Business Advice: 24 Lessons We Learned in 2015
I’m finally writing our first “What we learned” blog post after three years of building Enplug. I waited this long to make sure we collected enough data points and experiences before sharing our business advice learnings.
Our vision of enabling every business to easily show great content on digital displays has led us on an epic journey complete with wrong turns, false summits, hidden treasures, lasting friendships, and many long nights. Three years of work means that we’ve had to keep our teammates motivated through several stages beyond the initial excitement of joining a startup.
- 1st Year: “We’re going to be the next billion-dollar company!”
- First Half 2nd Year: “We have our first product! Every company’s going to sign up for sure!”
- Second Half 2nd Year: “Wait, why isn’t every company buying our product?”
As quick back-story: we started out as five strangers turning TVs in restaurants into interactive social media walls. We went door-to-door peddling our technology. We lived and worked out of a house in Bel Air together. Then, we grew. We moved our team out of the house and took over an entire floor of an office building. We acquired Fortune 500 customers and thousands of other businesses. We started distribution offices in foreign countries. We became cash-flow positive.
Below is an accumulation of what we’ve learned as a team since inception. May these lessons be helpful to you and your team.
- A business starts with people and ends with people. Take care of your people.
- Be obsessed about data and metrics. What gets measured gets better. Track everything you care about and share with everyone on the team. We have multiple digital screens around the office that show our sales and marketing metrics.
- Make data-driven decisions. Instead of postulating and giving anecdotes, back ideas up with data.
- Cash is king. Zealously manage cashflows. Upfront annual payments from customers are great.
- Good customers are willing to pay. Customers who truly want your product are willing to pay for it.
Huge discounts and free stuff attract low quality customers. When a customer says your product is too expensive, it’s not because they don’t have the money to pay for your product. What they’re saying is that your product doesn’t offer enough value.
- Prove your business model. Unless you’ve raised lots of money and are certain you will raise more money, you’ll want to demonstrate a sustainable business model. Silicon Valley might seem like they love companies that pay $1,000,000 for every $1 of revenue, but when I think about our most successful angel investors, they all had extremely profitable businesses (and raised little money to get there). It’s cool to build a business that makes money. Plus, you’ll be happier when your company is cash-flow positive. We know from experience!
- Respond quickly. How quickly you respond can make or break deals. Response time shows how much you care.
- Culture requires intent. A great company culture doesn’t just happen. You have to actively think about it and work on it. We spent so much time thinking about ours that we produced a popular free ebook of 33 Company Culture Ideas.
- Set accurate expectations. Whether it’s to customers, the team, or investors, ensure the expectations you set are met. Under-promise so you can over-deliver.
- Love your customer. When deciding which industries to target, be sure that you would enjoy working with the people who work in that industry. Whenever we run into an Enplug-powered display while we’re out shopping or eating, we take a photo and share it with the team. In fact, we prefer going to places that are Enplug customers.
- Little things make a difference. A welcome back hug to a teammate or a quick check-in email to a customer goes a long way.
- It either works or it doesn’t. We’re not a free product. Glitches and poor UI are unacceptable.
Customers don’t care that your server went down through no fault of your own. To customers, your product just stopped working.
- Eliminate churn. Put processes in place to track, understand, and remove churn. We get automatically notified whenever a customer’s credit card is declined so we can reach out and update their info.
- Automate as much as possible. Human capital is your greatest asset. Don’t waste the talents of a person to do something a machine can complete. Zapier is your friend.
- Build features customers want. Before a feature is built, confirm that customers actually want it, or that it can attract new customers. Ensure you also have a way of tracking customers’ requests for specific features. When you’re ready to build the next feature, you can reference that data and know which features are in highest demand instead of relying on one-off stories.
- Recognize and reward. Take time to thank and recognize people who go above and beyond. Celebrate when your team achieves a goal.
- Rise above the hype. There’s always lots of noise about who raised what $ and who got on what list. Stay focused on improving your KPIs and OKRs.
- Stay hungry. The moment you become complacent is the moment your team will become complacent. Then, you’ll lose to your competition.
- Run efficient meetings. Set an agenda for each meeting and separate Information from Talking Points. Information: Anything that needs to be shared, but not discussed, such as metrics updates. Talking Points: Anything that requires discussion, such as new strategy. If there are no Talking Points for a meeting, email out the information and cancel the meeting.
- Admit when you’re wrong. Apologize for the mistake, and then fix it.
- Offer fair salaries. We never negotiate with candidates about salaries. We tell candidates that the offer we make is what we think is fair. We never low ball candidates with the expectation that they will negotiate higher.
- It’s worth paying more for top talent. Don’t try to save money by hiring mediocre people. A top hire should be paid at least 2x more and produces 20x more than a mediocre person. Cut costs in other places. (Want to join our team?)
- Share bad news. If it’s not addressed, it’s not fixed until it’s too late. People handle obstacles and bad news better than you’d expect.
- It takes the whole team. Simply launching a new feature will not automatically drive sales growth. Marketing needs to plan a press release and email campaign announcing the new addition. Sales needs to follow up with customers who requested the feature. Support needs to know how to walk users through the update. Engineering needs to hear feedback to avoid making the same mistake twice.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and learnings. Connect with us on Twitter!
Wishing you and your team the very best 2016,
Enplug digital signage software was co-founded by CEO Nanxi Liu and CTO Tina Denuit-Wojcik in 2012 to enable organizations to use customized real-time streaming content to create engaging external and internal communications.