Helen Yu is the founder and CEO of Tigon Advisory Corp, Host of CXO Spice and a wall-street journal best-selling author. As a Board Director, Helen brings a unique perspective to the board room, combining deep technology thought leadership, cybersecurity risk management, go-to-market strategy, customer experience to deliver thoughtful questions and insights that help drive informed decisions. She helps CEOs achieve multibillion-dollar revenue growth and record profitability from start-ups to global titans like Oracle and Adobe. She’s a board advisor to fast-growth SaaS companies and is on the board of the Global Cybersecurity Association. She’s spoken at SXSW, TiECon, DMS, Money20/20 and NAMIC.
Your business constantly faces the possibility of unexpected events. In these cases, you may not have the facts or abilities you need to move forward, and you might not have the time to undergo a lengthy decision process to find a solution. But what if you have laid a good foundation by understanding your product, exploring, and solidifying your brand, and building a minimal viable product that hits its target spot-on? The outcome is a game-changer. You will have the flexibility to sidestep many potential issues as well as weather unexpected challenges.
What Problems Does Your Product Solve?
Your brand’s goals and vision will guide you on your journey. What solution does your product provide? Is your product marketable or in the right market? What is the message behind your company and product? What are the values that drive your brand and what does your company aim to accomplish? How is your product enhancing people’s lives?
The answers give you solid ground to stand on when problems arise.
The next step in creating a strong, resilient foundation is to step away from your to-do list and recognize your business’ disconnects. A disconnect is the distance between where you are and where you want to be. Such an analysis can also help you pinpoint the areas where you might fail. There are five disconnects to watch out for.
As a business owner, you are constantly creating, sourcing, exploring, dreaming and pitching. But this is the point where those pesky disconnects rear their heads. Your chief nemesis is the Product/Market Fit Disconnect, where a product must prove itself to be marketable to be minimally valuable. As you let go of your product and share it with the public, you will face the Minimum Viable Repeatability Disconnect, which must be conquered in order to set the stage for repeatable success. At this point, you face the insanely challenging shift from market to scale. First, however, you must triumph over the Customer Voice Disconnect, Process Disconnect, and Measurement Disconnect.
Understanding why and when these disconnects happen is the secret sauce of preparing for the unexpected. It gives companies the confidence to move forward and the ability to handle any curve balls that are thrown their way. Exploring your start-up’s potential disconnects gives you added strength and the capacity to scale faster and more fearlessly as you navigate critical crossroads.
Take Experienced People with You
As a founder or executive, you often don’t see failure until you crash. Many companies get caught in the momentum of rapid growth, and founders are sometimes tempted to stop listening to their most experienced staff. As a result, the business will keep running but will be unable to scale at the speed it could be capable of.
Sometimes we are unable to make quick decisions without an experienced group to guide us, assist us and challenge us. The people you surround yourself with are integral to identifying disconnects and finding effective strategy solutions at critical moments. While you might not have all the answers, your company as a whole may have the resources and experience to solve even the most challenging problems.
As a tech founder without any experience building a company, this type of collective tactical powerhouse may seem a lofty goal. The key is surrounding yourself with experienced people. Your support team will act as a Sherpa guide on your climb up the start-up mountain, helping you explore potential disconnects before they happen and preparing you as you face the difficult process of raising funds.
Acclimate to the Voice of the Customer
Getting the contract signed is only the beginning of your customer journey. Real success comes when you understand why your customer is investing in you in the first place — and what their expectations are along the way.
But every customer is different. What does success look like to your customer? How do they measure success? These insights will help you prioritize your engagement and focus on what matters to your customer.
For founders, acclimating to the voice of customers means solving the Customer Voice Disconnect. Customers will often tell you what they want, but sometimes they’ll simply tell you what you want to hear. Your ability to listen and dig deeper to understand what their words really mean will set you apart from your competition and prepare you for unexpected problems down the road.
Many companies start feeling overwhelmed as they reach beyond 100 customers, and teams end up spending more time on tactical support ticket resolution and renewal discussions than proactive outreach to understand what really matters to their customers. To scale, companies should be obsessed with their customer’s lifetime value and have a dedicated customer success team focusing on driving customer adoption.
Rapid growth also demands that you be realistic about what you can deliver. It’s better to turn down the business if your solution is not the right fit than to promise what you can’t deliver and create an angry ex-customer.
Customer concerns always need to be addressed in a timely manner. For example, if your customer is concerned with certain product features and threatens to leave you, listen to them and work with the product team to develop a short-term and long-term solution as quickly as possible. Take time to understand the business impact on your customer and take proactive action. Never take your customers for granted — especially customers who can vouch for you, as they are the ones who can make a significant impact on your growth. Create advocates, not just customers. They go out of their way to be your champion and expand the footprint of your solution. The reason this is so important in terms of preparation is because failure will happen. Things will go wrong. There will be a time when your company will make mistakes or miss a deadline. When that happens, advocates will stick with you and weather the storms. Customers who are not believers in your brand and the relationship may not.
Gaining trust from your customers will not only earn you their loyalty but also will accelerate your growth through word of mouth. Losing one influential customer may have a domino effect— others will eventually follow suit. Customer loyalty is earned through consistent and holistic strategies. A customer may leave for a better offering unless you make them believe that they can’t build a future without your thought leadership and guidance.
Your company is built from the ground up — not just your product, but your values, mission, vision and team as well. If your business goals are well integrated into your operations and employee culture, if you have cultivated an environment of trustworthy people, and if you have anticipated any possible disconnects, then you have developed the resilience to navigate difficult situations and the ability to make effective, thoughtful strategic decisions even when the unexpected happens.