INTRODUCTION Every year since 1982,
the Inc. 5000 has recognized the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. Each company in the running is ranked according to the percentage of its revenue growth over a four-year period. Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall in the rooms where the leaders of those companies were talking about what they learned on their paths to rapid growth? We thought you might say that.
We asked leaders from a
select group of enterprise software and services companies in the Inc. 5000 to give up the goods. In these pages, you’ll find advice that could change the destiny of your business, if you let it. Each participant answered the single question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as you’ve grown rapidly?
Have a vision and a
purpose, and get out of the way. At The Nerdery, we are lucky to have grown a culture and community that attract top talent. We focus on supporting our teams in their passionate pursuit of shared success. OurNerds are unstumpable — there isn’t a technical or business challenge they cannot overcome. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to ask our leaders to focus on building alignment around our vision rather than managing specific outcomes. If we truly believe in our team, we will empower them to build the best place in the world for Nerds to work. Our job as leaders is to work toward a common understanding of that vision, and to get out of the way. Tom O’Neill, COO
Create a culture where the
best ideas win. The people with the primary data must be tasked with driving the decisions. These people, who interact with clients or are directly involved in implementing projects, understand the nuances of an impactful solution. Most standard corporate practices involve passing these ideas up the chain, where they are unintentionally manipulated beyond recognition. Burton M. Goldfield, President and CEO
The most important lesson is
to hire for great culture fit and train the needed skills to be successful. You can’t succeed with the wrong kinds of people for your organization, but the right people will walk through walls to make customers and partners successful. Russ Glass, CEO
After 15 years of experience
as an online performance marketing pioneer, I’ve learned that a successful entrepreneur shouldn’t be too greedy. One of the biggest mistakes I see even the most seasoned entrepreneurs make is overfunding. To succeed, you should start with a small amount of funding, which gives you more options later in the game. Entrepreneurs who go after large amounts of cash are the ones most often forced to relinquish control of their business. The cash ties them to an end game they can’t achieve. If the only motivation behind starting a business is to get rich, don’t start one. On the other hand, growing your business requires a great deal of passion — from you and your employees. Be sure that the talent you surround yourself with is the best and the brightest — employees who want your business to succeed as much as you do. An entrepreneur must have the humility to step aside and let his topic experts take the reins when it comes to their areas of expertise. Successfully growing a business requires sheer determination. Professionally speaking, starting and running a business is the greatest challenge one can undertake. An entrepreneur must be steeled for what will come and what it takes to achieve the greatest reward — a successful business. Erik Matlick, CEO
Grow by helping, not interrupting.
Buyers are busier than ever, and they never wake up in the morning and say, “I want to watch ads.” But marketing teams wake up most days and just make more ads, trying to interrupt people more and more. The best companies figure out how to be more inbound and attract more people to their company using owned media, not more and more ads. If you focus on inbound marketing, you will attract more customers at a lower cost and have more advocates for your brand, all of which drives faster growth. Mike Volpe, CMO
Being a customer-focused organization is
the only thing that matters for your own success. Yes, customers pay the bills, but a true partnership with your clients creates an environment for innovation, experimentation, and growth. It’s great when your product and team deliver results right out of the box, but the real win is when they trust you with their internal issues and problems, allowing you to collaborate to alleviate those pain points or fix what was seen as impossible. That builds lasting value and loyal customers, and fuels your own company growth. Chip Luman, COO
Continued growth and success are
a result of many factors: the right leadership, the right team, and, most important, the right feedback and needs of your clients. Ray Schuhmann, CEO of Kinetic theTechnologyAgency
Fast growth is an exercise
in authenticity. As a founder and leader, the bigger your company gets, the more you run into people who try to change your attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. You start hearing the phrase “it’s just business” a lot. In all of the chaos, it’s very easy to forget why you started a business in the first place. When you stop listening to your heart and start listening to outside influences, you’ve basically lost your way. What made your company successful is your obsession and your drive. Most people are emotionally detached from your business, so their advice has no passion behind it. If you listen to these folks (most of whom have never built a successful business of their own), you start to change from the inside out and you lose your authenticity. One day you think it might be a good idea to violate one of your deeply held values because, after all, it’s just business, and the next day you’re walking, talking, and dressing differently. The day after that, you’ve become someone you would have punched in the face five years ago if you had met them in a bar. So the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you have to stay obsessed and you have to keep to your own beautiful, twisted, totally unique course. Success cannot be boiled down to a formula. It can only be achieved by people who have no choice but to pursue their obsession. Keep trying, keep failing, keep winning — but don’t change what’s inside of you to make a few extra bucks. Bret Starr, Founder and CEO
ABOUT THE STARR CONSPIRACY You
shouldn’t have to pay an agency to get to know your industry. The Starr Conspiracy already knows your market segment, who you are, and where you fit in. We are a strategic marketing and advertising agency devoted exclusively to enterprise software and services. When you partner with us, it’s to build market share, multiply brand awareness, and drive sales leads — not to bone up on the basics. We’ve been “out there” for more than a decade so that you can hit the ground running. Founded in 1999 and located in Fort Worth, Texas, The Starr Conspiracy has won eight best places to work awards, countless creative awards, and maintains a net promoter score of 90 percent (higher than Apple). On the Web at www.thestarrconspiracy.com.