Last week, while in sunny Mountain View, California, for the Small Business Technology Tour, I spoke with Scott Hintz, co-founder of travel management company TripIt (TripIt was recently bought by expense management company Concur).
Hintz struck me as the kind of guy who you would find sitting quietly on the sidelines of at a party. But don't be fooled by his calm demeanor. He holds years of experience and insight. Prior to founding TripIt, Hintz was part of the team that launched HotWire (clearly, the guy loves travel). During our interview, we discussed five lessons he's learned (and in some cases is still trying to understand) on growing a successful business.
1. Grow slow and listen to your customers.
Instead of trying to grow fast and get a ton of money, TripIt's business model has been to grow slow and rabidly listen to its customers. This model has helped it develop a huge following of very loyal customers. They might not love their airline, but they definitely love their travel management tool.
2. Build a feature, sit back and see how people react to it.
Part of the rubric of slower, but smarter, growth is to build a feature and see how your users react to it. If they don't like it, then change it or make it better. This mindset is what has made TripIt the leading travel-service app on the market. One of TripIt's best features? When creating an account all you have to do is forward your travel itinerary to the site. That's it. Account, created.
3. Mobility is a powerful driver.
Early on, TripIt executives knew that mobility would be a huge driver of their market. By investing in mobility early, TripIt has reaped huge rewards (one of which was their acquisition by Concur). It's important that you know the key drivers in your industry. But even if you're early to market (like TripIt was) the payoffs can be huge.
4. Hire fast and fire faster.
Many companies think they need more employees to grow. Oftentimes its not more that they need butbetter. One of Hintz's founding partners said that one good engineer is worth more than 1,000 bad ones. How many B+ employees do you have in your world? You should really focus on having just a few A+ employees. Consider Navy SEALS. They don't have an army of soldiers to do their job. Their teams are very small but highly effective, and they do just fine.
5. Let your product market for you.
In the early days, TripIt did not have the money to market its product. However, the product was so good (and adored by users) that it marketed itself through word of mouth. Maybe you don't have a budget for a $50,000 advertising campaign, but you can certainly ensure that your products and services are so good and compelling that they will speak for themselves and generate incredible buzz. And before you know it, you'll have a loyal following of [paying] customers.