Growing a business is hard. Doing it in one of the most competitive markets in the world is really hard. Ask anyone who’s grown a business and you’ll find that launching and scaling a start-up based in NYC can be a double-edged sword – while resources are abundant, so is competition. That’s not to say that competition is a bad thing, in fact it’s a necessary evil. It means that companies must be very strategic in their efforts, leverage resources that are available to them and constantly assess their successes, failures and goals.
As I join a new company, Cue Connect, and leverage my skills to grow another exciting business, I wanted to use this article to share a few tried a true tactics that have helped me drive success across the companies I’ve worked for:
The first thing to establish when creating a business is who the very specific target market is. I call this “Success by Subtraction,” and it’s rooted in defining and conquering a specific market before expanding elsewhere. Too often startups try to do too much with too little resources. It all goes back to the Tortoise-Hare analogy – take your time and you’ll make up far more ground than those who attempt to grow too quickly.
While many entrepreneurs get caught up with the concept of a “whole product.” This is incredibly difficult to achieve early on. They want to offer an entire solution, but many don’t have the resources to do it well. It’s important to stay lean, and start with your most compelling offering, and you can then grow from there. If you’re lacking enough of a product offering for a particular market, consider engaging in a partnership to help you cobble together a fuller offering.
As you launch a company or product, it’s also important to spend a significant portion of your time on research so that you have a complete understanding of a target market and the buyer personas in that market. Before you start promoting your product, you should have a clear understanding of your buyers’ pain-points, how they think and what a “day in their life” looks like. Then, it’s important to identify how your product contributes to that day, ultimately making it better.
Never Attack a Fortified Hill
Once you’ve ironed out what your product is, who your target market will be and the value you provide to your prospective customers, you should get a good lay of the land. You must assess who your direct competitors are, who your indirect competitors are and understand what your differentiator is.
Having a competitor (or a few) could ultimately be a good thing. It tells you that your market makes sense and helps you to define the space that your company is working in. It also gives investors, analysts and consumers-alike a reference point from which to view your product value. However, if your competition is very well funded, highly established and difficult to differentiate from, then it may make sense to pursue a different beachhead. While having healthy competition is by no means a “show stopper,” you also must have a compelling reason to go up against an established player in the field.
Why Culture is Key
A solid concept and product is a good start – but success is impossible without the right people. Having talented and passionate individuals on board to drive the effort forward should be a priority. But in a crowded marketplace like NYC, where businesses are using flashy tactics to recruit and retain staff, it’s necessary to differentiate with something a bit less tangible – culture.
Talented individuals want to work somewhere that their hard work makes an impact and will be recognized. They want to wake up every morning and feel that they’re contributing to an organization where everyone is “rowing in the same direction” and has the same end-goal.
Culture isn’t a natural extension of the individuals who work at a company, rather it needs to be harnessed and built from the top down. It can be done through recognition programs, social initiatives and work-life balance. In creating a desirable place to work, companies can better acquire and retain top talent that moves the needle toward their goals.
A World of Resources
Beyond an extremely large pool of talent, New York City has a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. The city has countless resources available for start-ups that are looking to grow their business and network with like-minded individuals. Many do not place NYC in the same bucket as Silicon Valley when they think of an incubator of innovation, however, New York over the past decade has become a top city churning out serial entrepreneurs and VC firms. By taking advantage of the right resources and networking opportunities with influencers within your market, you can quickly leverage connections to your advantage and scale a business accordingly.
Scale not Stale
Finally, it’s important to know when the right time is to scale. To bring it full circle, this begins with going back to research stage and defining what the next most viable target market is for the product. I know that many people, like myself, do this through a scoring system – evaluating different factors and weighing them based on what will have the greatest impact today, and in the future. I’ve found that you can always sell your service for a period of time, but having the longevity and innovation that keeps customers coming back, and enables you to scale, is the greatest challenge.
Overall, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in growing businesses over the years is that start-ups must map to their strengths. It’s critical to identify a clean target-market to own, work on dominating that and then once that’s achieved can move on from there to scale and dominate additional verticals and audiences. By trying to do too much, too quickly, start-ups often find themselves overwhelmed and ill-equipped to meet all the demands that come their way. Understanding and taking advantage of the local landscape can help to alleviate many of these challenges and can be the differentiator between two competing companies. While the NYC market is a crowded one, it’s also very collaborative and by taking advantage of all the resources NYC has to offer, start-ups have the opportunity to go the distance.
Image Credit: CC by Sharon Mollerus