Meet Simon Anderson, EY Entrepreneur of the Year
Today, I have the honor of introducing you to Simon Anderson, CEO of Mission, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner and Managed Cloud Service Provider with deep expertise in launching and leveraging the power of the cloud.
Mission has ranked on Inc. Magazine’s Annual List of Best Workplaces for 2022 and the Inc. 5000 list. Simon was recently awarded the Ernst and Young EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2022 Greater Los Angeles. We caught up with him to get his thoughts on winning the award and how he defines entrepreneurial success.
(This is a long article but worth the read! Simon is such an inspiration to me, and to our entire firm, for the way he and his team run their company.)
You’ve just been named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Greater Los Angeles. How are you feeling about receiving this honor?
I am feeling proud of the Mission team, because it really is a team effort, to build a company, and figure out strategy and execution along the way. It's a good milestone for us. It's definitely a recognition of everything we've built over the last four and a half years.
Is there anything in your background, your upbringing, or previous experiences that sort of predestined you for this path? How did you come to entrepreneurship?
I grew up in Australia, and my parents were both teachers. And so we were always debating world issues and discussing any current affairs. It was a very engaging house, and that made me have a world outlook.
And when we took vacations together, my parents were pretty adventurous. So we would go camping at the coast, and surfing, and hiking, and cross country skiing (yes, Australia does have snow). So I had a very sort of adventurous upbringing. And I think that gave me just the sense that I could make my way through the world.
I've always looked at the way the world is and wondered about how it could be changed for the better overall. So that's probably the foundation. I don't think I thought of myself as an entrepreneur early on. That has definitely evolved, as I’ve gained confidence in my ability to lead people and inspire them, and also to bring people together who can really execute on a business. Because ultimately, it's execution that drives the business forward, in addition to having the vision and the idea.
Can you share some important lessons that you've learned as an entrepreneur?
The first thing that I've learned is that being creative or entrepreneurial does not mean that you can't, at the same time, be disciplined and focused. There can be a bit of a conception out there that entrepreneurs need to be really free flowing and not accountable.
What I've learned, and Crews Consulting has definitely helped me with this, is the discipline around taking a vision, and then translating it into a focus and breaking it down, you know, to the next quarter, and the current year, all the way from sort of looking out even 10 years, then really defining concrete goals that are achievable. And then executing on them.
That is true entrepreneurship, being able to translate the vision and the goals into action. Just because there's process and there's focus and we're measuring ourselves against the specific goals that we set, that doesn't really limit our creativity or vision.
Another big lesson is surrounding myself with people who really are better at their specific expertise than I am. And I know that a lot of people say that, but it's actually kind of hard to execute on. You have to inspire this talent to join the venture, and that takes stating a vision they can believe in, and getting them to believe in you as the leader. At the same time, they are more expert in their domain than you are. It needs really good communication from both sides so you build trust quickly, but through collaboration, you can do something big.
The final lesson is relating to letting go of the day to day as you scale the business. Early on, it’s important to be in the detail, rolling up your sleeves. But Mission Cloud is now over 300 people and over 60 million of net revenue. As that growth happens, you can't be in the weeds the whole time. Being able to trust your team, while having goals and guardrails and data and discipline around decisions, and being prepared to sort of let go, is crucial.
How do you define success?
It's interesting, when I started Mission, I wanted to build this company and go after the cloud market, which really is like modern electricity for businesses. And so it was definitely that image of building a company. But now, I actually think the number one thing great entrepreneurs do is employ hundreds, if not thousands, of people in new industries that just weren't there before. And typically, those jobs are new, and interesting, and well-paid.
With Mission, we have the opportunity to employ maybe tens of thousands of people. We're hiring and recruiting talent from all over the US, not just in the major cities, but you know, rural areas, smaller cities. We've really focused on diversity. So we're hiring a lot of diverse talent in terms of gender identity and race, ethnicity and background. That’s where my head's at now in terms of the lasting value of being an entrepreneur—the ability to take people into a new industry and have them really flourish.
What are the top three things you or your team have done at Mission that have led to the company being where it is today?
We formed the company by bringing together three bootstrapped small companies that had done well without any outside capital. We pulled that group together, which was about 40 people, plus some others I’d brought in, and we made a focused effort to say, “Who do we want to be as a company? What is the brand we want to go to market with, and what's the culture and core values?”
And that was great, because if I had to try and do that by myself, or with a very small group, I don't think we would have ended with the same great outcome in terms of the Mission brand. I also definitely don't think we would have had the core values that we have: Focused on Their Mission, Accountability & Action, Embrace Life, Be Inclusive, Strive for Excellence, and Continuous Growth.
Be Inclusive, in particular, was introduced by Karoline Saffi, our SVP of People and Culture, and it has just been foundational for us, because it's inclusivity from a diversity perspective but also inclusivity of ideas. When new team members join Mission, I do welcome calls with them, and invariably, when I ask what their reason was for joining Mission, they say it was our culture of inclusivity. And the fact that our company reflects the diversity of the US. That's one big thing that has had a huge impact.
The second thing is definitely the operating system that we have. Some of it is based on things that I’d done or learned before, but a lot of it candidly, has come from the work we’ve done with Crews Consulting. Crews really helped us define and focus our system, from our planning to how we then set goals and how we measure the business.
It took a little while for the leadership team to refine and and figure out what should we be looking at in the business to measure success, and then also for us to get better and better at actually setting the right types of objectives and key results (OKRS), so that so that we can achieve them but also they move us forward. But we would not be anywhere near where we are without the overall operating system and Crews Consulting was instrumental in helping us put that in place.
The third thing is really from a vision perspective, and that’s focus. We only specialize in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and software ecosystem. At this point, we only focus on the US market in terms of customers. And although we’ve expanded in the last four and a half years, we started off focused on a very specific customer base as well.
A lot of entrepreneurs get tempted to go too broad too soon. The way I look at it is that horizontal expansion is almost like an admission that you can't succeed well enough in your current focused strategy. For example, we've been asked to go into Canada and sell our solutions and platform and services. Up to this point, we've said no, because there are differences in selling in Canada and the market in the US is incredibly large and deep. So why not just really focus here, and continue to execute really, really well in the US rather than abdicating that? We’ve been disciplined about staying very focused, and that's been the right strategy.
Any parting thoughts for your fellow entrepreneurs out there?
Yes, I would say: take downtime. That's when I have my best a-ha moments, when I've been puzzling over how to solve something. The answers invariably come to me when I am either working out, or traveling for fun, or really doing things other than working in the business.
As an entrepreneur, your brain doesn’t stop puzzling over things. And that distance from the business is key, in order to get clarity around more of the challenging issues that you think are really hard to solve. Don't think that working 80 or 100 hours a week is going to drive success. You've got to get downtime, and let your brain puzzle over things without being in the work environment.