By Martin Zwilling
The biggest challenge these days doesn’t seem to be in starting a new business, but sustaining it against the onslaught of market changes and new competitors that emerge every day. Yet, as an angel investor, I still see too many new business owners who are convinced that their biggest challenge is to get money to start, and once launched with some initial success, they can relax.
In my other role of business advisor, I see examples often of startups that may have taken success for granted too early. A recent high-profile one, Theranos, the blood-testing company, had no trouble getting customers, but promised more than their technology could deliver, Another, Shyp, an early on-demand delivery platform, blamed their demise on premature scaling.
The keys to sustainable success require you to retain that sense of urgency, focus, and vigilance after the launch that you felt during the development and early funding stages. That starts with initially building a solid business strategy, including a strong support system for scalability, long-term leadership, and adaptability. In my view, this strategy must include the following elements:
Define and communicate a purpose and destination. Your constituents can’t plot a journey if they aren’t sure where they are going or why. For a successful launch and scalable growth, they need to establish many checkpoints, with metrics to assess their progress and alignment with the vision. Don’t let that communication fade post-launch.
Build and nurture a team culture of trust and leadership. You and your business won’t be able to sustain a position of leadership without everyone on the customer-facing team being willing and able to emulate your lead. That requires trust and respect from all, as well as constant coaching and development to keep them committed to following you.
Demand continuous innovation to keep up with change. Change is the only constant in a successful business, to keep up with new competitors and new customer demands. Innovation must be applied to your business model, your processes, as well as your product offering. Aim to obsolete your own products with new, before competitors do it.
Make sustainability a key design objective for every step. You may start with prototype products, but you need rock-solid processes for successful growth and agility. Seek out the best practices in the industry, and improve them for your business. Recognize that every successful journey is long and hard, so don’t cut corners now.
Hire the best people and continually upgrade your team. A big mistake often made in the rush to scale is to shortcut the hiring and training processes, to get out there fast, assuming that the team can learn on the job. Look for team players who can collaborate with others, and make sure everyone has the training and tools to do the job.
Seek out strategic partnerships and collaboration. When you finally get that funding for scaling, it may be tempting to do everything yourself, to keep control and do it faster. The problem is that you may not have the experience or connections to jump into new customer segments, manufacturing, and distribution. Capitalize on what already exists.
Focus on existing customer retention and repeat business. For sustainable growth, don’t forget that, according to data from the field, it is five times as expensive to gain a new customer than retain an existing one, and a returning customer purchases 30 percent more items and brings in three to seven times more revenue per transaction.
Build your brand equity and relationships with customers. As a startup, you have no brand recognition, but long-term sustainability requires a powerful brand. These days, brand equity means relationships with more customers, and a more memorable overall experience. Your brand-loyal customer advocates can be your exponential marketing.
Never stop hunting for new opportunities and new markets. Initial success breeds complacency. While a laser focus is necessary to get your startup off the ground, long-term success requires a broad and ever-changing product line, target audience, and geographic focus. Don’t be a “one-trick pony” that fades into oblivion as time passes.
Congratulations are definitely appropriate for a successful new business launch, but it’s not the time to relax or take your eye off the ball. A sustainable business, with long-term success, is a different and never-ending challenge, requiring additional strategies as outlined here. Don’t wait for a business crisis to get started. As many have found out, recoveries are not always possible.
The writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post.