During an interview last week I was asked to talk about the most impactful things we did in the early days at BigCommerce (2009–2012) to grow the company from nothing to a $100M valuation during that time, so I thought I’d share my speaking notes here to help other founders on their journey.

Invest In Design As A Differentiator

  • Every business has some element of design that can be used as a competitive advantage to get new customers or employees
  • What is the first impression potential customers get when they experience your brand? (reception area, website, etc)
  • Think about your customer experience and how you can improve that with efficient design

Be Tied To Your Vision, But Not Your Approach

  • Be open to new ways of accomplishing a goal — even if those ideas aren’t yours
  • Look at what your competitors and companies in other industries are doing and apply what’s working to your business
  • “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” — if something is important, make sure it’s being measured

Not All Customers Are Created Equally

  • Understand who your “perfect customer” is
  • Reallocate your marketing budget to get your message in front of more people who look like your perfect customer
  • Team your team how to recognize (lead score) potential perfect customers and reach out to them first

Don’t Plan More Than 18 Months Out

  • If you’re growing fast, your company will be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT in 18 months from now
  • You will probably have to replace your leadership team more than once over the next few years — and that’s OK
  • Hire for where you want to take the company over the next 18 months — not 2/5/10 years

Don’t Rely On A Single Marketing Channel

  • Understand the pros and cons of different marketing channels, especially online
  • Get something working in one marketing channel and then test it across other marketing channels
  • If it works on other channels, split your budget between those channels so you’re not reliant on a single source of leads or customers

Bonus Your Team Based On Customer Success

  • The customer needs to be at the center of every decision your team makes, especially your leadership team
  • The best way to incentivize people is to tie a part of their bonus (50%) to a customer success metric
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been the most effective for me — increased NPS from 12 to 65 in 18 months as a result
  • Start measuring your NPS using Drift
  • Set quarterly goals for your leadership team to increase your NPS from X to Y
  • Attribute 25%-50% of your leadership team’s compensation to a customer success metric such as NPS

Focus On Market Opportunity, Not Competitors

  • Don’t react or change your strategy based on a knee-jerk reaction to something a competitor does
  • If you focus on making your customers happier over time, the rest will take care of itself
  • Lead by example — obsess over your customers and teach your team to do the same

Listen To Your Gut When It Comes To Hiring

  • If your gut tells you not to hire someone and you can’t explain why, then don’t hire them
  • Back channel reference one of their previous bosses, peers and direct reports to get a real understanding of their character
  • Take them to dinner with their partner and see how they communicate with each other

You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone

  • If you have multiple products/services but no “break out hit” then focus on making one excellent in the short term
  • Figure out which of your products/services will help your customers the most and go “all in” on that at first
  • Determine which customer segment your product/service is best suited for and focus your marketing to appeal to them

Mitchell Harper

I build companies (7 so far) and advise smart founders on how to grow theirs. http://www.facebook.com/mitchellharper

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