It's 2023. The year Upsales turns 20.
For me, it's a symbolic event in the history of Upsales.
I've spent half my life running Upsales, and I can promise you it hasn't always been sunshine. So in memory of how far we've come, I'd like to bring you on a personal journey of all the challenges we've conquered and my three most important takeaways. You don't take a business from a one-person band to €13 million in ARR and 70 employees without some bruises and hard-won insights.
How it all began
I've always felt like an outsider.
It started while growing up. My mum lived in a half-shabby apartment and worked as a cashier while caring for my sister and me.
Sometimes, I felt ashamed for being cramped up there when my friends lived in spacious villas. We were tight on cash, and I couldn't afford the cool clothing all the other kids came wearing to school.
The contrast became even bigger when I visited my father every other weekend. He lived in a nice area with large houses, and my friends there lived a completely different lifestyle.
I didn't have a bad childhood—the opposite. I was happy.
The contrast, however, created a strong drive within.
And I got a strong will to do things my way.
In hindsight, it made me a challenging student and a hopeless person to be the manager of. (Sorry, you know who you are!).
Takeaway #1: Don't look too much at what everyone else is doing
There is great power in trusting your driving force rather than taking everyone's advice.
As an entrepreneur, you're overwhelmed by people's opinions. Consultants, advisors and investors - all of which have the perfect way for you to grow.
The most logical thing would have been to take everyone's advice and do as everyone else did.
But I refused.
I've always gone my own way, not giving a damn about what others think - but it took years to trust myself fully. In the beginning, I always questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing.
I looked at more prominent entrepreneurs, and my self-esteem always got a turn. I was anxious about not knowing what the heck I was doing.
That feeling faded over time, and I'm happy it did.
The statistics are clear - most companies fail or get mediocre at best - so don't spend too much time looking at what others do.
If you see progress and it's working, keep at it!
Screw the smart people trying to tell you what to do.
Takeaway #2: Everyone got problems; the successful ones just don't give up
If I had a penny for every time, someone said:
"Wow, it's going great for you! It must be lovely to have a business that runs like clockwork”
Let me be clear.
No business just runs smoothly. Entrepreneurs and startups fight minor catastrophes every day to keep the company in order. And if you have growth ambitions, that keeps happening even after five, ten and fifteen years.
In 2012, we hired too many people way too fast. This led to an immediate liquidity shortage. We had already maxed out our credit and had a hefty bill to pay.
I got the brilliant idea that we could use factoring. For us, that meant selling our accounts receivables to a factoring partner and having our invoices paid upfront.
What I didn't think of, however, was that we had already used our accounts receivables as collateral for another loan. Which meant we accidentally sold their sole security for the credit.
And boy, the bank wasn't happy.
They discovered it by the end of the month and called me in for a crisis meeting with the bank manager. They almost terminated our credit which would have sunk Upsales to the ocean's bottom at the time.
After some sleepless nights, we found a solution and paid back the factoring loan in four weeks. If interested, you can read more on how we managed to avoid bankruptcy here.
During these 20 years, we've been through 20+ similar crises and faced hundreds of day-to-day challenges.
Running a bootstrapped business is incredibly difficult. And everyone has problems.
Nothing, however, is impossible to solve if you fight hard enough.
Side note: That dream life you see on Instagram is 100% fake. The most remarkable entrepreneurs I know are lurking in the background - building their business rather than an oversized ego. Going through hard times builds stamina, and that's a strength. It will drive you far beyond those who've lived an easy life.
Takeaway #3: You won't get far without the right team
We all can agree that the team is important.
For us, it's been the main obstacle to accelerating our growth further.
Some may call us a bit manic when it comes to recruiting. We're extremely picky and don't hire a 99% match. We've always built Upsales upon the idea that every new hire should raise the team's standard and challenge our belief of what's possible to accomplish.
And that ambition is what keeps the team on their toes.
Trust me; we've done some bad recruitments over the years too. And we've had to let go of people who didn't live up to the Upsales standard.
And that's okay.
For us, however, it's been vital not to lower expectations along the way and accept poor performance.
If you truly want a star, a good reference and some experience, aren't enough. Don't base someone's performance in your company on a "good track record". If they don't meet your expectations within a reasonable time frame, accept the fact and move on.
Half-good recruitments can derail the entire team's focus and lower the overall performance. As a leader, you can't let that happen.
Personally, I am still highly involved in our recruiting. So far, the best way for us has been to identify which companies could be fostering talents that would thrive at Upsales and steal them proudly.
All in all, it's been a heck of a journey.
And I'm intrigued to see what the coming 20 years have in store for us.
There's only one thing I know for sure: this is only the beginning.
/ Daniel Wikberg, CEO & Founder