Every creative human endeavour requires enormous amounts of trial and error. Starting a business follows the same process and trajectory. With so many variables at play for entrepreneurs to manage, solidifying some fundamental components for sustainable growth can be very helpful.
Know your Why
Building something people love is easier said than done. Establishing your business’ mission, your north star metric or your ‘Why’ is what will keep you centred on your macro vision as you build something customers love. This will be your reference point when things get tough.
Your ‘Why’ is probably the most important thesis underpinning your business, and it is something only you can answer for yourself. Nobody else can answer it for you. But that is the beauty of what makes your business unique, and the reason why nobody else can solve the same complex set of problems that your business seeks to fix.
Any business ecosystem is made up of many moving parts and different stakeholders. Fostering community from the very beginning of your business building journey helps you to create a feedback ecosystem from day one.
A community of early adopters that grows along with your business provides structure and support around your products and services. This is essential to sustainable growth. Early advocates help to showcase social proof of your product as well as foster an environment for organic community growth.
Build in Scalability
There is an important sentiment that early stage businesses and startups should understand. Paul Graham from Y Combinator wrote a whole article on it.
“Do things that don’t scale” – Paul Graham
It is so important to do the things that don’t scale in the beginning. Recruiting users manually is often something that most startups have to get their hands dirty with. In his article, Graham has a stand out paragraph that is worth noting here:
“The other reason founders ignore this path is that the absolute numbers seem so small at first. This can’t be how the big, famous startups got started, they think. The mistake they make is to underestimate the power of compound growth. We encourage every startup to measure their progress by weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you’ll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you’ll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you’ll have 2 million.”
As we can see, the compound effects add up over time. So why are we saying to build in scalability when Paul Graham is saying to do things that don’t scale?
From a sustainability standpoint, doing things that don’t scale can’t work forever. While it is a necessary fundamental in the early stages, putting plans in place for scaling effectively when the time is right is crucial.
While you are doing things that don’t scale, you should also be forecasting your growth metrics and making a plan for how to scale when you begin to get traction. Scaling can take on many forms, but for most businesses, it can be broken down into two main categories. People and technology.
Human capital is going to add to the amount of work you can get done as a business, while technology will help you scale this by systematizing your workflows. Both of these will play an important role in your growth, which leads us nicely on to…
Focus on Growth
This should be a given when starting a business but many of us fail to focus on growth and keep a growth mindset at the forefront of our mind. To demonstrate the power of focusing on growth, let’s look at an example from Facebook as they scaled.
After reaching product market fit and building a product that users loved, the facebook growth team was forecasting about 400 million users on their platform by 2015.
However, in 2007, they realized that all of their pages and content was exclusively in English. They made a decision to translate their site into over 200 languages. By opening up their platform to people who were non-native english speakers in broader markets, they accelerated their growth and set themselves on course for reaching 600 million users by 2015.
Again, around 2010/2011, the facebook growth team had another revelation. They figured out that mobile was going to be the future of how people predominantly interacted with their platform and they began building out better mobile capabilities and functionality with the facebook app. This also resulted in moves to acquire Instagram and Whatsapp. Again, their reach grew exponentially.
In 2013, the facebook growth team was thinking outside the box again. They noted how there were only about 2-3 billion people connected to the internet worldwide. They decided to make a move into providing internet service and connectivity to developing markets and more remote areas of the world in what has now become facebook connectivity.
So what can we learn from this? Facebook’s original forecasts were seeing them project 300 million users by 2015. They ended up hitting over 1.5 Billion users across platforms by the time 2015 came around. Their continuous emphasis on growth and adopting a growth mindset of thinking outside the box allowed them to capture value extremely efficiently as well as expand the size of their total addressable market. To sustainably grow, keep focusing on growth and don’t be afraid to think outside the box in order to do so.
Customer obsession is another tenement of sustainable growth. Jeff Bezos accredits customer obsession as the biggest secret to Amazon’s success.
“Amazon is only explicit in the position of Customer Obsession – it must be first.” – Jeff Bezos
When trying to build out products and services, entrepreneurs can sometimes forget to gather feedback from end users on what their real issue is. The problem the customer is experiencing is the real opportunity. Reverse engineering the problem they are experiencing, and merging it with your product and service offering is the crux of product market fit.
Obsessing over your customers means that you figure out their problems and deliver a compelling solution for them. This is as important for early businesses as for large organizations. Conduct customer interviews and seek to understand your customer’s problems.
Stick to The Fundamentals
Some of these fundamentals are worth remembering as you grow and scale your business. It can already be a challenge to balance the art of business growth with stable systems and processes as you scale. Having a base layer of fundamentals that you can continuously reference and revert back to when you face these challenges will keep you on course towards sustainable business growth.
Matthew Johnson is the co-founder of Taskable, a smart to-do list and productivity assistant that helps you get into your workflow. In this interv...