Angelina Lawton | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Angelina Lawton

Background:  

Angelina Lawton is the founder and CEO of Sportsdigita, an interactive sports agency in Minneapolis that specializes in digital sponsorship, ticketing and fan-engagement products for professional sports teams. Its online presentation software, called Digideck, is used by sales representatives across every segment of the sports industry to help pitch sponsorship opportunities. The company’s clients include more than 300 teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Founder and CEO Angelina Lawton was named to Forbes’ list of “The Most Powerful Women in U.S. Sports 2018.”

The Mistake:

My mistake was not spending the money to hire right. I started my company as an agency, doing one-off websites and microsites. Eventually, one of those products took off, bringing us to where we are today. But our transformation from an agency to a technology company was difficult for me because I was trying to build the plane while I was flying it.

Despite not having a technology background, I was determined to evolve with the needs of my customers. So to save money, I decided to lead the tech team on my own. I was learning on the fly, and my lack of experience hurt us.

The product was good, but it wasn’t at the level it’s at now. We overcompensated by bending over backward on the customer-service side. If someone needed something — no matter what time or day of the week it was — we would cater to that. If we had to do extra work or free work, we would do that, too. Many members of the tech team quit because of this. I wasn’t the right leader for that job.

Thinking I could lead the tech team was a mistake, and it really cost us.

When you’re starting a company and putting your business plan together, spend the money to hire the right people as soon as possible.

The Lesson:

The key lesson in all of this is this: When you’re starting a company and putting your business plan together, spend the money to hire the right people as soon as possible.

When I hired my CTO, everything changed for the better. He has hired a great team, all of whom are working normal hours and maintaining a work-life balance. We’re making more money and have more clients than ever. My only regret is not hiring him earlier — like, right when our technology started taking off.

Don’t be afraid to hire for more than you can afford because in the end, it’s going to come back to you in spades. A lot of people have it backward; because they’re trying to cut corners, they hire the wrong people and end up spending triple or quadruple what they would have spent if they had just hired the right person from the beginning.

I get it: When you’re a startup, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs because you’re still trying just to make payroll. But you’ll save yourself so much more money in the long run if you just hire the right people right away.

Sportsdigita is on Twitter: @sportsdigita.

​Photo courtesy of Sportsdigita