YEC Member Spotlight: Russ Oja, Founder, Seattle Windows and Construction, LLC

Russ Oja grew up in Southern California and moved to Seattle, WA in his early twenties where he worked under his uncle in the construction business. A couple years ago, he got involved in the online marketing industry; he helped design and develop an online marketing tool, brandbuddee. As both a cofounder for brandbuddee and Seattle Windows and Construction, he has merged both his interests.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

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The single best piece of advice I can give anyone who is serious about starting a business is to constantly ask yourself: "What is best for the company?" Before you end your day early because it's sunny out, before you spend company money on a new boat for the summer, and before you convince yourself that you're too tired to make those last few customer call-backs, stop and ask yourself: "What is best for the company?"

If you can ask yourself this question while finishing out your day strong, you'll probably do pretty well as an entrepreneur.

What's the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

Letting my guard down and becoming too vulnerable was my biggest mistake. My experience in managing many kinds of workers has led me to believe one thing: do not trust anyone that can harm or de-value your business.

Just make sure you have full control over all aspects of your business. In my case, I learned that I should never again hire one person to oversee the vast majority of any one of my businesses. You have to ask yourself the million-dollar question, "What is best for the company?" Hopefully you will avoid the biggest financial mistake of your career: allowing someone to embezzle from you. Yes, this happened to me.

Lastly, give your employees the space and freedom to work, but just make sure you always have your hand on the reigns.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

I organize and plan out my day. This allows me to wake up and get thinking about what my day has in store for me.

What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

I believe in bootstrapping. I am not one for outside investors. Start off small and grow the business naturally and organically. Don't go out and buy the $80K BMW or the coolest ski boat. I realize image plays an important role in society today, but at the end of the day, when you're bankrupt and over-spending and robbing Peter to pay Paul, those friends you were trying to impress will not be there to help pay your electric bill or mortgage payment. They will be the ones staring at you saying, "What an idiot -- I'm glad I'm not them!"

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Enjoy life and know when to mentally shut off and rest.

What's your definition of success? How will you know when you've finally "succeeded" in your business?

Success, wow, that is a very tough and revolving question. Ten years ago my answer would have been money, lots of money. Now, after having a wonderful child and a great partner, success is more about dividing my time amongst many facets of life: Finances, family, health and business.

Experiencing problems in all of those areas over the last 10 years leads me to believe that success for me is when my bills are paid, I have a smile while I spend the weekend with my loved ones stress-free, my health is in check, and my business is actually operating in the green -- that to me is real success!

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

About YEC

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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