Robi Ganguly is the CEO of Apptentive, the easiest way for companies with a mobile app to listen to, engage with, and retain their mobile customers. The Google Ventures-backed company works with major app publishers and enables millions of customer conversations. Prior to Apptentive Robi worked at Yahoo! and built WebEx's pricing strategy. When he's not building Apptentive you can find Robi running, reading and on Twitter @rganguly.
As many as 90 percent of startups fail. So when my company, Apptentive, turned 5 this March, we didn't take it for granted. I'm so proud we have the privilege of continuing to serve our customers every day. There are several factors that have contributed to our success over the years, but two in particular have stood out from the pack: our team and our customers. I've learned so much from both of these groups, and on our birthday, I took some time to reflect and appreciate the lessons of entrepreneurship.
Here are five lessons being a founder has taught me:
Love is infectious.
We've built our entire company on earning and showing love to our team and our customers. "Customer love" is something we talk about as a necessity. It's not an option for us. We're highly focused on earning our customers' love by building trust and delivering an exceptional experience. When working to establish trust with your customers, remember that positivity, thank you's, and honesty go a long way in building a strong foundation. But before you can focus on earning your customers' love, you first must foster it internally. When your team loves what they do, it's infectious. They can't help but spread the love to customers. A positive work environment fosters creativity and productivity, so treat your team with the love and respect that they deserve and they'll do the same in return.
Vulnerability should be embraced.
Sometimes in business, people make the mistake of believing they cannot and should not show their vulnerabilities. But the truth is, vulnerability actually strengthens business relationships. Again, honesty is necessary for establishing trust in any relationship, so be honest about your and your company's vulnerabilities with your team and your customers. We're all vulnerable in some way, so instead of pretending that those vulnerabilities don't exist, embrace them. Your personal and business relationships will thank you for your transparency.
Nothing beats an in-person conversation.
Whether you're trying to make a sale or nurture an existing customer relationship or network, an in-person conversation makes these interactions all the more impactful. They provide the opportunity to get to know the other person on a more personal level in which digital communication just can't compare. If your conversation's taking place via phone or Skype, for instance, you won't have the ability to pick up on tone of voice, facial expressions, or what's important to them as an individual. Make time to have in-person conversations whenever you can, and you'll develop meaningful relationships more quickly.
It's OK to cry sometimes.
Startup life can easily become all-consuming. When you hear about success stories in the press or via word-of-mouth in the startup community circuit, it can be difficult to remember what it took for that company to reach that point. In my mind, we don't talk about the unglamorous aspects of startups enough. Every founder has gone through tough times at some point during his or her startup journey. Don't feel pressured to keep up with perfect appearances. It's OK to cry sometimes. There will inevitably be many extreme highs and lows, and you should allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of emotions that come along with the journey.
It's always about the people.
The mission of the business you're building ultimately boils down to the people affected by it. At the end of the day, your customers are just people, as is your team. Try not to lose sight of the human aspect of everything. We live by a philosophy at Apptentive that helps us to remember this lesson in everything we do: We don't call our customers "users." Instead, we refer to them as "people." By calling customers "users," it's easy to forget that they're human beings. If you keep the fact that it's always about the people in the back of your mind, your product and/or service will be stronger, and your team will be able to make better decisions that are more in line with your customers' wants and needs.
I love the quote, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." There's a lot of truth to that quote, especially in startups. Your team is incredibly invested in the company's mission and works hard to help see it through every day. Leaders who take the time to recognize, reward and appreciate individuals and collective teams within the organization will build a stronger culture and a fiercely loyal group of team members. A team that is committed to both each other and the business is likely going to be equally as committed to customers--which will positively impact the bottom line.