Team collaboration

A stitch in time: how to evolve your business to meet ever-changing customer needs

I’m a guy who likes to sew; true story! A few months ago, I made a wallet based on the design of one I already owned but wanted to improve. I created a new pattern, carefully cut the material then stitched the pieces together making sure everything fit precisely so the seams wouldn’t shred with use.

Similar to my sewing pursuits was returning to reboot strategy at Hightail — the company I co-founded, was later replaced as CEO and then asked back to lead in 2014. Like the original wallet, the company was terrific, having grown and become trusted by a large customer base. But growth had slowed and our solutions were increasingly unfocused.

We needed to change but change is hard and comes with its own set of challenges and fears. I knew it would take months of pain and frustration for things to evolve. But crucially, having been at all but one board meeting in the company’s history, I knew what we had to do to succeed.

Not taking up the needle and thread would mean missing a major opportunity to grow. If you’re an entrepreneur in the same situation as I was, here are three things to keep in mind that will ensure your business grows without your seams falling apart.

1. Success is a bubble that needs bursting

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin built their era-defining search engine, they didn’t just sit back and admire their handiwork. Though the launch of Google’s umbrella organization, Alphabet, may have baffled many, it was a statement of intent from the company. Google refuses to define itself by the products traditionally associated with it. Now Google is working on autonomous cars, innovative healthcare products and clean energy technology.

At Hightail, we’ve known for a long time which direction the company should be headed. But as a successful business with a comforting recurring revenue model, it was too easy to be satisfied with what we had and simply look to do the same thing better. It’s important to recognize that new markets change quickly. If you’re an automobile manufacturer or logistics company and you’re not interested in the two million miles Google’s self-driving cars have clocked, you’ll soon be left behind.

Whatever success your business has attained up to now, it’s unlikely to sustain it without keeping up with constant change.2. Anticipate your audience’s needs before they do

Unless you go for an extraordinary Slack-style pivot from seemingly unconnected worlds like online gaming to team communication, most startups evolve by serving the changing needs of their existing customers. Like Netflix deciding to invest in original TV programing because it knew that viewers were binge-watching shows they liked, you should already be able to anticipate what opportunities lie ahead based on what you know about your audience from your user data and research.

At Hightail, we spotted a pattern quite early on that indicated our future lay in creative collaboration. Our data showed that people often sent the same creative file back and forth with just a slightly altered filename indicating that it was v1, v2, v7 or _final. They were using Hightail as part of the creative process. But the other parts of that process were performed by unsuitable solutions like email and in-person meetings, which is where our opportunity lay.

What can the insights you have about your customer today tell you about where your company will be tomorrow?

3. Be as deft with the scissors as with the needle

Reshaping a business involves making tough decisions. You end up disappointing a lot of people, whether it’s those you let go, passed up for promotion or candidates you didn’t hire. Remember that none of it is personal — every piece of the fabric is to serve that higher purpose of what you’re creating.

It’s vital that everyone buys into your vision. I continue to encourage people to come to me if they have questions about our vision at any time. I understand that not everyone will agree with me and I’d prefer to help them find a way to get to a place where they can do their best work, either at Hightail or elsewhere, by defining clear tours of duty after which we can assess if we’re still aligned and enthused.

Like with sewing, you need to be good at both cutting and connecting in order to create something new.

Sew, in summary

My new wallet solves more card-and-cash carrying problems than my old one did, making life that much better.

As long as you’re never too satisfied with where your business is, you keep looking for new patterns in customer behavior and aren’t afraid to be ruthless when the time comes, you’ll ensure your business remains — like my new wallet — a firm presence in the pockets of your users.

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