Here is something business schools and venture capitalists don’t tell you: in start-ups, little things compound to make an enormous difference. The little things add up just like compound interest adds up – they are vital to the exponential growth of any company.
Sometimes the success of a company can be attributed to doing one thing really well. But often, success is due to executing on many little things.
Here are some small things that can make a big difference:
Billboards, company schwag, and advertisements can all boost your company morale.
For all of Rapleaf's success, one of the most motivating things for our team has been the big Rapleaf sign on our building. It is real, tangible, and present … and that is important for a company that generally deals with bits and bytes. When friends of our employees walk by the building, they sometimes text Rapleafers and let them know they saw the sign. That’s real motivation.
Negotiating legal fees in term sheets
One of the little things in a term sheet that is really important is legal fees paid to the investor’s counsel. Not only will negotiating the legal fees save your company a lot of money and hassle, it will also significantly increase the speed that the deal is done.
The entrepreneur who, when raising money, only focuses on valuation and ignores minor line items like the legal fees is doomed to a life where the little things are bound to take over.
Testing, testing, testing
All companies can benefit from controlled testing of their ideas to see what has this most impact. Consumer Internet companies, for example, can test every email, web page, and message. Detail-oriented people who continuously A/B test and fine tune their site stand a much higher chance of success than those who do not.
You wouldn’t think that successful entrepreneurs would spend all their time in the weeds rather than looking at the big picture, but they know that not just the devil resides in the details.
Michael Birch, founder of Bebo (which sold to AOL), is one such entrepreneur who sweats the small stuff. Bebo was, of course, very innovative, but its success was due to the dogged pursuit of tuning, testing, and iterating.
Thinking about your employees
Performing even seemingly basic tasks on behalf of your employees can go a long way.
Many start-ups neglect to do the little things for their employees. I'm always amazed when I meet someone who has been with a company three months and still doesn't have businesses cards. Or stories of employees coming to the office on their first day and they don't have a chair, computer, or even a desk.
The reason employees are neglected in large corporations is because large corporations are really bureaucratic. At small companies, the founders are often "big picture" people who not too focused on getting the little things done and they sometimes don’t hire the person who is in charge of all the little things. All start-ups should get a really competent office manager as one of their first 10 employees … the investment will pay off in spades.
Also, remember and celebrate your employees’ birthdays and other milestones, and be sure to honor their achievements around the office.
Subtle recruiting goes a long way
When you are in recruiting mode (as most start-ups are always in), signify that recruiting is a priority by putting a brief message in all your email signatures, on the back of your business cards, and in your daily communications. Doing things this small step may lead to your next crucial hire.
(And on a side note, Rapleaf is looking for amazing software engineers and salespeople — new MacBook Air or an all-expense paid vacation to Hawaii if we hire your referral. See more at www.rapleaf.com/careers)
Dialing for dollars
Sales is often about being meticulous and doing the small things. We've all been in organizations were the plodding salesperson beats the brilliant presenter. Did you send the proposal on time? Did you make just two more calls per day than the other guy? Did you go through all your tasks and calls? Did you log all the contact information? These seemingly small tasks can help your company close that next critical deal.
Getting your email delivered to an inbox
It is amazing how many new consumer Internet companies forget to focus on email deliverability and ensuring their emails do not get caught in spam filters. Joe Greenstein, CEO of Flixster, likes to say that Flixster is an “email deliverability company with a focus on movies.”
Retargeting is one of the most powerful things a company can do to re-engage its customers and look big. Retargeting allows you to show ads to people who visited your web site wherever they are on the Internet. So once someone comes to your site, they’ll see your ads everywhere (like on Yahoo Finance, Huffington Post, Fox Sports, and more) until they delete their cookies. Once you try it, you’ll never want to be without it.
I’m an investor in Retargeter.com which is the retargeting network with the biggest reach because they sit on top on the three largest ad networks (Doubleclick, Right Media, and Fox).
Appease the customers
Customer service can be a differentiating factor that helps you get new customers and returning customers. One way to bolster your service is by automating your customer service systems. There are a bunch of free and inexpensive tools available to help do this. And no matter what, answer all incoming support emails within 48 hours.
While many start-ups fail because they don’t come up with or execute on the huge compelling idea, more often start-up failure is rooted in not mastering the small stuff.
Doing the small things is like compounding interest: little changes add up really fast. If these "little things" are not your forte, make sure you hire detail-oriented people and build a culture that encourages sweating the small issues because the minor details can be the difference between a good company and a great company.
Special thanks, as always, to Michael Hsu for his edits.