Five Things We’ve Learned In Our Five Years As A Company

by Meghan Kelly

Aug 18, 2023

Posted in Culture

Formada co-founder Meghan Kelly is here to help you solve your biggest healthcare marketing challenge.

Happy Birthday, Dear Formada. Happy Birthday to You.

“My brain hurt like a warehouse/It had no room to spare/I had to cram so many things/To store everything in there” 

Those are lyrics to David Bowie’s classic song, “Five Years,” and while that song is very much about the coming apocalypse in the narrator’s world and not about what it’s like to build a business, the above couplets are a pretty accurate representation of the latter. 

We had so much to learn about how to make Formada the best business possible. We’re still learning every day. Every accomplishment leads to a newer, bigger goal — new opportunities surface, new ways in which we can grow our talent and better serve our clients. 

A full-fledged, fledgling small-to-medium-sized business. And growing.

It’s incredible that it’s already been five years since Formada began. As of now we officially can no longer refer to ourselves as a startup. We made it over the hump. Now, we can call ourselves a “small-to-medium-sized business” or “fledgling enterprise” better yet, “full-fledged enterprise.” 

(I’ll let you know what fits best at a later date.) 

But what we might call ourselves is beside the point. In these past five years, we’ve experienced, accomplished, and changed so much!

We always try our best to be operating in a forward motion. We try to not gaze backwards for the wrong reasons. But sometimes some measured reflection can give us a clearer picture of where we’re headed. 

In celebration of five years of Formada, here are five valuable things that we’ve learned. 

You’ll Never Be Perfectly Ready. Just Get Started. 

The job I had before starting Formada was in a privately owned healthcare-based startup. In the decade-plus that I worked there, I was a part of an organization that had experienced incredible growth — from just a few employees when I started to hundreds by the time I left. In fact, it was going through the process of being sold for an incredible sum a short while before breaking out on my own. 

The point is that getting to be a part of this type of environment was incredibly special. I began my tenure there interviewing for one job, talking the founder into hiring me for an entirely different job, and, over the years, created a digital agency within the company — one that attracted real talent and made real money. 

And due to the private nature of the company, we had room to experiment, we were expected to innovate. I met so many wonderful people and was able to do so many incredible things. 

You’ll know when it’s time to do your own thing. Don’t be afraid to act.

But there was a ceiling. I knew that I was capable of more, and I also knew that my version of more didn’t fit within the parameters of this particular business any longer. It was time to break out on my own, but taking the leap was hard. I was respected, well compensated, and comfortable. But I wasn’t fulfilled. 

Historically, I’ve been a very safe person when it comes to certain types of risk, especially financial risk. However, I knew that the only way to get what I wanted was to create it for myself. So, despite the voices in my head telling me to stay in the safe life that I was living, I quit my job, made myself uncomfortable, and forced myself to rise to the occasion. 

That’s an inherent part of the lesson. Formada wouldn’t have worked if it were a side gig. It had to be the thing. Making certain sacrifices — time, attention, financial — put pressure on me to make this work. I had to keep showing up. I still have to keep showing up. That’s the gig. 

Thank goodness I wasn’t going it alone. Speaking of…

Founders Set the Tone. Choose Your Partners Wisely. 

Garrett and I were colleagues for many years before we started Formada. The last of those years before we left our corporate jobs, he and I shared an office. Not only did this give us the opportunity to get to know each other on a professional level, but on a personal level, as well. 

As time went on, Garrett and I collaborated on more and more projects, and would confide in one another from time to time that we were getting more than a little antsy about where we were professionally. 

We both had the entrepreneurial spirit, but neither of us saw ourselves as solopreneurs. It was evident that our skill sets complemented each other, and so we began to explore the possibility of breaking out on our own. 

You are who you align yourself with. That’s your brand. Never forget.

Being colleagues was what made this possible. I saw how he operated, how he treated team members who he managed, served clients, and solved problems. He had a strict ethical code that he followed, one that he abided by for himself while not putting those expectations on others. 

Simply put, I trusted him. And he trusted me. Sounds simple, but there are few things more valuable than that in the world of business. 

On that foundation of trust, Garrett and I were able to create a vision for our fledgling business, one that we were able to turn into something real, and since then, our trust for one another has only grown. 

When one of us is down, the other picks them back up. We debate, we celebrate, we forge ahead, together. 

Being a business owner is tough. Who you surround yourself with matters. Choose your partner wisely. 

Culture Is Everything.

Both Garrett and I had several years of experience in building teams and managing people. In that time, we learned a lot about leadership. 

