In 2010, I launched IntelligenceBank, which is now a global, multi-million dollar company that provides SaaS solutions for managing various business processes. When I first launched IntelligenceBank, the idea was to create a platform that could securely store any type of information--but customer feedback influenced our 'pivot' into offering niche SaaS applications vs. a single platform.
Over the last 5 years, I've learned a lot of practical things founders should do to prepare their business for scale. Here are my top 5 tips.
1. Don't outsource core development Outsourcing of everything from lead generation to accounting is normal business practice in most industries. While it is often best practice to outsource design and front-end UI/UX, your source code is your business and unless you have someone directly managing code architecture and structure for outsourced developers, most likely the quality will be sub standard, and you will end up further developing your product on a 'house of cards' which will create an unstable product. At IntelligenceBank, we outsource some front-end work, but leave the heavy lifting source code to internal developers. That way, we follow our frameworks and there is 100% accountability.
2. Test big! One of the biggest mistakes made when developing new software is doing so with only test data from a handful of users. In the real world, clients have thousands of users, images, files, workflows or posts, so consider scale when building a product. This will ensure your product is robust enough for when your clients implement your product it can handle their use cases with high volume. We learned this lesson a couple of times, when we built new modules and only inputted a handful of data. Now when we test--we use thousands of records to ensure the new feature can handle scale.
3. Hire entrepreneurs Many startups shy away from hiring other entrepreneurs, however, I believe they are exactly who you want working for you. Hiring people with a start-up background is beneficial because they can relate to the rollercoaster of starting a new business. Employees who are deeply entrenched in a corporate way of doing things, generally, don't understand the start-up mentality and are less likely to get their hands dirty and maximize resources. The majority of early IntelligenceBank employees were involved with a range of side businesses from bars and restaurants, to game development and other SaaS Apps.
4. Find your product's niche--Quickly! When you first start, what you plan to sell and what you end up selling are usually very different propositions. In fact, your market usually ends up shaping your product. Therefore, it's crucial to determine in which industry your new product will sit as quickly as possible. In the early days at IntelligenceBank, we started out as an information management platform that helped clients manage their digital information and business processes. We got early traction with large clients, across a very broad range of use cases, but quickly realized that we were asking our potential customers to not only buy a new product, but also change the way they thought about "information management" as a whole. While we had all the features and functionality to cater for multiple segments, we found out that people search for and seek reviews on only specific business problems--not for a solution that could do everything. Two years ago, we productized our offering into very niche Saas solutions: IntelligenceBank Digital Asset Management, IntelligenceBank Boards, IntelligenceBank KM and IntelligenceBank GRC. Although the backend platform is still the same, our marketing is laser focussed to specific applications and customers. This has supercharged IntelligenceBank's lead generation and has cut our sales cycle by 75%.
5. Understand that branding is key To say that branding is vital in growing your business seems obvious, yet so many SaaS businesses ignore this and go straight to product features--not the benefit it provides. To customers, most software looks the same; which leaves customers in a decision vacuum and a race to the lowest price. It's important to communicate your company's mission and what your brand represents. In the case of IntelligenceBank, this is especially pertinent because we were a single brand used across several products.
Growing an online business and scaling it globally is no easy task. After all, it's 10% idea, and 90% execution that will make a business grow. Hopefully, these practical lessons will help you get to your milestones quickly, and avoid common mistakes many entrepreneurs make.
Tessa Court, CEO of IntelligenceBank has over 16 years of global technology experience in both corporates and startups. Tessa co-founded IntelligenceBank, an award-winning SaaS platform, that helps teams better manage business processes online, with its board portal, governance/compliance and digital asset management apps. IntelligenceBank is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with clients across Australia, Asia and the Americas. Tessa has been recognized as a leading technology entrepreneur, being named as a finalist in the 2013 NAB Women's Agenda Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as an inaugural participant in SpringBoard Enterprise's Technology Accelerator in Australia.