Blitzscaling: my first college course

Yesterday, at age 32, I was in a college classroom for the first time in my life. I was genuinely excited. There is something awe-inspiring about a place where people learn their future professions, especially if that place is called Stanford.

Blitzscaling is a term coined by Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn), John Lilly (former Mozilla exec, now investor), Allen Blue (also LinkedIn) and Chris Yeh. If you Google it right now, all you’ll see are announcements of this Stanford course and nothing more. It will be interesting to see the Google Trend for this term in two or three years from now. Just like the Google Trend for “unicorn startup” shows that the term has basically appeared out of nowhere very recently, the Blitzscaling term may be picked up by the entire market.

The Blitzscaling team is saying that Silicon Valley’s advantage over the rest of the world isn’t just in the number of startups that are created; startups are created everywhere. The real difference, they say, is in the ability of these startups to scale. The first phase in a startup’s life is the “easy” one (relatively) where a bunch of people sit down, write code and ship an early product.

If people are actually interested in what they do, then things become more serious. How do you get your product to more people? How do you develop it? Who do you partner with? What people do you need? etc. etc These are all questions that morph and get more complicated as the startup grows.

Today, at indeni, we’re at the phase where we are making millions of dollars from paying customers all over the world using our product. We’re growing rapidly and keep asking ourselves how we want to look like over the next few years. There are tons of questions – who do we focus on as partners (the device manufacturers and channel partners), who do we hire, how do we scale customer support and satisfy our customers, how do we scale our technology to support more device manufacturers, etc.

My hope is that in this course I will learn from those who have built the company we all use to communicate through. I will learn from them what challenges lay ahead, how to think about them and tips on how to tackle them. Remember, each startup has a different course, but there’s a lot of common knowledge that can be shared between companies to help them succeed. That’s what makes Silicon Valley so successful.

Embedding Yourself With Your Customer

Shardul Shah, a respected investor at Index Ventures, posted Learning to Say No and Four Other Secrets of a Successful Customer-Centric Startup just yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, feel free to pause now and read it before you continue reading this post. It makes several points anyone building a product or a company should keep in mind.

I recently asked people if they would work for their customer. The feedback I got was interesting – a lot of people never thought about it. They set out to build a company because there is a problem they want to solve. They believe they have a better solution than others and will be successful at building it and selling it.

Often, though, they don’t really think about the customer. So, it was refreshing to see Adallom’s approach, as detailed in Shardul’s post.

You see, when I wake up, I am immediately reminded of our customers. My Internet provider (home and office!) is our customer; the chocolate I buy is made by our customer; I sleep at hotels run by our customer and I use the credit cards issued by our customers. The shoes that I wear are made by a customer and one of the main news sites I consume is run by a customer. And so, on a daily basis, I am reminded dozens of times of how our customers impact my own personal life.

So it begs you to think – if your customers impact your life so much, what is your impact on your customers’ lives? Have you ever given it much thought? Should you have more impact?

To Shardul’s points:

  • If you f*ck up, grow a pair and apologize. If you need to fly physically to the customer, do it. Not just to save the account from churning, but to really take responsibility for your actions and recognize their impact on others.
  • Focus is vital. You can’t service everybody and cover everything. Yes, your technology is amazing and can do a billion different things. But what are the top customer challenges you can solve with it and are they enough to get going?
  • The customer isn’t always right. You always need to put the customer first, but it is quite possible they are asking you to do something that will send you down a rabbit hole and kill your company. At that point, of course, everyone will lose. We learned this the hard way, and luckily stopped it before it became devastating.
  • Lighthouse customers will improve your game. Our Fortune 100 customers have caused us to improve our support services, build a more solid technology, generate technical documents up the wazoo and a lot of sleepless nights. However, we’re a better company for it and I thank them for doing this.

To summarize: put your customer first in a smart way and everyone will benefit. Remember, just like they are your customer, you are theirs.