All entrepreneurs want to see their business become the best it can be, with growth almost always a key objective and indicator of success. Navigating the complexities of growth however, can be extremely stressful and while it’s a good problem to have, it’s an even better problem to be prepared for.
As the founder of a tech start-up that has been on this journey, I’ve definitely had my share of stumbling blocks and learnings along the way. Since our launch in 2011, Oneflare’s team has grown to 70 and now has more than 80,000 registered trade and service experts across 150 categories, ranging from plumbers to dog groomers. We’ve also just recently secured a $15 million investment from Fairfax Media’s Domain Group to support further expansion.
Here are some key things to think about as you pave your own path to start-up success.
1. Plan your route
Forecasting has been key to managing our rapid growth. I used to think, ‘why spend time forecasting, when I can spend time on the business?’ But over the years the power of planning ahead has become clear. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to Oneflare’s first day and tell myself to plan every facet of the company from the beginning.
It allows you to predict when you need cash injections and consequently when to start talking to investors or get a business loan. Getting potential partners interested in Oneflare early on meant we could negotiate on our own terms and secure a better deal than at the last minute under the pressures of ensuring our growth.
Starting ahead of time also helped us form the best partnership. Domain Group has extended our reach to our target audience and, as a bigger company, provided us with guidance on our own development. In return we provide an allied offering to their property customers.
2. Never lose sight of your core offering, or your customers
It’s easy to get distracted from what makes a business successful and this can lead to a brand becoming diluted and confused, especially as a company is starting out and yet to establish itself.
I always return to our mission statement of ‘connecting Australians with the right trade and service experts’ when planning anything – from a product or website enhancement to a new role.
This means I’m always trying to think about customers and the more information we have about them the better.
Quantitative measures are my first port of call.
Oneflare attracts 1.3 million site visits and 45,000 jobs each month, so analysis can show trends and trouble spots. I look at how many customers are placing ads and response rates from businesses. For example, if a lot of jobs in one area are not getting the number of replies we would expect, I can look further into what’s happening.
Armed with this information, I look for human insight. As a provider in a double-sided marketplace, I often spend time with customers and trade and service providers to see how Oneflare can help. A few weeks ago I spent a day with a plumber who told me that he fixes sinks but not toilets and that this was quite common. Through further research we found similar instances across all trades. As a result we created subcategories on our customer enquiry forms so that requests were only sent to relevant experts.
Taking advantage of friends and family as a free focus group is also a quick way to see where improvements can be made. A friend recently told me that he felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of quotes he was getting. This was reflected in subsequent consumer research, leading us to place a cap of three responses per job posting. Both of these changes related back to our mission, our reason for being.
3. Have the right people in place
Finding the right people at the right time is also key for managing growth at any stage. Given our fast-paced environment, I look for self-starters who have a strong cultural fit with the company, as well as the requisite level of skill.
I also think it’s important that everyone in the business is involved in pursuing the same goal, especially at the beginning when you need to rely on a small team. Not recruiting the right staff can create an unfocused working environment and increased turnover. A long-term approach to recruitment will also help the juniors of today become your leaders of tomorrow.
As part of forward planning, I’ve also learned to think about where knowledge gaps could appear, when more man hours are needed in certain areas, and when new skills may need to be brought in. These insights have allowed the team and I to structure a defined recruitment plan to get the right person in place when they are needed.
But workforce isn’t just about recruitment. As the company gets bigger it’s important to evaluate existing staff and ask if they can meet the changing needs of the business.
An employee may have been brilliant at their job a year ago, but can they do the job today? I always try to upskill staff in the first instance, based on our forecasted needs and provide ongoing feedback on the roles we are creating. But sometimes hard decisions have to be made and we will hire an external candidate above an existing colleague.
4. Get the right resources
Resources can make or break a company and the instant reaction when you’re under pressure, is to reduce costs. This needs to be balanced with ensuring the reliability of that resource.
Experiencing down time because your less expensive servers aren’t working is going to cost a lot more than any savings made.
I also consider future proofing and ongoing expansion. Oneflare is hosted on AWS, a cloud environment that is scaled up easily when we have the need. This agreement allows us to more closely relate our expenditure to the performance of the business and avoids tying up finances. Our engineers also spend a lot of time optimising our code to ensure each action takes as little processing power as possible, which has a huge compound effect.
5. Prepare to be the face of your company
As a CEO or entrepreneur, it’s important to stake your brand’s place in the market place. Every enterprise is different but whatever you offer, it’s important to communicate with your customers.
Draw up a marketing plan, consider working with local papers, websites and social media channels, attend events, or join up with other nearby businesses – whatever you think will raise the profile of your brand amongst your target audience and encourage them to spend their money with you.
Before any important meeting, speaking opportunity or interview with a journalist, I build a set of succinct key messages that I want people to come away with, starting with our mission statement. I also think about how I can weave these into common questions asked of business leaders such as ‘how will the company continue to expand?’ and ‘what makes you different from the competition?’
Performing in periods of rapid growth for the smallest to the biggest companies relies on planning. So don’t fail to prepare, prepare to succeed.
Adam Dong is the Founder and CEO of Oneflare, the online marketplace changing the way Australians connect with trade and service experts.