A year ago, Evan Horowitz started his own company as a small firms advisor in New York. Former Harvard MBA and with a BS in Engineering from Stanford, for a decade he managed marketing, operations, HR, and finances for big fish like Macy’s, Walmart and Samsung, where he grew a $250 million business by over 20% in one year. Then his focus changed, he became a one-man show. Although managing smaller numbers now, he’s much more excited about helping entrepreneurs to grow faster and be smarter CEOs. The Corner met him in a Manhattan area where co-working spaces and laptop-friendly cafés for start-ups are mushrooming.
How and why did you start your business?
I started my career at Silicon Valley, at big companies like Samsung and Macy’s. Meanwhile I was helping some friends and family members with their small businesses, just for fun. The first person I worked with was my aunt. About six years ago she opened a dress shop in downtown Seattle. She had always been an entrepreneur but had never run a big store with hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash flow and people working for her. I saw she was little bit overwhelmed so I offered to give her some advice. I saw her becoming a more and more sophisticated businesswoman, making better decisions and also more money. The first year her sales went up 50%.
What was the recipe?
Lots of things. I find that my aunt, like many entrepreneurs, is very good at what she does, but she didn’t have much experience in building scale of the business, how to get customers, how to manage her team and money effectively.
You say “work smarter, not harder” but at least in Europe that seems like wishful thinking. We tend to work very long hours in southern countries like Spain.
I think most business owners are going to work long hours. The challenge I put out there is what can you change to get different results. So many business owners fall into the trap of “if I work two or three more hours a day I’m going to get better results.” I think their company would grow up faster if they changed their strategy.
But how can companies achieve goals “faster and smarter” in such a crisis-mode environment?
It’s important to make sure that you are managing your business as smart as possible. It’s a time for people to look around them for expertise, not only consultants but peers and friends. Running a business can be such a lonely job. People who started a small business is because they are experts at what they do: programming, fashion, massage therapy… Whatever, but they don’t have much experience in business to serve their clients more efficiently.
Give me an example of a tool that big business are using that could be a game changer for small companies…
A good example is CRM, Customer Relationship Management tools. They allow companies to manage sales more effectively, so they can close a much higher percentage of sales. These tools can be very expensive and complicated.
What is the biggest no-no?
A lot of marketing is not effective any more. A challenge is to look at companies that are really innovating and see how they’re doing it.
How about social media networks? Are they a time suck or a good marketing tool?
Social media and the internet in general have made it easier to get clients because there are ways to reach much more people. However, I don’t see many people picking up their phones and talking to their customers in person. And they are not building the kind of personal connections to lasting business relationships.
Are you saying we gave them too much credit?
I do think the hype is too much. It can be valuable but many business owners found the trap of checking all the boxes: they need to be on Facebook, they need to be on Twitter, they feel they need to hire people so they can do all those things without first thinking what are they doing and why. Unless you have a clear strategy of how that is going to translate into revenue and profit, trying to get lots of ‘likes’ on Facebook or Twitter followers because your friends are doing it is not a good use of your time.
How do you evaluate if a social platform is useful for a business?
The number one is to be where your customers are. If they are on Facebook, you want to be on Facebook, if they are on LinkedIn, you want to be there too. And number two is when you’re there you need to have a purpose for what you are doing. You need to have a strategy to take people from Facebook to your product, for example.
Which golden tip would you give to an SME?
Do you know how to talk about your product? If you describe it in a very technical way and it doesn’t resonate strongly with your potential customers as you could. What I work with my clients to do is get out of their own head and get into their customer’s. For example, I work with a lot of fitness trainers and gyms. When you go to hire a personal trainer, a lot of them will explain to you in very technical terms what they do, your body mass, your body fat composition… and while that is so true, is not exciting to someone who just wants to get a six pack. I would put it like: you’ll look amazing in your wedding dress.
What would you recomment to an unemployed person who wants to start a business?
Look at what you can do and figure out how you can sell it.
Is a business plan really worth it in the XXIth century?
I think it’s extremely important. Yes, it’s just a plan and you never know what is going to happen, but in my experience the most important part of the plan is the thinking process that you go through in writing it out. You need to think carefully and critically about all the aspects of your business, think through all the strategic decisions that you are making.
What is your biggest strenght? How do you manage to be effective?
I think is the ability to put myself into my client’s shoes, to understand what’s important to them and help them to grow from there. I am particularly good at tracking things. Every week I track how many different clients, activities, networking events I have, I evaluate where I am and where I want to be and how much am I progressing.
What has been your biggest nightmare?
We all have so many fears of getting out there into the world and show what we have in a proactive way. The biggest challenge is to do it and be excited even when you get rejected and rejected and rejected.
How do you see yourself in one and in five years?
In one year I’m going to start operating teaching products for people. In 5 years I want to be a much bigger version of myself, helping business owners from other continents.
Would you go back to a big organization once you’ve tasted entrepreneurship?
It would be hard to go back. It would be hard to fit into somebody else’s system now