The Second Homecoming

5 Key Lessons for Startups on Why Focus on Clients is the Next Corporate Social Responsibility

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

- Robert Greenleaf, The Servant Leader, 1970

The Backdrop

Over the course of working with entrepreneurs, some of them my friends, I discovered that the biggest help I could give them was to re-center their business focus very similar to Google maps reorienting the direction of their journey. While it is always a pleasure to learn more about starups and their disruptive technologies, I also found my entrepreneur friends veering, albeit ever so slightly away, from the true north of any endeavour- helping put a smile on a clients face.

I would hear the words disruptive, innovative, process improvement, leapfrogging etc. But, the only words I wish I had heard more of were people, client and society.

To confess, I am not a management Guru, a successful VC or a disruptive entrepreneur.What is true though, is that i am a client and a friend to some entrepreneurs and this reality gives me a right to write this article in an attempt to put a smile on every entrepreneurs face.

Think of Clients while drafting your Mission or Vision

On his very first day as CEO of Microsoft – February 4, 2014, Satya Nadella wrote a letter to all employees in which he wrote:

I came here because I believed Microsoft was the best company in the world. I saw then how clearly we empower people to do magical things with our creations and ultimately make the world a better place

To me personally, these are universal words for any CEO, entrepreneur or employee. While working with my friends, I try to remind them that it is a codification of how you intend to make the world a better place. The vision should therefore not lose sight of the customer.

When they talk about differentiating their product or service, I remind them of the incremental or new value it adds to clients lives.

Sometimes, I do wax lyrical but if saying the truth can be perceived as that, it’s a fair price to pay.

Every Person is Your Client

While testing a product or service, your employees and friends are the nearest, easiest and sometimes the cheapest form of validation or focus groups.

The pitch, therefore should be reduced to a simple explanation of how value and therefore price to be charged to the client is a good approximation of the economic value of the solution proposed. An honest exposition, without much fanfare, of the positive impact on clients lives should be enough to then begin taking about the business plan.

A Digital Presence Must Have a Human Face

While A/B testing or designing a UX, the website or app in question must answer to simplicity, a soothing experience and a declutter of content. Quite often, videos of clients talking enthusiastically and providing testimonials is far better than a video that simply goes over a detail in tutorial style.

Consider design to be key and the website or app as the first impression. If your child loves playing with it, it probably bodes well for clients and your business.

The Word Disruptive is Relative

Technology could be disruptive in nature but it shouldn’t be disruptive to people’s lives in a bad way. For instance, there has been a shift towards old SLR photography and away from digital. Even though digital photos create space, photographers looking for quality don’t want to compromise.

Think about the clients in the same way. What may be disruptive to one client may be useless to your target audience.

For Venture Capitalists

VC’s already know this but should remember to focus not on how fast a venture adds to its bottom line or cash flow but rather understand that a venture’s bottom line and therefore it’s valuation lies in how it will continuously create a positive impact on clients lives for the foreseeable future. Profits and cash flows will follow. The true nature of value investing is discovering the potential impact a company has on people (in terms of increasing convenience, saving, protecting or making money) and then pricing it’s securities accordingly.

To Sum Up

A business establishment may have an ambitious vision but if it loses sight of its ultimate goal of helping people, it’s time to rethink it’s approach to business.

Forgive me for borrowing words from Abraham Lincoln, but:

“business always was,is and always will be for the people, by the people and of the people”

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