Making Your Startup a Competitive Industry Player

By: Joel Livet, Managing Partner at Productive Edge

If you own a small business or want to start your own company, you’ve probably wondered: what makes a startup grow into a competitive industry player? As a company that began as a small startup less than ten years ago, this is certainly a question we’ve dealt with.

Since our humble beginning in 2008, we have grown into a competent competitor in the software development industry. The work of our talented team of full-stack developers has earned recognition within the Chicago tech community, and our combined business and technical expertise has afforded us the opportunity to develop revolutionary software solutions.

Additionally, we were recently named to the Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for a second consecutive year. Our 3-year growth rate is estimated at 396%, and we advanced 172 positions compared with last years list.

There is a temptation to think that achieving this level of growth requires impossibly large investments in data analytics and marketing. However, a lack of these resources isn’t the real reason small companies fail to grow — the real barriers to growth involve high employee turnover, inefficient or ineffective processes and access to talent. These issues result in having to constantly play catch-up and can cause you to lose sight of your vision for growth.

So, how can you overcome these barriers? There are four key focus areas that have allowed us to overcome these challenges and contributed to our growth: cultivating a culture with a growth mindset, developing a customer-centric approach, employee obsession, and making sure we’re always doing lots of “cool stuff.”

Fostering a “Growth Mindset”

Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, defines a “growth mindset” in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success as the belief that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” She contrasts this with a “fixed mindset,” wherein individuals view their set of skills and talents much like a hand of cards in a poker game — you have what you’re dealt, and that’s it.

This “fixed mindset” can be toxic in a work environment, forcing employees to oversell their capabilities while overlooking their potential to develop new skills. On the other hand, encouraging the adoption of a “growth mindset” can greatly contribute to your company’s success — when employees develop new skills, they build expertise and, with it, confidence. This leads to positive team morale and increased productivity.

You can develop a growth mindset by cultivating a community centered around learning. Provide opportunities for employees to learn from one another — host brown bag seminars during lunch hours and encourage employees to share about their area of expertise. Get involved with Meetups in your city. Take advantage of collaboration platforms to encourage the spread of ideas and more open communication (Slack has worked well for our team). Formally recognize employees who demonstrate growth in their role or learn new skills. Whatever you do, discourage complacency and negativity — the only true failure is failure to try.

Client Obsession

You may have heard the term “customer-centric,” as in, creating an organizational structure that revolves around the customer. At Productive Edge, this is an important part of our identity.

As a consulting company, it makes sense for us to have a close relationship with our clients and maintain a customer-centric approach. However, we differentiate ourselves from many consultancies who treat the software development process as more of a hand-off than a partnership by developing highly collaborative relationships with our clients. This approach ensures that we not only understand their goals, but adopt them as our own and become a part of their team.

You may not be a consultancy or a business that requires a significant focus on customer service. Maybe your company makes amazing products, but you have little contact with your customers, in which case, you might think this approach isn’t valuable for your business. However, there is an abundance of data to support a customer-centric approach.

  • Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to companies that are not focused on the customer. (Deloitte)
  • It takes 12 positive experiences with a brand to make up for one unresolved negative experience. (Understanding the Customer Experience, Ruby Newell-Legner)
  • Enterprise brands, like multichannel retailers, are asking their customers to set their own preferences: Brands today are 62% more likely to give their subscribers the ability to set their own preferences for branded communications than they were in 2013. Further, they are 89% more likely to allow them to select the type of messages that they receive and 48% more likely to give options for how often subscribers want to receive those communications. (Experian)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. (McKinsey)
  • 90% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86% said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews. (Dimensional Research)
  • By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. (Customers 2020 Report)

Leo Burnett, a world-renowned ad agency, takes “customer centricity” to the next level, too — they advocate for brands to be so customer centric that they derive their identity from human behavior (an approach they’ve entitled, Human Kind). Check out this video on their approach.

