When even the optimists among us see volatility on the economic horizon, it's a good time to revisit some specific good business fundamentals. After all, no matter what part of the cycle we're currently in, good fundamentals will lead to good ongoing business practices, and provide us with a greater chance to succeed over the long term. With that in mind, here are five things to think about with respect to your current business, next startup, or potential investment:
1. Data -- if you're a reader of Inc., you've probably heard the word "data" thrown around quite a bit. Don't write it off as a mere buzzword though! Understanding data in three key contexts is critical in today's business climate: 1) how can data be used to effectively grow a business, understand customers or give yourself a competitive advantage 2) is there a secondary data play? (for example, we'd consider Instacart to be one of the biggest data grabs of all-time given they will have comprehensive data on one of the most ubiquitous consumer behaviors, grocery shopping, and that data is incredibly valuable to big CPG companies who could change their go-to market strategies and new product pipelines based on it) 3) how can data preserve capital by helping you understand relative success or failure more quickly and provide insight into how to scale the business efficiently
2. "Top of the Funnel" -- many smart, successful businesses have come up with very creative ways to acquire and engage customers at the top of the funnel in a not so obvious way. A great example is Glassdoor, which was very smart in initially creating a site that allowed consumers to rate their employers, but knowing all along the business they were in was selling products and services to HR professionals. Think creatively about whether there is a unique, creative way to engage customers in a less obvious fashion to achieve the end goals of building the most defensible business you can.
3. Scaling -- no business has a crystal ball, but if we had one, the ability to scale without friction would be the first thing we'd try to predict. Too many people fail to think far enough in advance and ask themselves "If successful, how does this business scale and what does it need to scale in terms of capital, HR, etc?" Uber is the textbook example of a company that could scale very efficiently in terms of capital and time because it is basically a software company with few employees (drivers are 1099 contractors) plus no real assets, therefore it scales exceptionally well. Look for business ideas that can scale quickly, efficiently and with the least amount of capital (especially in a tough funding environment).
4. What Success Looks Like -- not all businesses are created equal in terms of the multiples paid, whether it is a winner take all or multiple winner market, who the acquirers are or other exit scenarios, and what the potential return on invested capital is over what time frame is. This last point is critical because there are so many great industries and great ideas that scale quickly and with less capital than ever before, so if your idea doesn't check the box on all these things you might be wasting your time and capital.
5. Disciplined Execution -- when capital flows at a record pace, companies often find themselves behaving in a less disciplined manner and putting extreme growth above all other factors. Creating a sustainable business model with profitable unit economics can sometimes fall by the wayside. We've seen many business get back to basics by honing in on marketing strategies, tightening and expanding margins, and really focusing on product/market fit knowing the capital wouldn't be as cheap or readily available moving forward. These companies will be best positioned to access growth capital and will be better off long-term.