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, most innovative, highly successful business owners share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Kristel Kruustük, the founder and CEO of Testlio, a quality assurance (QA) testing company. She was just 23 when she became disillusioned by how QA testers were treated and came up with the idea of building a platform that would appreciate the work of testers and elevate the importance of QA within organizations. Kristel shared her idea with then-boyfriend, later-cofounder, now-husband Marko Kruustük, and the two entered the world’s largest hackathon, Angelhack. Together, they took home first place, winning a $25,000 seed investment and their first paying customer.
Testlio was profitable from the get-go, and then picked up steam with customers like Microsoft, Lyft, Salesforce, CBS Interactive, Flipboard and Strava. Most strikingly for a tech company: over 50 percent of its employees are women and minorities. Kristel believes her company is in a unique position to make progress on diversity by hiring globally.
Today, Testlio’s freelancer network is made up of over 150 testers from 33 different countries assisting customers in 36 different languages. Its leadership team is over 40 percent women, and Kristel believes they will attain parity soon. Their culture is truly global—hundreds of testers live comfortably working when and where they want. One of the company’s best QA testers in Ukraine was able to earn enough money on Testlio’s platform to leave the war zone currently raging in his country.
Kristel has been recognized as “one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the Baltics.”
You can find Kristel on Twitter @kristelviidik.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Kristel Kruustük: My sister has always been one of my biggest role models—and growing up, she wanted to be a lawyer. Therefore, I wanted to be one too. It seemed such a fancy occupation to the little girl that I was, and I spent many hours daydreaming about the glamorous life I would have as a lawyer. Ultimately, neither my sister nor I achieved that particular childhood goal.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Kruustük: I started my own business out of frustration. I was working in a company as a software tester and supplementing my income by doing freelance work on different crowdsourced testing platforms. I quickly became frustrated with the way things were done and quite naturally, started to think about solutions to the problems I faced. That’s how the idea of Testlio took root.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Kruustük: One of the earliest pivotal moments on our way to success was hiring our first salesperson, who today is our Head of Sales. At that time, we were a small team of five people operating from Estonia. We were barely scraping through and managing the load of our existing clients, and were afraid of any additional strain to this fragile balance. Our main fear was that we would not be able to handle the growth that new clients would bring. However, we understood that this status quo was not sustainable either, so after many deliberations, we finally took steps to hire a sales executive.
The decision was not without great risks—it doubled our burn rate and since the position was in San Francisco, it also presented geographical concerns. But it was a gamble we were willing to make in order to invest in the growth potential of the company. Luckily for us, the risk paid off within one month as we acquired a new client that made us instantly profitable.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Kruustük: I’ve recently received a piece of advice that has really resonated with me: There is no point in constantly second-guessing the decisions you make. Just do your best in the moment and leave the “what ifs” behind. Because that’s really all you can do—do your best, to the best of your current abilities.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Kruustük: Remain in a constant state of openness—open to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities, etcetera, and embrace positive thinking. Learn from your surroundings and never stop helping others.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Kruustük: The on-demand economy will continue to rise and revolutionize consumer-based services. Companies will need to transform their service and delivery systems to take into account changing work patterns, mobile technology and the consumer’s ever-growing demand for efficiency and convenience.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Kruustük: My all-time favorite book is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Not only is it beautifully written, but it transcends the realm of fantasy literature. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the mythical and magical aspects of it—but in addition, it manages to inject in you the belief that everything is possible and that if you believe in yourself, others will too.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Kruustük: “No pain, no gain.” Everything worth having takes real effort and you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.