Entrepreneurs should always be asking themselves, “How can I use technology to scale my business faster?” There are a number of ways to do this to move ahead of your competition and leapfrog your business into the future, as detailed in Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One and Salim Ismail’s Exponential Organisations, which I recommend every entrepreneur read.
Here are some of the ways I have leapfrogged my business, Mann Made, alongside relevant examples.
1. Utilise already available Tech Stacks
You can scale your business in an exponential way by using various internal and external tech stacks that are free or available at a low cost. Just think of the iPhone. When it first launched, it did not use a single piece of new technology. It was manufactured using pre-existing technologies. It was more a case of how Apple packaged these technologies together that created the iPhone’s unique user experience and ecosystem. It illustrates that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, you can use pre-existing technologies to help your business get ahead. In this way, you’ll have more time to focus on other more important elements of the business, which will allow you to scale faster.
Use project management software tools and digital dashboards to help you assess the financial health of your business in real time by means of a digital timeline. They can comprehensively outline your expenses and sales drivers, provide an overview of your previous, current and projected sales, and illustrate further ways in which you can streamline various business processes. These should be implemented across your business, alongside time-tracking software, such as Toggl, and project management software, such as Asana, both of which we use at Mann Made. Choose whichever tech stacks suit the structure of your business and will help you scale and automate quicker.
Also think of shortcuts. Mandrill by MailChimp is an email marketing platform that provides in-depth analytics and tracking options. Using plugins on your website or inbox means you don’t have to create your own email software. By combining multiple programming languages, software services and online products, you can rely on external servers and databases to make your own tech stack.
2. Leverage assets, products and services you don’t own
Uber and Taxify don’t own any cars, Airbnb and AfriStay don’t own any properties, social media platforms don’t create any content. Each of these businesses leverage assets they don’t own. And you can do the same.
In the digital realm, you need to be able to scale up your systems, servers and output really quickly to ensure your website doesn’t crash during peak periods. Make sure you use the big guys – those with a reliable reputation, proven track record and 24/7 support – for domain and website hosting as well as cloud storage.
3. Crowdsourcing through the gig economy
Similarly, leverage freelancers and contractors through the gig economy. This is one of the ways in which the future of work will be defined in the coming years. “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,” according to Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. By using the power of the crowd and the collective, you can source solutions beyond your employed work force. Look to OfferZen, Flexy, Fiverr, Supplier swop for on-demand work forces, as well as The Resource and I Know a Guy Facebook groups.
The gig economy allows you to call up trusted and proven freelancers and contractors as and when you need them. It doesn’t leave you with the financial burden of keeping them onboard when you don’t have projects for them to do. Have systems in place so that the training required for on-demand staff is minimal or has been briefed ahead of time using training materials, so once the project is briefed they can hit the road running.
NetFlorist is the perfect South African example, they scale up really quickly during their peak periods and don’t have to bear the costs during the quiet times when it’s business as usual.
4. Create an ownership mindset
You won’t have to micro manage your staff if you hire the right people. Make performance-based individuals – those who are self-motivated to grow without the need for external input – part of your core team. Give your employees more autonomy and decision-making power. Allow them to have creative ownership of the projects they’re working on. This will help them to thrive in the work environment and will ensure optimal results. That’s exactly what we try to do at Mann Made and have found that people rise to the occasion and take accountability for their projects with exceptional pride.
5. Expand your network and community
In 2011 software engineer Marc Andreessen said that software is eating the world. And it’s true that in the coming years, all businesses, not just internet companies, will become digitised and will run on software.
In 2018, networks are eating the world. By leveraging the network effect, you can create a strong system and support base of likeminded entrepreneurs in the same or similar industries, as well as future business opportunities.
The best way to do this is to attend industry related-events, conferences, indabas and award ceremonies – find those by browsing B2B websites and industry calendar listing, such as BizCommunity. Attend relevant alumni events hosted by your university, a local business school, or sign up for webinars hosted by international business schools. Expand your network by joining local community pages and groups, try LinkedIn, meetup.com, Facebook, as well as open-source communities to share ideas and collaborate on projects. The SingularityU South Africa Summit has a number of chapter events about exponential technologies happening throughout the year in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
More importantly – offer advice and personal learnings on these various platforms, be engaged and answer questions freely, so that you are seen as an industry leader. Accept invitations to exclusive and invite-only industry related events and conferences. Also be sure to share information and key learnings with your audience on social media. And remember to be relevant.
6. Learn from the future
In the past, we were taught in quite rigid ways; these days there are multiple teachers and numerous credible sources of information. Subscribe to newsletters from quality websites and blogs that are linked to your line of business, join online courses, participate in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are offered through various universities. Have a look at the free introductory course to understanding exponential technologies offered by Singularity University. You can’t evolve to the next level – as a human and an entrepreneur – if you’re not updating your knowledge base and keeping up with industry trends. Watch pertinent lectures on YouTube and presentations on TEDTalks, increase your emotional intelligence by watching The School of Life – each of these will help you become a more agile leader and understand your work force better.
My goal for 2018 is to do at least three online courses – in electronics, programming and in Blockchain. Never stop learning!
7. Experiment with iteration
Jeff Bizos rates the success of Amazon not based on earnings, but on the amount of research and development they are undertaking. Of course, it’s much easier for multi-billion-dollar companies to pump billions of dollars into R&D, but much harder if you’re still starting out or at the stage of trying to grow your business.
Supercell, the mobile gaming company that developed Clash of the Clans, has an entire department that develops, trials and kills games. Progress is all about experimentation. While it’s important to develop new products and services, it’s equally important to trial them, get constructive feedback from your target audience, redevelop, trial for a second and third time and, at times, learn how to bury unsuccessful projects. This process will help you to minimise the risks involved in R&D.
At Mann Made we’re always willing to try new things – and fail. We established a music record label that folded, tried our hand at advert gaming in the early days of internet adoption in South Africa, and created a content-sharing platform in 2005, the same year that YouTube was launched.
Through these trial and error projects we learned the importance of asking – our internal or external project managers – to create a minimum viable product that was not as expensive as the final product, but could be used to test and receive sufficient feedback from our target audience. This process would give us an indication of whether it was worth investing further.
I encourage you to fail in your business from time to time as ‘fail’ merely stands for F- first, A- attempt, I – in, L – learning, and that’s the only way you’ll get your business to thrive.