One of those things is that leadership sets the tone. It’s not the team’s job to motivate me. It’s our job as leaders to find ways to inspire the team, protect them from distractions, and help them make space to do great things. 

Being that we’re a fully remote company makes this all the more important. When we’re collaborating on projects and in team meetings together, I feel a responsibility to pay close attention to more than just the project updates we’re providing each other. 

The little things can end up being big things. Ignore them at your own risk.

Body language, microexpressions, things being said and unsaid — I need to be able to read between the lines, gas the team up, and push our energy in the right direction so that our team operates and feels like a team. 

It’s one thing for us to say that we’re building a business that is different from the standard, stale top-down corporate approach, and it’s an altogether different thing for us to actually make that a reality for our team. 

They can’t do great work for our clients without having absolute faith in who Garrett and I are as leaders. We have to be unflappable but approachable, knowledgeable and receptive, decisive and considerate, often in the same conversation. 

Ultimately, we want to foster leaders who will in turn foster new leaders, and that all starts with creating and nurturing a great company culture. I’d like to think that, at our best, we’re headed in the right direction. 

Make Decisions Quickly. Make Adjustments As Necessary.

Have you ever heard the expression, “The more you think, the more you stink?” It’s perhaps a slight oversimplification of the entrepreneurial process, but there’s a whole lot of truth that lies within those eight words. 

This concept is very much related to the “just get started” idea I spoke of earlier. There are so many different ways in which you can approach the solving of a problem, but you’re never going to know what the right solution is until you take action.  

A lot of people will hem and haw, waste valuable time, and fatigue themselves and their teams due to indecision. You have to be willing to take risks, make decisions, and take action on those decisions. 

Don’t be afraid to be wrong. You’re going to be wrong a lot. That’s okay.

The truth is, a lot of those decisions will be wrong. But you’ll learn a lot from making the wrong choices. One of my mentors calls this process “Catch and Correct.” You make choices, assess the landscape of the business, and fix any problems that might arise. Then you move on. 

Over time, you’ve honed a brand new skill. You’ve gotten better at making quick decisions. You’ve gotten better at “trusting your gut” because you’ve gained valuable experiences to draw from.  

This is also why you surround yourself with talented people — not to abdicate responsibility, but to get their valuable insight, assess their feedback in accordance with whatever you’re thinking, and then forge ahead. 

Again, everything that you’re doing in the business is being watched by your team. Your job is, in part, to model the behavior you want to see in your team, because everyone is representing the company’s brand in everything that they do. 

You want your team to be confident in their decision making and insightful in their assessment of things. You don’t want them to panic in the face of adversity or make irrational decisions, but you do want them to take calculated risks where appropriate. It’s up to you as a leader to show them how to do that. 

You Can’t Take Care of the Business If You Don’t Take Care of Yourself.

Starting a business is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. It requires so much of your time, attention, and energy. In order to show up in the way that I need to — for our clients, our team, and for myself — I learned very early on that I needed to start investing in myself in an entirely different way. 

The founder experience can be all-consuming. It can be really exciting, but it can also be one that makes you feel anxious, depleting, and lonely. And this business isn’t the only thing I have in my life. I want to be able to give my all to this business and still show up for my family and myself in the way that I want to in other aspects of my life. This can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes. 

You’re physical, mental, and emotional health are invaluable. Invest in them however you can.

In order to alleviate that pressure, I started seeing a personal trainer a few years ago, and though in the past I never would have assumed it, lifting heavy weights and challenging myself has done wonders for me, mentally and physically. 

I also see a counselor, as well as meet up regularly with mentors and colleagues who I either can relate to professionally or get guidance from — sometimes all you need is a gentle nudge from someone you respect in order to feel like you’re headed in the right direction. 

And on top of that, I make a concerted effort to unplug from the business, be present with my family and friends, travel, and have new experiences in my personal life that will ultimately fuel new possibilities in my professional life. 

Without these things, I really don’t know how anyone could navigate the experience of owning a business and not succumb to the many stresses you’re faced with on a daily basis. 

Taking care of yourself isn’t a selfish act. You really can’t take care of anyone or anything else without investing in you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

It’s really, really hard to believe that it’s already been five years since Garrett and I started Formada. But when I reflect on all that we’ve accomplished, it makes me incredibly proud of the business that we’ve built — we have a wonderful team, and an incredible roster of clients. 

I’m so grateful to be doing this, and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to reflect on what we’ll have accomplished over these next five years. If the past is prologue, then I’ll have quite a story to tell. See you then. 


Get in touch with the Formada Team