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Leadership Lessons: Make People Happy

Tony DiMatteo, co-founder and CEO of AutoLotto

There's no one "right" way to lead a business. Today's leaders have a lot of wisdom to impart about managing the modern workforce, because each one approaches leadership in his or her own unique way. Every week, Business News Daily will share a leadership lesson from a successful business owner or executive.

  • The leader: Tony DiMatteo, co-founder and CEO of AutoLotto
  • Time in current position: 2 years
  • Tony's philosophy: "We're all in the 'making people happy' business."

Long before co-founding AutoLotto, I learned many lessons in business. The most important of those lessons wasn't specific to the tech industry, where I have spent the last 10-plus years of my career. It wasn't a certain skill or meeting the right people. The hardest, and most valuable, thing I've learned is this; your success, as an individual or as a company, is dependent on and is achieved by making people happy. The more people you make happy, and the happier you make them, the more successful you'll be.

I started my career as an IT guy in San Francisco when was 19 years old. I could fix any computer or networking problem a client might have, faster and better than my peers. I was always on time; my work was beyond reproach; I often uncovered and repaired issues that the clients didn't even know they had — and every one of my clients hated me. I was always on the verge of being fired and I couldn't figure out why.

How could my clients hate me when I was so good technically? They pay me to fix their stuff, so clearly I was qualified. What more did they want from me?

After almost being fired for the fourth or fifth time I had an epiphany, which has informed every business and personal decision I've made since then. I thought to myself, "What if I'm not in the 'fixing things' business, but actually the 'making people happy' business? What would happen if instead of my goal being simply to fix things, I changed my goal to make my clients happy through fixing things?"

I began focusing on how I communicated with my clients. I made sure there was never a time when they didn't know what was going on. When I was successful in fixing the problem, I spent the time to explain to them why it happened, how I fixed it, and that if it happened again I'd be back to make it right. More than anything, I invested in them as people, spending time connecting and working through their frustrations, both technical and otherwise.

Almost instantly, my clients became my biggest advocates. They referred new business to me and became loyal to me, over and above the company I worked for — because people don't by things from companies; they buy them from people.

There is a universal law of reciprocity at work: When you make someone happy or give them some kind of exceptional value, they have an equal desire and willingness to make you happy in return. So the more people you make happy, the more successful you'll be.

The real secret is that almost every company in any industry, whether it sells products or services to consumers or businesses, is actually in the "making people happy" business, and they just don't know it.

At AutoLotto, making people happy is more than just a core value; it's a responsibility. It's the lens in which we view our entire business through, and every decision we make is derived from that precept. It's the standard we hold ourselves to and the measuring stick for our success.

But it's not enough to just make our users happy. If our employees aren't inspired and passionate about working together, we'll never have happy users. Amazing things happen when you have a company full of dedicated people working to make our users and their teammates happy. A happiness-centric culture becomes a collaborative, communicative and compassionate place where people love working and aren't afraid to be their best selves. 

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Taylor.