While we're quite proud of our growth at trivago, it has not always been easy. We have learned tremendous lessons along the way, some at very painful cost. Every entrepreneur wants to grow their business, but it's critical to do it the right way: with a focus on your customers, your talent and your own humility.
Looking back at our journey that began in 2006 when we were founded by three people, here are four tips to successfully scale and grow your business.
1. Everything starts with the customer.
It's important to remember to continue building products and services that are useful to the users and creating value for them. This will ultimately make you money. Don't lose that focus, even when (especially when) success is kicking in and growing pains force you to focus more on your own operations. Also make sure you keep an eye on what competitors are doing from a customer perspective. How do they differentiate themselves, and what does that mean for your own positioning? This will help you continually adapt to the market to drive further success. On the topic of customer experience, I found a recent article by expert Shep Hyken particularly interesting. He describes customer experience management, or CXM, and why it might be the most important investment a brand can make.
2. Always maintain your focus.
While every good entrepreneur must be a strong multitasker, a great entrepreneur learns how to truly focus. Do one thing at a time. Many opportunities will arise, but the art is to pick the right one and leave the others alone. This may sound unconventional, but it's key to say no to almost everything-- and that takes more courage than saying yes. Innovation expert and angel investor Chris Bray recently wrote a fascinating blog about this topic. He writes about gaining the confidence to walk away from deals that could undercut the value of your products or services.
For example, we at trivago aim to be the leading accommodation-only meta search solution. We have never tried to be all things to all people like other travel providers that offer accommodations, air travel, rental cars, etc. This simple and focused positioning makes it easier to reach customers. In my experience, our advertising has been more effective than most with just two words: "Hotel? trivago." The lesson is to define what you do best and double down on it.
3. Power to the people.
People are the lifeblood of your business, and it's critical to keep it flowing. Although trivago has grown from three people to more than 1,200, we remain true to our startup mentality when we hire talent. We look for people who are hungry and ambitious, and generally focus on recruiting for potential over skills and experience.
As your business grows, be sure to make people and their development part of everyone's job, not just human resources. It's the most important task you have. I really like what leadership expert Kristi Hedges has to say on this subject. She points out that managers need to make people development an expectation throughout the organization-- not an option-- and talk about their own growth goals to encourage others.
At trivago, the three of us on the management board (CEO, CFO, COO) are still personally involved in the hiring process. And while many entrepreneurs dream of having an international business with global offices, we take a different approach. We bring the world to our door, hiring a diverse team from around the world to work in our headquarters in Dusseldorf, Germany.
It's also key to work with a strong mix of internal and external talents. You need to give your talents the opportunity to grow-- but at the same time you want to bring in experience and different, fresh perspectives, leveraging the mistakes other companies have made.
As you hire ambitious talents, be clear with them about what direction to take, then turn them loose and give them room to do great work. Think of this as giving your talents the freedom to run their own mini-businesses inside your organization, which compels them to make their own decisions.
4. Stay modest and grounded.
Humility is vital for any successful entrepreneur. Remain humble, keeping in mind that even if you're growing quickly, that doesn't mean you're doing everything right. Constantly challenge what you do and avoid the habit of believing your own bullsh*t. Always assume your triumphs involve some element of luck.
Tech entrepreneur and investor James Shomar wrote a great piece on founders and humility, reminding us that humility keeps us objective about the true state of our business. It opens us to new ideas and constructive feedback.
Make sure you (and your colleagues) continually attempt to find holes in your strategy and your reasons for success. To that end, everyone in your business should feel entitled to speak up and question decisions-- no matter who they are and what they do.
As a leader, I try to step out of the way and make myself as redundant as possible. This gives me more opportunities to work on the business, instead of being trapped in the business. I can explore more opportunities and give myself and my people space to grow.
It's also important to view failure as an asset-- both yours and your colleagues. Being able to admit when you're wrong is a sign of a true leader, as well as being open to all ideas for improvement. View failure as an asset that improves your focus for going forward.