While there are some universal tenets of success, entrepreneurs wouldn’t be entrepreneurs if they didn’t march to the beat of their own inner drummer. Many successful small business owners have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that help them achieve success.
Here some of today’s smartest, highly innovative, most successful business owners share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Dr. Yaopeng Zhou, the cofounder and CEO of Smart Vision Labs. Yaopeng invented smartphone-based autorefraction technology to measure refractive errors by taking a picture of the eye. Before cofounding Smart Vision Labs, Yaopeng worked at GE Healthcare and Abbott Labs as an optical engineer. Yaopeng earned his Ph.D. from Boston University, and conducted research on retinal imaging and stem cell imaging at Schepens Eye Research Institute and Wellman Center for Photomedicine.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Dr. Yaopeng Zhou: Growing up I wanted to be a product designer. Making products that look good and provide a great experience has always been a dream. When I saw the need in the vision testing industry I immediately knew there was a better, more efficient and empowering way to get your eyes tested.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Zhou: I knew I had enough talent and knowledge to create an innovative new medical device. When I found out there were more than 750 million people in the world who suffer from vision loss due to uncorrected refractive errors, I knew I could help solve the problem—I wanted to help people see better.
Most refractive errors can be fixed with access to corrected vision/glasses. The problem is that many people don’t have access to the tools or the trained physicians to correct their vision. I wanted to change that by creating a product that’s portable and easy to use, so more people could achieve corrected vision.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Zhou: Yes; one month into my professional career at GE Healthcare, I began to believe that I could build a better product than what the industry [had to] offer.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Zhou: The best advice I can give to anyone starting a business is to [maintain] tunnel vision for the first few years. Build your product and get it to market. Once there, you can start finding ways to make it better and exploring new ideas. But without that clear focus in the short term, it’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Zhou: Human resources are the lifeblood of a startup. So, this might sound like a cliché, but “hire fast and fire fast” is critical. Your early team is going to be putting in a ton of hours and working closely together. You will quickly figure out who is not a good fit for one reason or another. You won’t have time to fix most of these problems, so make the call and move on.
Keeping the right team in place will show your employees that you’re serious about leadership and the direction of the business. It will also help drive the best culture for your company. Now, just to be clear, firing fast must be done professionally and with respect. But if done right, it is usually best for both parties—so why make anyone suffer if the fit just isn't there?
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Zhou: Small business will bring a new wave of innovations into the next decade. There are a number of innovative startups working on problems and solutions in health technology, telemedicine, environmental issues, the Internet of things (IoT) and the driverless economy. Large businesses in all industries look to startup incubators and ecosystems for product innovations and potential acquisitions for their core businesses.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Zhou: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Zhou: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”