Growing your own business is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Though it is a challenging roller coaster ride, the highs you’ll achieve when you transform your idea into an organisation you call your own are impossible to replicate.
Mobile is the perfect platform to grow great ideas. Whether you’re building an app, creating new ways of managing mobile infrastructure or exploring new fields like wearables, the rapid growth of the sector in the past decade makes it a fertile field for fantastic ideas.
How, though, can you take an idea and turn it into a business? And more importantly, how can you make the most of your opportunity by cleverly growing your business?
Ann Zitterkopf has worked in communications since the early 1990s, helping to grow Interliant into a multi-billion dollar company. She now works with high growth companies such as Coinfloor, a peer to peer bitcoin market and exchange .
We spoke to her ahead of her appearance at The Mobile Academy in December about growing a business and here are the four things that we learned from her.
1) Is your idea big enough?
Before you think about growing your business, you need to work out if the central idea behind it has enough capacity to become something larger.
“First, you need to make sure you’re not just working with a niche market but have a product or service that is going to have larger appeal. Will it scale? Is the market large enough to justify the investment of time, money and energy,” Ann said.
Though there is nothing wrong with tackling a niche idea, it may result in a niche business that never scales.
Before you build the application or business, test the idea. “Talk to customers, or potential customers, and think about who the likely customer is going to be” Ann told us. “Ask open-ended questions, so that you’re not just encouraging people to tell you what you want to hear.”
You need to overcome their inertia and indecision. “If you solve a major problem, a pain point, they will spend money,” according to Ann, “or make their lives significantly easier or create something they passionately want.”
Investing time upfront helps you save resources later. “You will need to adjust your idea once you launch. Listen to the customers and absorb their feedback.” So you need to spend time researching whether your idea can grow, both to save you time and to help you hone the right opportunity.
2) Create your culture
Culture and philosophy are important for defining your business, the people who work within it and the way you solve problems. And as you’re part of a small company, the definition of what your company’s culture is will be set by one person: you.
“Usually in smaller companies the personality of the founder drives the feel of the business. The other people in the company are going to copy or to emulate the values and the attitudes that the founder has,” sayid Ann. And that means founders need to play to their strengths.
“So, if the founder is incredibly gregarious and enthusiastic, that’s going to be magnetic in terms of attracting other people as well as create an environment where there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the product. And if the founder is someone who is quiet but very driven and hardworking, the culture around it is going to be more subdued but still very dedicated to the initiative.”
But it isn’t just your personality that defines a culture; it’s the way you do things. And to create a positive culture where people want to grow, you have to think carefully about the messages you send out.
“Do you want the office to have a sense of a supportive family? If so, don’t send emails at 10 pm on a Saturday night and expect your team to respond within an hour. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. You want your team to stay motivated and committed for the long term.” Whatever route you take, though, it’s essential to remember that your behaviour and your personality will define the way work is done and it’s important to recognise that early, rather than later.
3) Who is in the company?
When you start out, the chances are your organisation structure will be pretty straightforward and even. “Often when you have a small company, everyone is in the same room and everyone does a little of everything. It’s a very flat organisation,” Ann explained.
But with rapid growth, that doesn’t hold for long. “When you found a company with a few people, the structure that you have is going to be very different from the one that you have when you’re 500 or 2000 people. You can’t get hung up on what the organisational structure will look like. Whatever you envision now, the reality will be different in 5 years. Instead, think about who you want to have as part of your team. Try to hire ahead of where the business is today and have someone who can scale with the company. They don’t need to have done the role before – but be agile and able to grow as the role increases. ”
That means you need to try to create an organisation that both allows for greater specialisation as the company grows and job roles evolve, without losing the cohesion and dedication of the team.
That, according to Ann, can be tricky, particularly when a lot of things are adjusting rapidly. “Most people don’t like change. They don’t like changes to their job description and they don’t like reporting to someone new. It can be scary and distracting to them” she said.
Therefore, you need to make sure you think about multiple facets of your company structure. The first is where you may grow in the industry and what roles may be needed. But the second is about what changes are occurring and how that might shake up your first thought process.
Though that’s a tricky balance to strike, but having the right people is key for long-term success.
4) Prepare for funding
Finally, the key to growth for many businesses is access to finance. Though there are many start ups who have succeeded by boot strapping, the right investment from the right investor can help you push your growth forwards by months and even years.
But how do you go about securing that all important funding? Returning to the point about company culture and how it is driven by you, faith in you on a personal level is a critical aspect of funding.
“Investors look at the founder’s credibility. Is that person someone whom they will back? Do you know the industry? Are you aware of the competition? Can you balance idealism and pragmatism,” said Ann. And a lot of that will come down to how committed you are to the project, how dedicated you are at staying the course and whether you’re the person to help them achieve an exit or return on investment.
And beyond your own personal stock, you need to show that your company has growth potential. In particular, you need to demonstrate what Ann calls the “hockey stick” of growth which confirms market interest and update.
“It’s key to show some sort of traction. That can be sign-ups, downloads… figuring out what are the KPIs associated with your particular product or service.”
For apps, this might mean figures demonstrating how well your user base monetizes. And for a technology, it might be proof of how it improves performance or sales to an important client.
Whatever it is, securing that funding for growth will rely on you showing you’re well placed to make the most of it. And provided you personally are willing to drive it on and can show that growth, you may well be able to find investors backing your dream with their cash.
Ann will be offering Drop in Surgeries at The Mobile Academy which runs from 3rd October to 1st December. Grab your place here.