Four and a half years ago, I stumbled into cofounding a fintech company that focused on something I knew almost nothing about: retail banking. After starting with nothing to building a sizable business that’s had its share of many highs and lows, I’ve learned a lot. Regardless of the industry you operate in, these are a few key things every aspiring business mogul should know:
Create something different that exceeds people’s needs
Most clients only ask for what they need because they don’t know what else is possible. Develop a solution for your clients that actually addresses their problem in a meaningful way. For example, while our clients are interested in banking solutions, we provide these plus an entire “lifestyle layer” that enables them to engage their consumers like never before — a value-add they didn’t expect.
But don’t just sell what you have — understand their problem. Clearly, they are looking for a solution, but why? What friction points are there?
The clients we work with generally don’t want to do any development or IT work on their end. They want a plug-and-play solution that they’re also able to customize. This isn’t always the easiest things to provide, but when you spend time creating a solution that solves your client’s problem and addresses their concerns, it not only impresses them but also boosts your credibility.
Market with scalability and manageability
This is a chicken-or-egg scenario: Should you build a robust technology infrastructure that requires more time and money, or should you start small and scramble to build? “Scalability” is a common buzzword we’re all familiar with, but many people don’t put enough thought into it.
Scalability goes beyond technology — it applies to staffing, processes, policies, office space and more. Work with your key members and make sure they understand where you think the business is headed. Take time planning how you will account for various situations that could arise, and how you’ll handle them. This way, when it’s time to scale, it’s no surprise to anyone, and you’ll have ideas at the ready to pull from.
Keep your friends close, and your technology team closer
When you start building a new company or product, it’s going to vastly evolve from the initial concept. No matter what you do, there will be changes — sometimes pretty major ones.
If there’s anyone who typically isn’t happy about change, it’s your technology team. Think about it: They’ve spent months (or sometimes years) developing the current platform, then out of nowhere, they have to completely re-engineer the solution or force a new solution to work with the existing infrastructure.
Keep your tech team in the loop so that when changes arise, they understand why. In the hectic, day-to-day grind, it’s easy to just give orders about what needs to be done. But to those who aren’t involved with everything, these orders can seem like a knee-jerk or an irrational decision. Keeping your team in the loop helps them understand why any deviations need to occur and what impact they have on the business. Ultimately, the team will feel more connected, and the added workload will be better received.
Seek out strategic partnerships
When you build relationships with new partners, there are several things you should consider — one being mutually beneficial channel partnerships.
We were once speaking with two different service providers to provide new functionality for our customers. Our technology team looked at both party’s application program interfaces (APIs) and felt that they provided a similar offering. Even though Provider A would have been easier to integrate with, we chose Provider B for strategic reasons. Both providers delivered the same end-user experience, but in exchange for using their services, Provider B would push our solution to their clients — bringing us both more business. We even looped our technology team into the decision process (speaking to my previous point) and they were on board to tackle the extra work.
Learn how to provide simple explanations to disruptive solutions
You’ve created something awesome and unheard of. The problem is, if it’s something truly revolutionary, no one else has heard of it either. You’re at square one, and you have to educate people in a meaningful way. Above all, it’s important to learn how to explain to your client (in terms they’ll understand) why your solution is so innovative and beneficial to them.
We introduced a functionality that no one was accustomed to experiencing in a retail banking application. We knew our platform inside out and could explain it to each other easily, but we ran into a communication barrier when trying to sell it to the banking industry. People had no clue what we were talking about. We ended up using banking industry speak to put it in terms that made sense to them and addressed the problems they faced.
One way to streamline this undertaking is to come up with several simple explanations and try them out with different clients. Attending trade shows and exhibits is a great way to test your marketing message with key people in the industry. This exercise will also point to any weaknesses in your messaging so you can figure out what needs to be improved.
Plan for another plan.
No matter what you do, nothing will happen the way you expect it. While the highs will be high (and the lows, low), trust in yourself that you can persevere through the tough situations and find a way to make it work against all odds.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.