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How I Almost Let a Big Company Destroy Mine

It might seem like a dream, but having a big company coming after you could take your eyes off the ball.
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Whether you're just starting out or trying to get that big pop of growth, getting your company to the next level can be stressful. Add on to that the necessary responsibilities such as paying bills and making payroll.

It'll drive you to entertain almost anything, even if it might not be good for your company.

Here's a case in point: Over the past 13 years, my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, has been approached by dozens of companies that wanted to acquire us or "partner" with us. One company, in particular, would only consider the former if we did the latter. My team was enamored that this large, public company with millions of customers would be remotely interested in our little gang. But they weren't experts in email marketing, and they really wanted to offer it.

What did they want? They wanted us to rebuild our technology and create a new email marketing product so that it "fit" into theirs. Not an easy task, but doable for us.

So what happened? It took us off of our game. We lost focus on growing our core business--the most important thing of all--for the "dream" and lost a ton of growth that year because we let our existing product fall behind the competition. As a result, we lost customers.

We were small, so most of our people needed to work on this project. In hindsight, what we should have done was ask the big, public company to pay or share in the development costs with us. That way, we could have hired up to keep an eye on our core business.

We also gave the big, public company the keys and let them drive the project. They convinced us that they knew their customers better than we did. Bad choice. We should have driven the product because email marketing is what we do for a living and essentially why they wanted us in the first place.

We bet the farm, and lost. As it turned out, we knew how to service their customers better than they did, but that's not what they thought. In fact, when we really got down to why their customers weren't loving our product, we uncovered that their target small business customer would never have used our services anyway.

The next time a big company came a callin' and wanted to do a try-before-you-buy partnership (and it happened again and again), I either agreed to do it as long as most of the work happened on their side, or flat-out told them no, it wouldn't work for us.

It took years. But when we were acquired last year, by Deluxe Corp., I knew that we had a parent company that truly valued us for being experts at what we do. Deluxe officials "got us." They knew we had a talented team.

If you've got a big company coming after you, think twice--no, 10 times--before you give in. It might seem like a dream, but it could just take you off your game.

Last updated: Jun 2, 2014

JANINE POPICK

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and social media marketing tools for small businesses. The company was ranked No. 4,882 on the 2013 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick




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