To develop a customer-centric culture, take an inventory of your company values and mission. Sensor out any internally focused mentalities — is your organization product focused? Brand focused? Identify areas of your mission and values where the customer isn’t at the center. Also investigate your internal processes, and make adjustments to any process that fails to put the customer first. Finally, develop ways to continually increase your customer focus — create opportunities for employees to offer ideas directly to leadership based on customer feedback.

Employee Obsession

It might seem paradoxical to advocate for both customer obsession and employee obsession — when it comes down to it, who holds the trump card? Neither. It’s vital to maintain a balance between customer and employee obsession. While customer obsession is key to business growth, employee obsession is key to the internal stability that makes that growth possible.

Research from the University of Warwick finds a strong correlation between employee happiness and productivity: the study saw a 12% increase in productivity in participants who were happier in the workplace. Other studies suggest an even stronger correlation between employee happiness and productivity — Harvard professor and author of The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor, states:

“A decade of research proves that happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements.”

Simply put, happy employees are engaged employees. They’re committed to their role, their customers and their company.

At Productive Edge, we place a great deal of focus on employee happiness. We have social team in charge of various initiatives to encourage employee engagement by organizing events. In our weekly company emails, we provide reminders about upcoming events, invite employees to provide anonymous feedback, encourage employees to connect with us on social media and recognize employees with upcoming birthdays and work anniversaries. This has greatly contributed to overall employee engagement and happiness, translating into significant growth over time.

So, how can you make your employees happy and engaged? Why not start by asking them? Conduct surveys to find out what people like and dislike about their jobs. Encourage employees to connect with your company on social media to engage with your content and share their own. Create opportunities for employees to share feedback both in person and anonymously. Then, channel all of this feedback into action — make changes to improve your workplace and show your employees you care.

“Cool Stuff”

You probably already think your company does “cool stuff,” and you probably do. While many companies maintain alignment with their employees on their culture, values, mission and goals (the “cool stuff” that makes your company unique), there are other passions employees bring to the table that companies often neglect. However, companies fail to realize that these passions may serve to benefit them.

Consider allowing employees to spend time working on the kinds of projects they think are “cool.” Google, for example, allows employees to dedicate 20% of their time to “passion projects” that serve to benefit the company in some way. By creating opportunities for employees to engage in work about which they are passionate, employers can increase employee loyalty. Additionally, if all goes well, you might end up with an innovative new application to build your business!

Also consider how well employees enjoy the work they do inside their role. One of the biggest reasons employees cite for staying with Productive Edge is the interesting projects, or, “cool stuff” they have the opportunity to work on. We maintain a wide variety of projects to consistently provide new opportunities for employees. Having this variety allows us to match employees with projects according to their particular set of skills and interests. In so doing, we are able to keep employees engaged in their work and prevent burnout, maintaining high productivity high over time. This makes our customers happy and contributes to long-term company growth.

There you have it! Our “magic beans.” When you’re starting out, it doesn’t require expensive software or large investments in marketing to grow your business into a competitive industry player. The key is changing your mindset and maintaining the right focus to minimize the effects of the obstacles facing your company. By cultivating a culture that fosters growth, becoming holistically both customer and employee centric and finding ways to offer your employees opportunities to do more “cool stuff,” you can decrease turnover, increase efficiency and make your company all it can be.

To find out more about our company culture, approach to development or general services, visit our website: www.productiveedge.com

References
http://www.inc.com/profile/productive-edge
https://hbr.org/2010/11/do-you-have-a-growth-mindset/
https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/
http://www.cmo.com/articles/2015/5/5/15-mindblowing-stats-about-customer-centric-thinking-and-strategy.html
http://www.pardot.com/ideas/9-must-know-stats-customer-centric-marketer/
http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/eproto/workingpapers/happinessproductivity.pdf
https://hbr.org/2011/06/the-happiness-dividend/
https://sites.google.com/a/sduhsd.net/genius-hour/what-is-genius-hour