Context of this Post
This post was originally written and published on Code Sport in September 2015. It was specifically written for the co-founder of a 2-year old Silicon Valley-based start-up. My goal was to provide her with unique but practical business strategy insight as she endeavored to create and grow her company!
The irony is that I never got around to sharing this post with her. But I’m confident it will be of benefit to other entrepreneurs — to those of us who live to create new things and dream big!
A Word of Heartfelt Thanks
Suggestions 5 and 7 in this post (i.e., Branding Sand and Multisided Markets ) have an enduring and special place in my heart. Without going into details, I want to thank Anne and Frank for their kindness, mentorship, and encouragement when I first began my career in consulting.
Their kindness and encouragement has had an indelible and positive impact on my life. Anne and Frank took the initiative to lead, teach, and encourage me when I started my career. Frank was like the dad and father I never had! Anne was very much like an older sister I never had.
Now that I am a successful entrepreneur, it is my sincere hope that I can carry their torch forward. To pass along their values, kindness and good will to my employees, partners, and colleagues – my family.
Tactical Suggestions to Stay Ahead Your Competition
I found these articles and blog posts incredibly useful when running a startup and learning to sell! You’re probably aware of these concepts already, so just use what you need. However, if anything is new please take the time to read them, take notes, and share with your employees. Most importantly, absorb and apply what you can to improve your business.
So without further ado…
Have customers answer this question after spending time using your product and interacting with your sales and customer support personnel:
Rate from 1 through 10 the likelihood that you would recommend our product to a trusted friend, colleague or family member.
The NPS measures how satisfied your customers are and how well you deliver a positive customer experience. It was created by Harvard Professor Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix. Reichheld’s research on the method was first published in the December 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
The NPS obliges companies to be proactive in empowering their employees and addressing customer issues.
The takeaways are:
Net Promoter System℠ requires—and inspires—an entire organization to do right by its customers and employees. It is the business equivalent of the Golden Rule: treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. — Bain & Company
- Constantly monitor and focus on improving employee and customer satisfaction
- Never be too comfortable with short-term success
- Constantly iterate and improve your product and service
Having processes for capturing and implementing employee and customer feedback is a sure-fire way to meet these goals!
2. Further Explore Constructive Customer Feedback
Here is a sample of customer feedback on your start-up. These comments were sourced from Quora. Hopefully you have a formal process of capturing and analyzing feedback through it’s customer care/Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Migrate an experiment directly from dev to prod. – Tapan Patel
…bring analytics to the forefront which can be useful to organizations that don’t have sophisticated analytics elsewhere – Mani Fazeli
Create a more flexible UI editor, better experiment goal definitions, fast and thorough responses to support requests – Mani Fazeli
…their Customer Success team is very engaged and making sure you make the most of their tool to reach your goals – we have a bi-weekly catch-up that’s really been instrumental in setting our experiments for success. – Antoine Sakho
Google SERP Observation
This feedback was found by typing your company’s name into Google. Also, you have your competitors very nervous. Typing your company’s name into Google brings up ads for at least two of your competitors!
To be completed: I have detailed notes from Harvard Business Review and the Corporate Executive Board that I will add here when I have time.
Vin65 (now known as WineDirect), a Canadian software and web design shop, commissioned Hal Helms to write this report. With their permission, Hal released it to the public in May 2011. As an aside, Hal Helms is a coding and startup guru. In fact, I learned to build my first master-detail MySQL web-app by reading one of his tutorials in 2004! Ok, Here are the key takeaways:
As headcount and code complexity grows, a more formalized process for producing software and hiring developers is needed. However, of more importance is having a “system” in place that facilitates the production of robust and bug-free code. Well designed “systems” can turn average developers into great developers.
Too often, managers misunderstand their role: they think [their] job is to manage the developers when actually, the job they need to do is manage the system. — Hal Helms
System = All the components required to produce quality, bug-free software!
b. How to Hire Software Developers
These suggestions help you evaluate a developer’s strengths and weaknesses and determine how comfortable they are with the basics of a language.
- Have them write a simple program on their own during the interview. He suggests a basic FizzBuzz question
- Do a pair-coding session with them. This allows you to assess there communication skills and how they work with others
- Have them debug code that has errors in it
On Project Management and Deploying Bug-free Code
- Use Agile development techniques which includes mechanisms for capturing requirements, releasing code, and breaking development responsibilities into discrete units such as UI, data persistence, algorithmic coding, architecture, etc
- Use subversion (i.e., SVN/version control) in all aspects of your development
- Do unit testing to prevent bugs from overwhelming the “system”
- Offer in-house training for your developers
- Facilitate formalized communication (i.e., knowledge sharing) among your developers by encouraging them to lead or participate in lunch and learn sessions
This article was extremely useful when I was selling phone cards to ethnic restaurants and small businesses owners.
“Branding Sand” explores the dilemma of how to differentiate (and brand) a highly commoditized product. It’s a must read for those operating in highly competitive markets. To illustrate, instead of competing on price, companies should bundle their products with hard to duplicate differentiators, services, and “value-adds”. Examples include post-sales product integration, education, and consulting services.
And as Amazon long-ago learned, differentiation does not need to be complicated. Simply offering superior customer service is not only a differentiator, but a competitive advantage that few online marketplaces have been able to replicate.
The is a great article and forces you to look at your business more tactically. In a nutshell look for ways to monetize underutilized or previous deployed products and services (i.e., assets) of your business.
This is optional reading as this strategy may not apply to your business. Nevertheless, it is something to be aware of.
Multisided markets are characterized when businesses serve as intermediaries and middlemen for two or more groups of customers. Businesses can exploit different pricing strategies based on which customer groups are willing to pay (or pay more). Some examples of multisided markets include:
- Credit Cards: Connects merchants to buyers. The cardholder may or may not pay an annual fee for the privilege of using the card, while the merchant typically pays a litany of transaction and processing fees
- Ebay: Connects merchants to buyers. Merchants pay a listing fee in addition to a PayPal transaction fee
- Bloomberg Terminals: Connects subscribers to data providers. Data providers provide Bloomberg with their data for free and while Bloomberg users (subscribers) pay a monthly fee for the Terminal
- Online Dating/Matchmaking Services: Quite self explanatory. Even though singles can connect and meet one another for free at the grocery store, gym, and community events they choose (and prefer) to waste an unprecedented amount of hours and money trying (often unsuccessfully) to meet their match trough a plethora of online dating sites.