How your small business can grow and remain agile

Dirk Paessler looks at the decisions that you need to take within your company in order to stimulate growth and stay agile.

The business environment today is crawling with start-ups, which are pumped full of external investment and expected to ‘conquer the world’ in a matter of months. In stark contrast, my company Paessler started as a one-man band side project in 1997. Today it has 160 employees with ten offices around the globe, serving 150,000 users every day. So what are the decisions that you need to take within your own company in order to stimulate growth, and stay agile in an ever-changing marketplace?

Start off slow

If you can, start the business off slowly, preferably while you still have a stable income from another job. Being a one-man band may seem daunting, but it can work to your advantage as it forces you to take on the role of development, marketing, IT and everything in between. This may seem like unnecessary work initially, but this hands-on approach provides you with a deep understanding of all the departments of your business, which will be invaluable once the business grows.

Hopefully, starting off slow will mean you won’t have to rely on other stakeholders for support. Slowly grow your profits to a point where additional staff can be brought in while still maintaining focus on further development of the product/service. This patient approach avoiding any external shareholder pressure can allow you to side step a burn rate, which is a dark cloud that hangs over most start-ups.

Recruit right

In order for any business to be successful, it is important to recruit people that genuinely identify with the company culture. By recruiting people who feel part of the company and want to play an active role, employees will be able to feel a sense of accomplishment if the company does well. Another great way to recruit people who fit with your culture is to involve the entire team in hiring decisions. All new hires should meet the team, which then jointly makes the hiring decision. This helps ensure employees foster long-term working relationships and, most importantly, enjoy working together.

Stay focused

Another factor that can help growing businesses is being a one-product company. Try to find your niche and stick to it, rather than getting distracted by continuous diversification and dilution of the core business. This allows employees to have clear cut goals and responsibilities, without being stretched over various areas of the company. A one-product focus can sometimes be risky, but it is very effective. Many successful one-product companies thrive on this strategy, such as Uber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Airbnb, Dropbox, Spotify, and Slack.

However, when you are a one-product company, it is vital that you continuously improve the one product you offer, as your product needs to be as agile as your company. Staying agile can sometimes be confused with adapting to one -off custom development, and while such developments can lead to big paydays and new ideas, they can also distract your focus from the core product and delay its development. Rather than embarking on a lucrative solution that can only fit one or two customers, spend your energy on improvements that will benefit all of your customers.

Keep your users happy

A key part of keeping your users happy is to manage expectations. By keeping updates and new features private initially, businesses can avoid disappointing users if an idea or feature falls through. Also try not to fall into the trap of being side-tracked by what your competitors are doing, and be confident in your own way of doing things. Paying too much attention to competitors can easily blur your own vision. Instead, listen to your users for their requests and ideas.

To effectively handle and assess the feasibility of user requests it is important to filter them quickly, taking the following factors into consideration. The key is to work out which ideas will benefit your entire user base rather than just a small percentage:

  1. Reach: How many customers will benefit from the new feature? How many have asked for it?
  2. Wow factor: How likely is it that those users will be impressed, happy, or relieved by this new feature?
  3. Pain: How much pain would it be for the affected users not to have this new feature? Addressing a truly annoying problem is infinitely more important than any nice-to-have ‘wow factor’ item.
  4. Effort: How many days do developers need to research, create, develop, test, and document the feature?

Growing your business is a very rewarding experience; however the path to success is riddled with distractions and pitfalls. With the right determination, confidence in your idea and focus, a more considered approach to growth can help lay the foundations to long-term success.

Dirk Paessler is CEO of Paessler.

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