Ask Integr8 IT founders Sussman and Fanaroff what the secret to high-impact growth is, and their list is short:
You need to build a culture on continuous innovation, create a unique differentiator and corporatise the business. All three helped them to seal the deal with Business Connexion Group (BCG), who bought the business in 2013 in a cash deal.
The founders have stayed on as joint CEOs though, and are as focused on growth as ever.
Focused on innovation
Many business owners claim to be focused on innovation, but what does that really mean? According to Sussman, innovation only makes business sense if it can be translated into a product or service that adds value and for which customers will pay.
“This means that the idea must be replicable and economically viable. It must also satisfy a need,” he says. Business owners who focus on innovation as a growth strategy must keep these ideals in mind – innovation purely for the sake of innovation will not assist a business to grow.
Sussman also advises speed to businesses interested in innovation. “It’s not the biggest companies who will succeed in this rapidly changing world, but the fastest,” he says.
“It’s one reason why you need to keep innovating; you can’t take your eye off your competitors or your customers – what are their needs? How are they changing? And what are your solutions? If you aren’t constantly paying attention to this, someone else will be faster than you.”
In Integr8’s case, the company has a two-year roadmap for the business. “We try to obsolete our own model before the market does because lagging behind is fatal,” he says, adding that the company’s team spends 10% of its time looking at new ideas and projects.
“We don’t wait days, weeks or months to implement new ideas that make sense. We make immediate decisions. Don’t ever let bureaucracy stifle a great idea.”
The power of killer differentiators
It’s one thing having a great, ground breaking service. It’s another providing that service in a way that creates loyal customers and brand fans.
It means a focus on customer service is essential, but more importantly, that employees are trained on each new innovation, and they’re able to assist customers immediately.
Being too innovative without the proper backing can just frustrate clients and end up losing you business. Real growth comes from loyal customers who will stay with you, spend more with you, and recommend you to others.
Corporatising the business
The word corporatisation is often a dirty one in many entrepreneurial circles, but the reality is that without some degree of corporatisation, real growth is impossible. ‘Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ is a great start-up attitude, and many of the best-known brands in the world began in that way (think Virgin, Google and Apple), but at some point a business needs to grow up, and systems is an integral part of that growth.
“Corporatising Integr8 was what prepared us for growth and ultimately for our acquisition by The Business Connexion Group,” says Fanaroff. So what does it mean?
Essentially, corporatisation is the process of shaping an organisation to reflect the structure of a publically owned corporation. This includes giving it the features of a large commercial business.
But don’t worry: It’s possible to corporatize and still maintain entrepreneurial flair and flexibility.
“We grew the business from the ground up,” says Sussman. “Entrepreneurial flair and an innovative culture were essential to us, particularly because it kept us fast and flexible. But we also needed controls, processes and good governance to enable the business to ‘grow up’ properly.”
As a result, when BCG was looking at Integr8 as a possible acquisition, it saw a professional, well managed business that was structured and organised. “Just don’t corporatise too early or quickly,” warns Sussman. “Your entrepreneurial flair is an asset you don’t want to lose.”