Serhat Pala – President and Founder of RhinoForce

[quote style=”boxed”]I’ve started replacing my daily results goals with activity goals, which I believe are much more realistic and easily attainable and lead to results. [/quote]

Serhat Pala is the President and founder of RhinoForce, a full-service internet marketing agency that provides expertise to help its clients plan and execute their online marketing strategies.

Prior to that, Serhat founded and ran TestCountry, a San Diego-based point of service diagnostic testing solutions company, for several years. Under his management, in 2007 TestCountry was awarded as one of Inc. 500’s fastest growing privately held companies.

Prior to founding TestCountry, Serhat served as a business advisor working with established and early stage companies to turn proven products & services into profitable, high-growth businesses positioned for market leadership. Serhat’s business consulting and commercialization support to clients led to results such as $7 million in government funding for building a high energy battery technology in Russia and commercialization of a small telecommunication technology company that led to it being acquired by a Fortune 500 company.

Prior to working in San Diego, Serhat was a director of strategic planning at Interbank Turkey where he oversaw product and strategic management of retail consumer financial products.

Serhat holds a Bachelor of Economics from Bosporus University and a Masters in Business from San Diego State University. He graduated with honors from both schools. In 2006 Serhat was nominated by the San Diego Business Journal as one of the top influencers in San Diego. In 2008, he was awarded the Commercial Leadership Award of the year by the Turkish American Council.

Where did the idea for RHINO FORCE come from?

RhinoForce started as an internal search engine for niche community websites, way back in 1999. We were trying to build a powerful site search tool for big community sites that had a ton of content to sort through. However, we were a little ahead of our time and the idea failed. Then, I took my team and started building online businesses (online retail businesses, predominantly) for the next 13 years.

Fast forward 13 years and we had multiple online businesses in our group, and some offline businesses that extended out from our online product lines. We had completely drifted away from being an online technology company, and I was focused more on running those businesses than doing the online marketing for them. I found myself not as excited about work and even got bored going to work . After reading Die Empty from Todd Henry, I realized that I had to make a change. I had to pursue my passion, which was marketing, bringing ideas to life, and working with challenges and puzzles. So I took our marketing and web development team and started an online marketing agency that has a heart, and a brain and that is motivated to solve the ever-changing puzzle of online marketing for our clients.

What does your typical day look like?

As for my typical day, I wake up at 5:45 a.m. and read the news for 15 minutes just to get a quick glimpse of what’s going on. I start my work day at 8 a.m. and schedule my most important, high-value work in the first part of the day between 8 – 11 a.m. Most of my catching up type activity and low-value work is done between noon and 3 p.m. At 3, I leave the office and pick up my kids from school and take them to their various activities. I try to spend time with the family between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Then, 7:30 – 8:30 p.m., I fit in one more hour of productive work. After 8:30, I like to wind down, and at the end of the day I read.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I visualize what I need to do to reach an end goal. I sit down and decide what matters and what doesn’t. After all, everything in life is a tradeoff. I visualize what is the end result from that idea and how to get there (and if it’s even worth the effort to pursue that end result). I ask myself what is stopping us from getting to that end result with a particular idea, and how we can overcome those obstacles.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend of cloud computing excites me, because it makes the entire world your office. Our team is pretty spread out around the world, but they all work seamlessly on the same projects thanks to cloud computing

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’ve started replacing my daily results goals with activity goals, which I believe are much more realistic and easily attainable and lead to results. A lot of people will have a goal of getting one new client today, but the fact is we have no real control over results. What we do have control over is our own activities. So, rather than having a result as a goal, I instead have activities as goals, because I can control those. My goal isn’t to get one new client, my goal is to send out 10 well-written and compelling emails and make five engaging phone calls to potential clients. These things I know I can do and if I set these goals and follow through with them, the results will come.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My worst job was being a graduate assistant at college. I helped a few professors do research and read student papers. What I learned from it was to never be surprised by people. The papers I read from the undergraduate students that I helped made me realize that you should never be surprised by how clueless people can really be. Even on school assignments that were critical for them to do well on, I saw people cheat, lie, and curse.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would be more focused. As an entrepreneur I made so many mistakes going after opportunities that I should not have. Going after a good thing is not always good. You should go after the best things for you, not just what is good.

An example for me is not spending the appropriate amount of time gathering together the best possible team. When I first started out, I didn’t realize how important having a great team really is. I was working with a lot of people who were just ok at what they did instead of being great at what they did and I ended up having to fix a lot of mistakes. I also couldn’t put the trust in them that a good team has. So, if I could do it again, I’d definitely spend a lot more time on the interviewing process and putting together the best possible team. It’s well worth it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be curious and read. There is nothing I won’t read. Even People magazine can open up an amazing opportunity for you by showing you a trend that you may not have known about. Never stop reading, and read diversely.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

This is related to what I said for question 6; hiring well. I believe the best time to fire is when you hire. Keep that in mind. You can save time from any aspect of your business. But the place you should never skimp on time is during your hiring process. After all, a business is People using Processes in pursuit of a Goal. But people make processes and goals, not the other way around. So people are the key to the business. By investing time in my hiring process, I ended up hiring people who are stellar in their respective fields and we make a fantastic team. Everybody on the team knows they can trust each other to do a great job because of taking the time to hire well.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I had was being unfocused. It cost me a lot going after so many things at the same time. Now, I stop and ask myself before I do something; “What is this going to cost me?” I’ve come to realize that nothing is free. Even if something doesn’t cost money, it may still cost time and attention and those are much more valuable than money. So, I try to focus my efforts more to use all my resources (including my time) as efficiently as possible.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I really like the potential of 3D printing, so opening a 3D printing shop, particularly in a market that lacks one, is a business venture that is ripe for success. Alternately, selling the filaments that the printers use is an area that will be seeing growth as 3D printers start becoming more common.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I did wrestling in high school. And being a great wrestler was a dream for me. I thought wresting was amazing because it brought strength, athleticism and math (where you can get the best leverage etc.) together.

What software and web services do you use?

I love Basecamp, Google Docs and DropBox.

What do you love about them?

I guess the common theme is wherever. I can reach them from wherever, whenever and however I want. This stems from my love of cloud computing. They help to keep the RhinoForce team, which is pretty spread out, all on the same page with our clients, who are also based in a lot of different places.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

This one easy. I would recommend Up Your Business: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization by Dave Anderson to anyone that is an entrepreneur or wants to be an entrepreneur. I think it is a must read for any entrepreneur because it is written as a manual for entrepreneurship, especially if you are just starting, or changing your business. It is a complete, practical book.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

For this one, I can’t be objective. It is my wife, Zeynep Ilgaz, who you’ve featured before. She has been the great influencer for me in every aspect of my life. She is an amazing life partner. She is smart and an excellent entrepreneur herself. I have learned so many things from her. One thing I can say I specifically learned from her is to be more focused. Do what matters … The day may hold 24 hours, but you only need 2 hours to make that a great day if you are focused enough. She has been the inspiration and motivation for me all along and I think anyone can learn from her experiences.


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