Although vision is essential, according to Capriza’s founder, Yukal Scarlat, it’s not the critical ingredient for startup – or longer-term business – success.
Scarlat draws on his own significant experience and concludes that ability and flexibility are what’s really key. By that he means the ability to adjust and be open-minded in response to early and continued proposition testing. Without this, he declares that in relation to Capriza’s journey:
“we likely wouldn’t have been successful… If we hadn’t listened …if we hadn’t responded and adapted, our offering would not have addressed the real hole in the market.”
“Being nimble”, he emphasises, “is more important than being right”. (See the linked article for Entrepreneur below.)
It’s a realisation that established CEOs and successful startup founders also increasingly recognise.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Tom Clive relays a conversation with a Fortune 500 company CEO who told him “dinosaurs must learn to become pumas”, they must adapt rapidly and cost-effectively to a business environment that is more ruthless today than ever, or risk failure and inevitable administration.
If you cannot adapt, Clive points out, you nullify your business proposition.
In a very neat infographic on the same theme, leading accountancy solutions business, Sage, points out (among other eye-opening factors), that 70% of the companies that were on the Fortune 1000 list 10 years ago have now gone, all due to changing market conditions and an inability to evolve.
Agility never stops mattering
And to be truly agile, you need to ensure that you’re listening hard and listening well, to your customers, competitors, staff, peers and influencers, as well as government bodies and those who may foreseeably impact the market in which you’re launching or already operating.
Then you must use what you hear and learn to change for the better.
Given that according to leading sound consultant, Julian Treasure, we only retain 25% of what we hear (and we often ‘creatively’ interpret and filter that 25%, to suit our objectives), it’s not surprising that many customers accuse businesses of not listening to them. (Treasure’s brief TedTalk on this topic, including his tips for listening better, is fascinating.)
For example, in research involving 1000 consumers in 2016, conducted by SurveyMonkey and Apptentive, they discovered that only 1 in 5 consumers believed that companies actually listened to them when they provided feedback.
As McKinsey pointed out in a great piece written back in 2015, not listening, or being ‘tone deaf’ to what you are really being told, “squanders the treasure that is customer feedback”. And Keith Rosen’s very helpful 8 things to eliminate when listening to customers during sales pitches and other business interactions is also worth a read.
It doesn’t stop at agility…
Even if you’ve nailed all that, you’re not done.
To be really capable of longevity, in Scarlat’s experience, you also have to create the right culture and that all comes down to the people you hire and the working environment you create.
So don’t cut corners or compromise when it comes to the people on your team.
“Culture has a lasting legacy”, Scarlat warns, “and the wrong hiring decisions early can have a corrosive impact for years”, not least because “the next wave of employees will take their cues from your early staff”.
What else matters?
Doing everything to make your customers happy, Scarlat believes. It’s an objective and a commitment that he considers must stretch across every individual and every department. Testing and listening is only an element of that process. It’s a responsibility that should, he says, be shared by every employee.
Lastly, on his recipe list of essential ingredients, Scarlat stresses that leadership development should never be underestimated. Strong and successful startups evolve. So must their leaders.
If you don’t grow, evolve your own skillsets and then delegate effectively, then as a founder, you’re setting up yourself and your business to fail. One of the worst things you can do is become the bottleneck, the “dreaded single point of failure”, he counsels.
To scale your business, you cannot afford to be a micro-manager or a bottleneck either. Scarlat’s wise words about recruiting and developing the right team and being agile in the face of changing market dynamics and genuine feedback, matter very much in ensuring that you’re well-positioned to delegate.
As your business grows, you need to remember that you cannot and should not be, the pilot of every plane flying in your fleet. Your job, as an effective founder, is now to keep that all important eye on the overall radar screen. In essence, once you hit this stage, you’re now air traffic control.
Forbes’ recent piece, citing an IBM global study of over 1,500 CEOS, titled ‘The single most important skill to thrive in change’, sums it up well: “as a leader, you can’t accurately predict the future, but you can increase the capacity of your organisation to deal with an uncertain one. To do that, you’ll need to hone one skill to near super-power levels: coaching… By applying good coaching techniques to your work with others, you can succeed in decreasing their reliance on you.”
By doing so, “together you can do more than just weather uncertainty; you can succeed and thrive through it”.
Be nimble...and win
Xerox’s engaging infographic, ‘Winning with agility’, well illustrates everything discussed above, especially the benefits of staying nimble and responsive. It’s worth a look, especially if, like me, you’re committed to running a business capable of enduring well past the next decade.
much of your long-term success is instilled in the beginning stages of your company. Culture, differentiation and customer commitment are all formulated from the very early days of your business. And while needs change as you transform from a startup to a larger organization, ensuring you put in the time -- and allow yourself the flexibility -- to hone your product and approach early establishes important norms which run through the life of your business.