What sets really great tech companies apart from the competition is their insatiable drive for innovation. Once they find success, they don’t just hit cruise control and sit back on their haunches. Instead, they actively seek out opportunities to widen their niche. Just look at Tesla, Uber, Facebook and Amazon.
Keeping pace with giants like these might seem unattainable, especially if you lack generous VC backing or Elon Musk’s brain, but here’s the good news: You don’t have to be a member of the Silicon Valley elite to emulate their success.
All you need are a couple of good ideas and the drive to develop them. Some of the most popular products on today’s market were born quite literally by chance and a bit of luck. They are the results of, for example, all-night coding sessions in a garage (a common tech-world scenario that most recently led to Oculus), unexpected side projects (such as how a little-known location-based app called “Burbn” would go on to become Instagram) or traditional incubators (a la Tinder’s route to online dating stardom).
Silicon Valley is made up of dozens of stories like these. Only a fraction of them make the headlines, but all are nonetheless significant.
What’s the lesson here? Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Once your company establishes itself, look for ways to scale your brand. You never know if one of the side projects you’ve been tinkering with in your spare time might one day turn into the next Twitter, Slack or GitHub.
Not only does this make sound business sense, but branching out will give your team an outlet to experiment with the plethora of new technologies hitting the information technology (IT) sphere at lightning speed these days, whether they're related to blockchain, virtual reality, artificial intelligence or the latest versions of programming languages like Swift and Kotlin. Needless to say, well-executed side projects will allow you to show off your expertise to potential clients.
Even when our company was new, my co-founders and I always made sure to have at least one or two in-house projects going. We started small, devoting a few hours here and there over a period of months to a dating app, which we eventually sold. From there, we jumped on the food delivery bandwagon, this time assigning a small team to the project on a full-time basis, while still maintaining a growing client-based portfolio. We soon added a trio of dating and social networking apps, as well as two games.
This slow and steady build-up suddenly took on a life of its own, netting us a sizeable profit and several million user downloads last year alone. In an effort to leverage this potential, we launched STRV Labs, a new division within our company focused primarily on bringing more innovative apps to market.
After more than a decade of developing apps and websites, we decided the timing was right to take what we’d learned and create our own signature product portfolio. Our core business structure was solid, and the initial in-house projects we had incubated had proven successful. For any forward-thinking entrepreneur, expanding your offer is the next logical step.
While it's not impossible to scale as a solo founder -- after all, eBay and Amazon both started out this way -- it’s undeniably easier to divide the work when there are more of you. I am lucky to have three co-founders who I trust implicitly, and each brings their own unique skill set to the table. Recognizing your fellow co-founders’ strengthens is key when launching a new division, which is why we decided our company’s founding CEO should be the one to helm our new in-house venture, while I would take over chief executive duties of our client business.
In retrospect, I feel we had been moving toward this incorporation for years. Following the guidelines of The Lean Startup, we’d long ago created a culture where everyone’s ideas were considered and developed if they showed good potential, helping to lay the foundation for STRV Labs.
Scaling your business really begins from the moment you decide to establish a company. My advice is to surround yourself with people you can rely on, whether they're co-founders or investors. Who you choose to have by your side is one of the most important decisions you'll make as a CEO, which in turn will help give roots to your long-term business goals. Keep these goals in mind as you begin to hire your team members. Make sure they share your values and vision, and then give them the freedom to help shape the company’s future.
The rapidly evolving IT industry is a crowded field. From my standpoint, it’s imperative that companies cultivate their talent if they want to get ahead. This doesn’t mean opening a bunch of different operational divisions before you are financially ready. However, having a healthy in-house project portfolio that can be further developed into a new business division is a step in the right direction. Think of it as being proactive. In addition to being another potentially successful revenue source, scaling your offer will better prepare you and your company to meet the needs of an ever-demanding, tech-focused consumer market.
This article was featured on Forbes.