Build. Create. Vision. Disrupt. Those simple words are part of every entrepreneur’s lexicon. Most are driven by the need to do something that’s never been done before. As British playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “[Some] see things and say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?’”
Tomas Gorny is that kind of entrepreneur.
Gorny, a serial entrepreneur and current chairman and CEO of Unitedweb, CEO of SiteLock, a website security company, and CEO of Nextiva, a business communications company, has seen and done it all. He’s succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams. He’s failed miserably. He’s made, lost, and remade millions. Gorny’s secret? He’s unflappable. Sure, building businesses is risky. But Gorny knows you must be willing to take risks to succeed, and if you want to win, you must be willing to fail.
Gorny is the embodiment of the Shakespearian phrase, “past is prologue.” His past—as a 7-year-old in Poland, he told his parents he wanted to move to America and start his own business—led to his present, where he’s driven to create things that haven’t been done before, take risks in innovation, and help businesses succeed. That has set the stage for his future.
Gorny has always wanted to be an entrepreneur. In pursuit of a better education, he moved to Germany at the age of 14 and launched his first computer business while in college. Two months before graduating, Gorny immigrated to the U.S., though he hardly spoke English. Even then he was all about mitigating risks. He says, “The risk was not in not graduating; the risk was in missing the opportunity to come here. I just couldn’t pass it up.”
By the time he was 22, Gorny was a multi-millionaire. At 26, he was nearly broke. That taught him to not set his goals around his net worth. It also taught him that the best investment to make is in yourself—and to never give up. Gorny says, “Building businesses was the only thing I knew how to do.” He lost most of his money in 2001, but in October of that year (using a credit card for startup financing) he launched IPOWER, a web hosting company offering inexpensive and easy-to-build websites to small businesses. The timing was perfect. In 2007, IPOWER merged with Endurance International, which was sold in 2011 for nearly $1 billion.
By that time, Gorny, a self-described “intolerant buyer,” realized building a successful business requires a customer-centric mindset, which is the philosophy he brought to Nextiva, launched in 2008. Of course, starting a business communications company in an industry already dominated by corporate behemoths is risky. But Gorny believed his customer-first approach would help him carve a niche against the larger, more revenue-focused competition. And it did.
Nextiva simplifies communications through innovation and offers “Amazing Service,” giving its customers the ability to create integrated solutions so they can better communicate with their clients and customers. The solution incorporates VoIP, email, chat, surveys, social media management, and customer service management software. It’s all designed to help Nextiva’s clients better understand the motivations and needs of their customers.
Part of Gorny’s success can be attributed to his counter-intuitive thinking, which many would label “risky behavior”. He doesn’t believe entrepreneurs should have exit strategies: “If you are planning for an exit, your mind is focused on the wrong things for your business,” he explains.
And he advises business owners to “believe your own BS—it may turn out to be true someday.” Obviously, he adds, believing is not enough. “You start with an idea, but you need to do something about it. The work is hard. Expect it to be uncomfortable, but only do it if it is also a lot of fun—because if it isn’t, then you cannot expect great results.”
Of course, running several successful businesses is not without its growing pains. Gorny strives to balance taking care of his employees (“because they take care of our customers”) with the tendency to “push people” and stress them out. Ultimately, he says that while it will always cost more money, good things will happen as a result of taking care of people and avoiding shortcuts.
Which brings us to the future. Gorny told Business Insider, “I feel I haven’t done anything yet compared to what my companies will do in the future.”
For Nextiva, that future revolves around combining all communication channels into one platform using AI and machine learning to enable business users to get real-time insight into their customers. The suite of tools is built around powerful workflow automation, and uses predictive modeling capabilities to turn the analyses into actionable steps for businesses.
The Tomas Gorny of today is not all that different from that ambitious, visionary 7-year-old Polish kid, always challenging things around him. Echoing the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, he says, “‘Why’ was my favorite word back then. Actually, it still is.”