What's the old joke about startup founders? They sleep like babies... because they wake up crying every two hours.
So how can you grow your business past those terror-filled early stages?
The following is from Ludovic Ulrich, Head of Startup Relations, Salesforce. He most recently served as VP of Business Development at UP Global (Startup Weekend, Startup America, Startup Digest, Next), a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurship through communities in more than 100 countries and is now part of the Techstars family.
As a startup founder, sleepless nights of tossing and turning over hiring the right people, building products customers love, and scaling the company's technology and team happen more often than restful ones.
It's easy to get sidelined by short-term thinking when knowing that the next round of funding is crucial to keeping the lights on. And the odds are daunting -- 50% of new businesses fail within five years. Failing to consider a long-term strategy will not only keep you up at night, but will prevent you from becoming a great company, whether you're in the build stage or poised for rapid growth.
So, as high school and college graduation season comes to a close, I'd like to provide startup founders and entrepreneurs with a few words of wisdom on how to "graduate" your business to new levels of success with these three principles to guide you along the way:
Create a Customer-Obsessed Culture
As to the first principle, creating a customer-obsessed culture -- to me -- is all about establishing a laser focus on their needs. In this Age of the Customer, as defined by Forrester, consumers are in control as never before.
Armed with smartphones, unlimited access to information (including competitive pricing) and vast, interconnected social networks, you now need to differentiate based on the overall customer experience and the quality of your company versus one or two product features.
In fact, according to Walker's Customers 2020 Report, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. As a founder, embrace this reality. Failure to do so will result in you flunking your market. Commit to creating a customer-obsessed organization focused on the experience they have with all aspects of your company. The experience with you and your firm has to feel personal.
From sales to support to marketing touch-points, everyone across the company must buy into this philosophy for it to work. No exceptions.
Invest in the Right Technology to Connect to Customers and Scale
Next, invest in the right technology to make your customer obsession happen. Today, every company needs more than just spreadsheets to manage their customer interactions and run their businesses. The platform you choose should enable you to grow now and into the future with built-in mobile, social and analytics capabilities.
Pick a platform that helps you future-proof your technology investments vs. picking point solutions that only serve your current needs.
Prioritize implementing a CRM that lets you create a master customer record (or single source of truth) that everyone in your organization can use to gain insights on how to better engage with prospective and existing customers. If you miss a window of opportunity today with your customers, you're likely never to get them back. A solid CRM solution can prevent that from happening. Plain and simple.
Allen Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven, a content and social marketing analytics firm, notes that many startups avoid these types of investments because they're concerned about the costs. But Gannett says emerging companies don't have to spend like a 5,000-person company to benefit from modern CRM. They can start small, be selective and still achieve their goals.
Also, consider other tools, apps and services for automating overly repetitive, time-consuming customer service tasks. Self-service customer service tools can provide on-demand information that provides customers with 24/7 information and saves you time and money.
You'll want to make this solution work across multiple customer engagement channels, including social, mobile, chat, text and telephone -- customers report lower satisfaction when companies can't consistently support their questions, concerns or needs across every available channel.
Give Back From the Start
While investing in processes and technologies is important, the best businesses also work to create a strong sense of purpose.. These startups, aware of the fact that employees (particularly Millennials) are more attracted to companies with a mission than those with high salaries and stock, incorporate a plan to give back to local communities from the start.
This sets them apart.
Indeed, doing good is good business--not only in terms of the positive effect it might have on the community, but also in inspiring socially conscious employees, partners and customers. I highly recommend that your business leads with its heart. Embed "giving" into your DNA from the onset, and make it clear to everyone in your organization that it's every bit as important to your corporate mission as winning, keeping and pleasing customers.
Salesforce came up with a widely replicated approach to giving back. It's known as the 1/1/1 Philanthropic Model, which includes donating one percent of Salesforce equity, one percent of Salesforce products and one percent of Salesforce employee time to charity. Other leading companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook also give back as well as increasing numbers of startups through organizations like Pledge 1%.
Whether you're an entrepreneur working to take your business to the next level, or a founder with just the seed of an idea, take the time this summer to envision the company you want to become.
By creating a customer-obsessed culture, deploying the right technology and giving back from the start, you'll differentiate yourself and excel--and you might even get some more shut eye.