Overcoming Impediments to Scaling Your Startup: Why Simplicity is Always the Answer

October 22, 2014

Why Simplicity is Key to Scaling Your Startup| OpenView Blog
Years ago, I worked for a company called Applied Data Research. The company hasn’t existed for about 30 years, but in its prime it was a giant — one of the first truly independent software vendors and a big IBM competitor.
When I worked there in the early-mid 1980s, we had a marketing brochure that featured a very simple picture of an egg and this tagline: “Simple engineering is great engineering.” The message, very simply, was that nature didn’t overcomplicate its design of a protective structure, even for something as delicate as the inside of an egg. It created something stunningly simple, only as complex as it needed to be to do the job — and do it well. Likewise, our goal at Applied Data Research was to make the very complex process of building and deploying software as simple as possible for the company and its customers.
That philosophy has stuck with me throughout my career — including stops at Oracle and now OpenView Venture Partners — and I was reminded of it recently when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “When Simplicity is the Solution.” The article explored the growing complexity of everything in our lives — from tax forms and nutrition labels, to medicine bottles and store shelves — and shared this very poignant quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail…”

If You Want to Acquire More Customers, Simplify the Process of Adoption

In short, I actually think the title of the Wall Steet article was wrong. If I wrote the title it would have been “Simplicity is Always the Answer.” In fact, simplification is the answer to all of the challenges we face, both personally and professionally.
From a business perspective, this is particularly good advice for growing companies that are facing the common challenges of scale. After all, building a basic, simple product and achieving early traction is relatively easy. Things tend to get muddy, however, when software companies begin selling to wider audiences of more complex enterprise buyers.
At that point, the sales process typically expands to a point where businesses need to develop more structured processes that help customers:

  • Identify pain points
  • Determine whether a solution can solve that pain point
  • Validate that the product meets their specific needs
  • Nurture to the point of purchase
  • Implement the product
  • Ensure the customer is successful using the service
  • Continue to deliver added value to prevent churn

That’s a pretty complex journey — and expansion-stage businesses can easily stumble at any point during that process if they try to overcomplicate things.

6 Questions to Simplify (and Solve) Every Business Challenge

So, how can your business avoid that? As Thoreau wisely suggested: Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Simplify the process of signing up for your service or conducting a trial or demo. Simplify the process of engaging and interacting with your brand and its salespeople. Simplify the process of signing a contract. Simplify the process of renewal. Simplify customer service.
You must strive for 360-degree simplification — analyzing and addressing every step in the buyer journey so that customers can easily find, purchase, and use your product.
To assess whether your company is doing that, here are six questions to consider:

  1. What is your team doing to understanding how, why, when, and where prospects learn about you?
  2. What do you do to take a prospect from the initial “ah-ha” moment to ultimately helping them confirm it’s the right solution for them?
  3. Once prospects are interested and they’ve decided to buy, what’s the process for completing a purchase?
  4. Once the purchase is complete, what do customers need to do to implement the product?
  5. Once the product is implemented, how do customers receive support?
  6. After a customer has had the opportunity to use and experience your product, how do they renew and expand their usage?

If you answer those questions and document your processes for each one, ask yourself whether there are any steps or impediments that can be removed. In my experience, most companies that struggle at scale break down in one (or all) of these areas. To build a great company, you must possess a truly deep understanding of the buyer’s journey and be able to remove the unnecessary friction points that kill growth efficiency.
So, look at where you’re at today and spend some time studying the challenges that are preventing you from getting to where you want to be. My guess is that you’ll find some unnecessary (and surprisingly easy-to-remove) friction points preventing your business from achieving the growth it’s truly capable of.
What do you think? As a startup grows, what are some areas that tend to become the most overly complicated in your experience?

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.