Podcast Episode 3 Recap: Stephen Cilley of Ataraxis

Meet Stephen Cilley, founder and CEO of Ataraxis, a professional employment organization (PEO). After missing the PEO solution he needed for his other businesses, Stephen launched Ataraxis to give business owners and leaders what he was missing: the tools to successfully outsource the management of human resources, employee benefits, and payroll.

In this episode, Stephen shares about his experiences dropping out of school, starting a career in sales, and how he ended up being a serial entrepreneur running two businesses, including Ataraxis.

Here are some of the key learnings from his episode:

Provide Real Value

In this episode, Stephen compares technology to tools in a tool bag. If you give people a hammer but they don’t know what a hammer does, they’re going to hit everything and cause a lot of problems. The same goes for software: if you give people a program to use, but they don’t know how to use it, well then you’re not doing very much for them.

At Ataraxis, Stephen wanted to make sure that they were doing the work for them, so customers weren’t finding themselves hammering away with no direction. Instead, they could go on with their days and spend time focusing on growing their business.

Create a Solution that Hasn’t Been Done Before

Stephen first came across the idea to create Ataraxis when he couldn’t find the solution he was looking for. He wanted a PEO that would do everything for his company; one that didn’t require hiring a new employee and one with low friction.

As a serial entrepreneur, Stephen had the benefit of trying out his new PEO company on one of his already existing businesses. This way, he could work out how exactly the PEO company would work. Stephen jokes that an added bonus was that he couldn’t get fired by his first clients.

Look for Different Skill Sets

According to Stephen, employers lack a crucial focus on secondary skill sets. Secondary skill sets are the skills that are not most important, but can make a huge difference and serve as differentiators from one applicant to the other.

Looking for secondary skill sets is something Stephen actively practices at Ataraxis. For instance, although there’s no direct correlation between retail experience and what Ataraxis does, finding candidates with retail experience is one of Stephen’s top priorities when looking for new talent. Why? Because retail experience means the candidate knows how to put the customer first.

Follow the 80% Rule

Entrepreneurs may relate to wanting to have a hand in everything. Unfortunately, this is not always the most productive and best development strategy. In fact, putting your hands in every area of your business will probably hinder your growth exponentially. Stephen shared how he learned as a young CEO that “if you’re going to do it all yourself, then you’re never going to grow past yourself.”

He found that his perfectionism wasn’t allowing his managers to grow because he wanted to do things exactly his way, and that meant he’d have to do it. In turn, he came up with his own formula: As long as his leaders could do the work at least 80% as strong as he did, they were good.

Understand Your Skill Set

Stephen says it best, “Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean that you’re probably the best at doing everything. And probably, you’re only really good at a couple of things.” Business owners wear many hats, but their skills won’t fit perfectly in every role. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you better understand what areas of your business you should consider outsourcing.

Awesomely enough, Stephen has another formula for figuring this one out. He would spend a weekend working on whatever administrative work he needed to complete. After finishing up, he’d calculate his revenue growth based on how much more money he’d need to make in order to hire someone else to do what he hated to do. Essentially, he used the tedious tasks he hated to motivate himself to work harder.

Think of Yourself as a Sales Person

At the end of every episode, we ask our guests, “What’s the factor?” Stephen says that his factor is starting in sales. Because he started as a sales person in his first job and when he first started Ataraxis, Stephen had experience that helped him drive revenue. He attributes his positive attitude and customer service focus to his sales background.

Stephen upholds that every CEO should try out sales or go join their sales department to understand what it’s all about, because having a sales background has changed the way he leads and runs his business.

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