What Every Business Ought to Learn from Tech Companies

10/03/2016 11:44 am ET

Tech startups — think Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Uber — have achieved unprecedented growth in the last decade.

In 2015 alone seven-year-old Airbnb eclipsed Marriott Hotel’s valuation by almost three billion, decade-old Facebook became worth more than half-century-old Walmart, and six-year-old Uber’s $62.2 billion dollar valuation made it worth more than Honda, Ford, or GM.

And in eight years (Airbnb turned eight on August 1), Airbnb’s gone from being worth zero dollars —that’s right $0 — to $25.5 billion last year.

The great news for everyone reading is that all businesses, no matter their size (businesses of one to multinational) or industry (tech or not), can (note: should) take lessons straight from the playbook of these fast-growing tech companies.

3 Tech Startup Techniques Any Business Can Use

  1. Get everyone — intern to CEO — focused on the one theme that matters most.
  2. Apply the scientific method to drive business growth.
  3. Make talking to customers one-on-one a priority.

1. Get everyone focused on one key growth theme.

Facebook is known in tech circles for their organization-wide focus on a single theme.

The number one thing that Noah Kagan, an early employee at Facebook, learned from Mark Zuckerberg?

“When running your business, have one goal at a time. That’s it.”

And for many years that goal at Facebook was reported to be user growth.

Kagan mentioned he’d approach Zuck with ideas to generate money, but unless it was related to growth he didn’t want to hear it.

How you can apply this in any business:

Don’t be a rudderless ship. Set one focus theme for the next 3 to 12 months.

Everyone — from intern to CEO — should be aware of the focus theme and how they can contribute to achieving it on a daily basis.

Tracking progress visually is key.

I like tracking progress with a shared dashboard using Tableau or Cyfe (hint: display your dashboard on communal screens around the office to increase effectiveness). Or even a shared Google sheet works. For solopreneurs, it can even be as simple as a sticky note on your monitor you update daily.

A focus theme doesn’t mean you don’t have other goals and metrics (you definitely should), but rather that your goals and metrics are tied to the theme — whether that’s growing users, revenue, or profits.

2. Apply the scientific method to marketing and growth activities.

For top tech companies it’s less about the marketing plan and more about running experiments and creating a learning database.

Running experiments leads to faster learning.

And more learning leads to increased odds and a higher speed at which companies can achieve breakthrough results.

Ye who learn the most, win the most.

How you can apply this in any business:

Next time you do a marketing, sales, product, or customer support initiative — be it testing a headline in a sales email, marketing channel, or new product feature — think of it as an experiment.

Write down the idea and make a hypothesis on the outcome you hope to drive.

Record the result once it’s available and why you think your initial hypothesis was right or wrong.

It doesn’t have to be long, difficult, or highly technical.

Use a spreadsheet or, my favourite, Projects, to track your experiments and create your learning database.

And you never know where your best experiment ideas will come from, so encourage everyone in your business to contribute ideas.

3. Always talk to customers one-on-one.

Tech companies like Dropbox, Kissmetrics, and Groove are known for talking one-on-one to customers.

Why? There’s no better way to get the insight you need to grow, or continue to grow, fast.

While focus groups, surveys, and industry data are helpful, they’re never a substitute for one-on-one conversations.

Because to grow efficiently, you need to know how your customers behave, think, and feel. And you figure that out best through 1-on-1 customer conversations.

Don’t be fooled though. One-on-one’s aren’t just for the early ramen eating days of tech startups.

Whether you’re a startup or mature business, something — be it your product(s) and / or market(s) — is always shifting.

How you can apply this in any business:

Whether you call customers ad hoc, incorporate these one-on-one’s into existing customer interactions (e.g. sales or support calls), or ask for takers via email (hint: if you’re limited for time start with your best customers), here are a few areas you should seek insight on:

  • A walkthrough of how they use your product or service
  • What they did before you came along to solve the problem you’re solving
  • The key benefit they get from using your product or service
  • How they make buying decisions (related to your product/service category)
  • Where they like to hang-out (Facebook, conferences, blogs, etc)

Ashley Greene is a growth advisor and graduate of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. She is the founder of Instratify.

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