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CEO insights: Start-up success factors from lessons learned

DIGIVIZER CEO Emma Lo Russo shares the lessons learned in taking a company from a great idea to one delivering business benefits centred on real-time social analytics in five years.

Five years in and with 30 employees, DIGIVIZER still operates with a start-up leanness but with a view, as we always have, of building and operating with scale. Although no longer considered a start-up but in the early growth stage (experiencing over 280% growth last year), there are a number of lessons strongly cemented in my mind as being critical to start-up success. Here, in the first of a series of occasional articles, I share my experiences in delivering growth and success to date.

It all starts with a good idea…

Start-ups have new ideas. By definition they are, for a magical few months, ahead of the market.

And then the market reacts. Incumbents, with huge infrastructure, big pockets and large resources, pivot and attack.

So do copycat start-ups and me-too aspirants.

The only thing you can do is be a true thought-leader: having something original and valuable to offer, and actually making it available.

Great ideas, we’ve learned, are just that. Without the resources and talent needed to bring them to fruition, they wither. And great ideas are merely attractive until the market has validated them by buying them. Only then do they become valuable.

Stay focused, deliver sustainable and continuous differentiation

Starting is probably the easiest part of the start-up game. What is more important is continuously focusing on what is truly disruptive and different, to deliver greater value and a better experience than anything else on market (and make this sustainable), and then staying focused on bringing that continuous innovation to market in ways that attract more buyers.

That means a clear proposition, easy and frictionless access to the product or service, a product quickly updated and a service easily replicated across all customers.

Stay accountable, measure everything

At DIGIVIZER we’ve always focused on staying ahead by defining a new version of the future, especially when times were lean. We have continuously made the decision to build, then sell. That means cash and strong cash management is critical, and the larger the team, the greater the cost to build ahead, which must return in competitive advantage and revenue further down the timeline. This has required us to bootstrap and reinvest all profits, and back ourselves with unwavering conviction. This has been supported by additional private funding in exchange for small parcels of equity, and this also means our investors join us with the same focus and conviction. Key to ensuring this model of build first, then sell, is ensuring it can be supported by data. It is critical for success to measure everything – about what people want, what they use, what is being actioned, what delivers best results, how fast are we growing, how sticky our clients are, how much revenue is reucrring, and so on.

The proof is in the value we’ve delivered to companies as varied as major telcos, financial services companies, retail companies, and at the smaller end with product and businesses launching and growing in scale alongside us.

Creating greater value, greater experiences

As a business in growth, staying focused on what matters to the customer is much more important than focusing on what is easy to do. It must always deliver something better, easier and sexier, and your customer must be at the centre of everything you do. In B2B propositions like ours, no matter what the size of company you must be helping it deliver greater value to its customers. So you focus on helping the customer either acquire customers of their own, or create better experiences for their customers.

For us, at the heart of the value we offer our customers is delivering on the promise of making social easy for them. By knowing more about their customers or prospects, by being able to target these organizations with the right message at the right time, our customers can create greater value for greater cost benefit. We need to always focus on delivering something our clients can action and measure (taking advantage of real-time data and do more of what works). Insights are great, but actionable insights with context, in real-time, made easy, are better-still.

DIGIVIZER key tips for start up success:

Many of the companies that started around the same time as us are no longer here. They either gave up, ran out of money, changed tack, merged, or (in a few cases) were acquired. The market remains competitive, so we must stay mindful that these tips that got us where we are today are not only relevant to any start up success, but to our continued success:

  • Always focus on your differentiation
  • Stay focused
  • Stay accountable and Measure everything
  • Invest in the future
  • Create greater value and experiences for your customers

Do this and you are well on your way to ensure your start-up success.

Emma Lo Russo: Emma is CEO and co-founder of DIGIVIZER.