How I Made My First Million
Pavel Skřivánek is the founder and owner of the Czech translation agency Skřivánek, a global company that provides language courses and translation services not only in the Czech Republic, but all over the world. Since its foundation in 1994, the agency has expanded into 17 countries, ranging from Great Britain to Brazil, and in addition to the private sector, its clients include the European Union and the United Nations. Today Skřivánek records annual revenue in excess of half a billion Czech crowns.
The quality that drives me is a constant desire for new things and innovations. For that reason, I’m not afraid of making mistakes. I have come to believe that mistakes are only avoided by those who never attempt anything new.
Do What You Do Best
My entry into the business world was actually a giant leap into the unknown. I was fresh out of university and had been employed for about a month; but I wasn’t what you’d call a very satisfied employee. The pay wasn’t the best and I was also faced with a two-hour commute every day.
After a while, a friend suggested I try translating. I could speak Russian, English, German and French, and I had already translated some texts at university and enjoyed it, so I thought it was a good idea. At first I tried working for existing agencies, but with time the desire to follow my own path took hold.
It was the wild 1990s, freedom was in the air and we all longed to be entrepreneurs. It makes me smile today when I recall the ‘punk’ world it was back then. But to this day, I consider the fact that I trusted my instincts and relied on my knowledge to be the best decision I have ever made.
Risk (Sometimes) Pays Off
At the beginning of any business endeavour, inspiration is immensely important. Today it is much simpler in terms of business models and availability of information, but back then the word start-up was not commonplace, and knowledge about how to make one happen was even less so. I bought several books on the subject of starting a business and hoped that I would not get started just to end up quickly finished. Young and full of ideals, I jumped in at the deep end of the business pool with the assumption that I would quickly learn to swim.
I sold my flat and bought an advertisement in the Yellow Pages. (If younger readers aren’t sure what I’m referring to, they’ll have to google it.) I had practically become homeless, and since I had nowhere to live, I initiated my start-up from a friend’s flat.
Always Offer Something Extra and Work Hard
I won a few customers and the number gradually increased, so in 1994 I hired my first two employees and founded Překladatelský servis Skřivánek s. r. o. (Skřivánek Translation Services). Revenue at that time was in the range of a few dozen thousand crowns — just enough for us to get by, but it gradually began to grow.
It was essential that I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I started my days at 5 o’clock in the morning and worked until 10 at night, partly because I offered express translations, which were an entirely new idea at the time. I also accepted a large number of orders and wasn’t certain that I’d manage to complete them all, but I just kept taking the plunge, doing the absolute maximum to make sure that my customers were satisfied. I am still convinced that this commitment is critically important when starting a business, in order to be successful and make your first, but by no means last, million.
Choose People Wisely
It sounds like a cliché, but the people you surround yourself with are key to the operation of every company. I had some relatively negative personnel experiences, particularly in the early stages. But we learn from our mistakes, and if you have bad experiences with people more than once, you might try looking for the problem in yourself and your own choices.
It happens to everyone of course. I don’t know anyone who has never once gotten their fingers burnt. The important thing is how you respond to difficult situations. The loyalty of your colleagues guarantees not only the smooth operation of your company, it will also help you to sleep at night.
Respect and Humility
I base work relationships principally on etiquette and decent behaviour, regardless of whether I’m talking to a main investor or members of my staff. Human decency is a strong foundation for work relationships, and I consider it a building block for all of my decisions.
I’ve been fortunate that some of the people who joined me when I was starting up the business have stayed in my life through the present day, and one of them is now in charge of the entire company. For that I’m very happy.
Not Just Work, But Also Relaxation
My role models include Albert Einstein, but I identify most with Jan Werich (a 20th-century Czech actor and writer). I think that what we mainly have in common is that he, like I, gained life experience from practice, and yet was not afraid to rely on his instincts.
I am inspired by his famous words: “If someone does not drink when he has wine, if someone does not eat the grapes from his vine, if a married man does not kiss his wife and avoids having fun in life, take to him a whip and a cane, for he is not a person, he is insane.”
Today I seek enjoyment in life and keep my involvement in the daily operations of the company to a bare minimum. I tend to concentrate now on long-term planning and visioning that will direct the company into the future.
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