make that choice easier.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I was told about 4 years ago that I need to get on social media, I need to let the world know who I am, and there is a script that you must follow to get noticed. I trusted someone who claimed to have worked with super star celebrities and some of the largest organizations in the world. This person claimed to live a life of wealth and fame due to this mindset. I took his advice, I started a social media campaign and within 6 months or so, realized his entire life was a sham.
What I learned is social media is not what you think it is. Social media is whatever the person posting wants it to be, and in most cases, it’s a list of lies. Most of these online influencers create an image of someone they would love to be, but they aren’t quite there yet. They aren’t wealthy, they aren’t knowledgeable, they are actually very insecure and lacking ability to truly succeed. Their goal is to swindle others out of their success.
When I learned that this person really was about, I made a decision to distance myself from him and other influencers.
So, be who you are, not what others think you should be. I wish I never followed his advice because even though I didn’t apply his prescription, it made me present myself in a manner that wasn’t me. For this I regret the months I was trying to be an “influencer” on social media versus someone who is actually changing the world.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Building a business is really tough. At times you will ride a wave of highs when you win a contract, generate impact, or other grand achievement, but with every high, there are dozens of lows that go into making those highs a reality. There have been times when I had nothing in my account, no opportunities, no one around me beyond my wife to hold my hand when I needed to keep pushing. There were times when people would screw me over and over to gain a small ounce of what I had achieved. There were actually more tough times than great times in the beginning. These times made me extremely depressed thinking I was a loser and would never achieve greatness.
I never gave up. No matter how bad it was, I never gave up. I stopped focusing on the monetary value and was just was happy to have my wife there by my side to support my next move. Once my first child came into this world, I knew I couldn’t fail because people depended on me. I can live with nothing, but I made a vow I would never let those around me live without everything. I gave anything I did everything I had which allowed me to get to the level I am at today.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
This is the most critical Wealth Rule I can teach you; Don’t ever quit no matter what. If you set a goal or a task to get completed, see it through till the end, even if that means calling in reinforcements to get it done. Anything worthwhile in this life will not be easy. It will take grit, hard work, long hours, a solid work ethic, and a no-quit mentality. If you grind through those brutal days that would make 98% of people quit, it will separate you personally and professionally from that 98%, and you will reap the rewards they can’t. Stay true to your mission; keep your word, and NEVER QUIT!
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I have been very successful in life, but that was not by luck or chance. I have started hundreds of business ventures, with some making me incredibly wealthy. You see, that’s where most mentors and these “insta-famous” influencers will stop and let you think every idea they have is pure brilliance, the proverbial “next sliced bread.” The truth of the matter, shit happens. Ventures will fail. You will lose money. Investors will be pissed. This is life. It’s also not an excuse to give up or start feeling bad for yourself. Remember, if being a TRUE ENTREPRENEUR was easy, EVERYONE WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL.
Everyone wants to say I am a highly successful entrepreneur, but no one wants to be up till 4 am preparing a slide deck for a 6 am meeting. No one wants to work on holidays or while on vacation when things go wrong, and everything is falling apart. That relentless drive and no quit focus through the bad times is what separates wannabe entrepreneurs and TRUE ENTREPRENEURS. Most people will quit when failure happens, and 99% will move onto their “next great idea.” But nothing changes, that venture will fail too. If you want to succeed, quit making excuses when failure happens, toughen up, embrace the suck, and let’s get to work.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
I think it is both. I don’t think it is an A or B conversation. The first thing you need to do is understand your cost basis to actually live. What do you need for rent, transportation and food?
If you learn to bootstrap and have a comfortable life, in building your companies net worth, any venture capital will come to you. They are going to ask you, “If I give you money, how are you going to use this?” If you have an over lavished, venture capital funded lifestyle, they are going to instantly think you mismanaged it.
On the other side of pure bootstrapping, a future investor will look at it and say they are not willing to spend money on necessary upgrades because they are pinching pennies, and they are short cutting.
When I say both, you need to spend your money on a needs based mindset within comfort that maximizes your impact.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
Identify a problem that you can provide a solution to that has impact and value. The solution cannot cost more than the problem.
After we define the problem and solution, we need to identify the scope of the problem by performing a market research analysis. Evaluate how many people have this problem, and can those consumers afford the solution you are proposing.
To advance the startup successfully, we need to calculate an investment with people, processes, and technologies to get the reach needed to generate a 25% or more margin.
A competitor analysis on your solution will identify your products unique value proposition and what makes you different from other leading businesses.
Finally, create a seed funding analysis. What is the investor to equity ratio that makes it beneficial for the investor and you? Create an investor pitch deck with the above data research & your journey as a business owner and operator has officially begun.
By keeping these simple guidelines in place and allowing data to make decisions, you establish an infallible business plan.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Too many times, I witness my students, mentees, and colleagues trying so hard to force their genius in every situation. It’s almost like they have this uncontrollable need to self-validate their worth and merit in every social and academic setting. There is no need to do this, and in most cases, being around you will get exhausting. Your well-intended motives will have the exact opposite effect that you had intended.
Your moments to shine will come, and you’ll knock it out of the park. Your peers will perceive you as a calm, collected professional who is a true genius rather than someone with something to prove. Trust me; you don’t want to be “that guy in the office” or your social circles.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Impacting Sprinting is one of my most valuable tools that will increase productivity by 100% at a minimum. 90% of people who “work” for 8 hours a day are really only productive for 3 hours. Between notifications on your five devices, answering emails, phone calls, getting coffee, snacking, chatting about the football game, we are not as productive as we think. Here is a solution that my entire team and I use: Impact Sprinting. Every day, I’ll start my day by writing down all the tasks that I have to complete and tasks I would like to get done but aren’t time-sensitive. I will then order them in order of importance from Mission Critical to Not Important. Once I have my tasks “Bucketed” by priority, I then block off 3 hours (divide the time as needed for each task) for my Impact Sprint to attack that Task Bucket. The next step is the most challenging part; I won’t do ANYTHING but the task at hand — 100% commitment and focus. I turn off all notifications and have the time blocked on my calendar: no meetings, no calls, no texts. The goal is to remove as many, if not all, distractions. On completion of the Sprint, I reward myself by going for a walk, getting a tea, or a snack from my favorite Donut Shop — it’s up to you how you want to use the next 30 mins. I then organize and plan my second Sprint for the next Bucket of tasks. Most people can easily achieve two sprints in a day without burning out, which will leave ample time to answer emails, attend meetings, and increase their productivity by a minimum of 100%.
In addition to this, find time to be physical. Walk, find time to run, do martial arts, do something that pushes your body to the limits. Don’t just go through the motion, be extreme at least 3 times a week.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It is a network for world class leaders to transfer their knowledge to young entrepreneurs and business executives. Together, with the use of case studies, podcasts, and university research, we will be able to expand knowledge to the business sector in the most efficient way.
The best part? Anyone can join. If you want to learn, we have you covered through virtual networking groups and mentors you can rely on.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Honesty, I have met many very successful people and although I love a stimulating discussion on business, mars, or the next vaccine, I would rather speak to people who do not have access to knowledge or wealth even more. I can’t impact wealthy people as much as I can impact those in need.
I enjoy listening and learning from people who are trying hard and just need a little push to make it big.
My purpose is to help as many of them achieve more than I have had the opportunity to achieve.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
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