Monday, March 8, 2010

Q&A with entrepreneur Lena West

For my third Q&A with an entrepreneur, I spoke with Lena West, founder and CEO of xynoMedia. XynoMedia is a company that deals with social media consulting, both the business and technology sides. Essentially, xynoMedia shows companies how to use social media — blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — and the Internet to their advantage.

Lena is a very savvy, forward-thinking businesswoman, and her ideas about entrepreneurship are different from most others I've heard — a refreshing and welcome change. Here's our Q&A exchange:

Rachel Wise: Why specifically do you think you are considered an entrepreneur?

Lena West: I guess because I have a business and I started a business. I fit the definition. My definition of an entrepreneur is someone who has founded not just one business, but multiple businesses.

RW: Please briefly describe xynoMedia.

LW: We are a social media consulting and strategy firm. We work with business and help them to use social media to increase visibility, connect with their target markets and indirectly increase sales.

RW: Is xynoMedia your first start-up/business?

LW: It's not my first business, but it was my first start-up. (I've started other businesses since.) I was co-owner of a restaurant before I started xynoMedia (in 1997).

RW: How did you come up with the idea for it?

LW: I started as a consultant. I was a full-time, on-site corporate consultant, and I realized rather quickly I would be more profitable if I had more than one client. I decided to take the services I was offering for just that on-site consulting and offer them to multiple clients.

RW: How did you turn your idea for xynoMedia into a business plan? How long did it take?

LW: I don't know that I ever turned it into a business plan, at least not initially. I just thought companies need these services, they need to understand IT, they need someone who understands their business. There are a lot of IT people who understand IT but don't understand how business operates. I'm someone who happens to understand both. So I thought, 'Wow, there's a need for this.'

I have a gift for seeing a business need and being able to figure it out because I'm a strategist — that's how my mind works.

RW: How long did it take to become profitable after officially launching xynoMedia?

LW: About a year or two. For me it was faster because we don't have traditional overhead expenses. I built this company a bit differently, in that I didn't want people to have to choose between whether they would stay home and take care of their children if they were sick, or take care of sick family members, and coming to a job. So we're totally a virtual company. There's a main office, but nobody reports in to work. We just all get our work done, we're all responsible adults, and I don't micromanage anyone.

RW: How did you initially fund your idea? What eventually became your revenue model?

LW: Initially it was funded by my pockets and consulting. I took about $50,000 that I had in savings, and I put that into building the company. We never have received a dime of outside funding, not even like a loan from a relative. We've always been a boot-strap company — what we earn, we reinvest in the company.

As far as a revenue model, we've always been a service-based business, and this year we are taking that to a different level. We're going to be offering some information products people can purchases — some books and audio CDs and stuff like that.

RW: How did you get the word out about xynoMedia?

LW: We never did any advertising. I think I took one ad way, way, way back when. I just realized that if you do good work, and you're really passionate about what you do, and you have happy customers, they'll tell other people. The reality is, unfortunately, in IT, a lot of times people don't show up and they don't deliver as promised. And I knew, if nothing else, I'd be able to do those things. I would be able to deliver on budget, on time, and I'd be able to provide top-notch service to our clients and help them look at IT from a business-case scenario.

Initially, it was word-of-mouth, but now I do a lot of speaking and writing.

RW: How many people went into creating and maintaining xynoMedia? Do you now have a consistent staff?

LW: I went into creating and maintaining xynoMedia — for years it was just me. I had some consultants and stuff like that. But now we have a consistent staff, and we've hired a couple of people. We have developers, assistants, an operation person, business-developing person.

RW: Who was your competition, and how did you manage to stay ahead?

LW: I don't even know. I never think in terms of competition. I think it comes from a scarcity mindset. To think that someone is in competition with you mean that there isn't enough business to be had, and I believe there is enough business for everyone. I never paid attention to the competition — I was my own competition. I stayed in my lane and I just focused on how can we be a better company? How can we be better?

Certainly there's something to be said about knowing what's going on in your industry and who the players are. But, in terms of identifying them and trying to beat them at their own game, I just really believe in playing your own game and playing that game really, really, really well. And that's easy to do when you're passionate about your topic.

RW: Is xynoMedia continuing to grow? If so, by how much?

LW: We're definitely continuing to grow. It's absolutely safe to say we're growing by 20% every single year.

RW: Where is xynoMedia today? Do you still maintain it?

LW: I'm the CEO, I'm still involved. I'm doing other things, and certainly there are other poeple in the company who have more responsibilty. I'm not afraid to delegate once I find the right people. But we're a growing company. We're about to change our brand, change our company name, launch a new Web site, so we have some really exciting things coming down the pike. We're about to launch some information products, so we'll have some products in the mix with our services.

RW: What are you most proud of?

LW: The fact that we've been in business for 13 years and never had a dime of outside financing. And we have a company culture that just underscores that. We don't feel indebted to shareholders or people. We don't feel we have to be anything other than who we are and how we show up.

RW: How much of your success would you attribute to your education, and how much would you attribute to trial and error and hands-on experience?

LW: Well, as far as education, I've only had one year of college. Everything I know is self-taught. If we're talking about formal education, I'd say none. But if we're talking about life education, everything. I've learned constantly from dealing with clients and being out there and understanding business. And there's still stuff I don't get and don't understand. But I'm a big believer in hiring people to help me with stuff like that.

RW: What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs?

LW: Pick one thing, do it well, know who you’re serving and serve them really, really, really well. Like, just pick one thing that you can be the best at, and just rock out in that category, and don't worry what everyone else is doing. Know what's going on, of course, but run your own race.

RW: Is there anything else you think would be helpful to know?

LW: Sign your own checks. I don't care if you're a multibillion-dollar business, sign your own checks.

(Photo courtesy of

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