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Start-up to Sustainable: Lessons to Learn

Start-up to Sustainable: Lessons to Learn

A successful entrepreneur makes the transition into a sustainable company with blood, sweat, tears and a fourth element: lessons. I started my business 37 years ago and have learned three major lessons that made a pivotal difference in the company’s growth.

LESSON No. 1: Smart entrepreneurs understand their personal strengths and weaknesses.
This can be one of the biggest challenges — who wants to admit they are not capable of moving the business to the next level? Take the ego out, let your mind reflect and get candid feedback from others. There are many leadership inventories out there that can help identify strengths and weaknesses. Get started.

New entrepreneurs must also know the challenges and possibilities that will face the company as it grows. There are corporate life cycles that each company evolves through, and different phases require different skills. Is it possible to grow into all the phases? Absolutely, as long as an entrepreneur can move from creator to manager to leader. Can everyone do it? No! But, the smart ones understand personal limitations, corporate life cycles and how to handle both.

LESSON No. 2: Founders who continuously learn are more successful.
The desire to learn not only helps to understand self-limitations but also teaches best business practices that have worked for others. There is never a day that goes by that I do not read and learn something. I have been reading, learning and doing since the moment I knew what I wanted my business to be. Get to work.

LESSON No. 3: The CEO who delegates is the one who stays at the top.
I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many very successful business people in different industries. I’ve been in roundtable meetings with some of the best business minds. I have heard many presenters who have created strong businesses or have studied strong businesses and read the works of great leaders.

There seems to be a common thread amongst all of these successful leaders that catapults them into higher levels of growth. And here it is: the ability to delegate or, to put it more simply, the ability to trust.

Many years ago before I started Gainesville Health & Fitness, I was managing a 1,500-square-foot health club in Gainesville. For some reason, and I can’t explain why, I asked myself this question, “How does Wilford Marriott run so many Marriotts?” I dwelled on it and realized the only way I could grow was to create other leaders under me. Leaders who could develop different parts of the company. Leaders who could give me the freedom to spend time thinking about the future of the company instead of being consumed by daily operations of the business. And, I have to admit, it wasn’t easy.

Once I started my own company, I remember running all 10 departments from finance to management and everything in between. Then, I posed another question to myself, “Do I believe I can run all 10 of these departments better than one person could run one of them?” So, I delegated. I found I could run a department better than one person — for a while. As others became focused, developed expertise, and built their divisions, they found more success and then had to delegate as well — they needed the skills of a leader. It was my duty to teach the power and process of delegation.

Over time, I delegated every department of my company. I meet with all of them regularly to keep us working together to reach our mission and all of our goals.

Delegating has given me the opportunity to focus on growing the business. In other words, it brings the ability to work on the business instead of simply working in the business.

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Though there are many parts to a company’s success, I believe the only way to grow — the only way to feel we have really accomplished something of value — is to grow our people. This, in turn, grows the business. The critical elements are trust and the belief that your goal as the leader is to make your people better than you.

As our company has grown over the years, all of these important business practices have become part of our culture, the most enduring and differentiating aspect of any organization.

Knowing who you are and what you’re really good at, continuous learning and the ability to trust are three lessons that have helped me go from starting a company to sustaining a successful organization.

JOE CIRULLI is the owner and founder of Gainesville Health & Fitness Center. Since 1978, Cirulli has been focused on helping people become healthy and building a company culture that inspires people to become their best. He is a past board chair of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and was featured on the cover of Inc. Magazine. To find out more about Joe, visit

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