What’s your core competency?
If you can’t answer that question without thinking, keep reading.
Take a glimpse at a small business owner’s to-do list – there’s always more things to do.
But if I learned one thing from my conversation with Richard Gilbert, the head of Payoneer’s North American business development and an incredibly experienced hand at scaling SMB’s for Infusionsoft and Google, it’s that a long list of goals can be incredibly counterproductive.
Distilling thirty years of experience into one line, here’s how Gilbert encapsulates one of the key learnings from his career (boldings are mine):
So for me, I just enjoyed sort of the entrepreneurial spirit of looking at opportunities out there, mapping the competitive environment, and identifying opportunities that leveraged the core competency of our client.
In so many cases, less is more.
Running a small arbitrage business in the early days of the internet, Gilbert outmaneuvered Toys R’ Us by leveraging their core competency – trend identification and agile sourcing – to buy Furby’s (remember those?) at $25 a pop, flipping them at $125. He did it again at Net2Phone, leveraging a core competency – flexible communication capabilities with VOIP – to push the Triple Play (phone, internet, and cable TV).
Remember the Furby?
As Gilbert told us, you can’t do everything…but you can do some things really well.
This was one of the guiding principles at Infusion Soft when he was there, where every single person was required to align their Big Three goals for annual planning with the Big Three corporate goals.
Clearly defined goals, together with a coherent plan on how to get there, are the best way for an entrepreneur to drive focused growth. The research backs this too. James Collins’ Good to Great talks about the importance of a clear BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious goal) instead of diluting corporate strategy across dozens of goals.
Gilbert also provided four concrete tips for scaling a business, all which play well with the idea of leveraging your core competency.
1. Talk to your customer.
According to Gilbert, an open line of communication is the best way to discover what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, as well as how to speak to them. There’s no better way to learn how your core competency can be best leveraged (or how can need to change it!) than speaking to a customer. Of course, take those lessons and go beyond; Amazon built their business on customer obsession, making their core competency being about understanding things about the customers that even the customer didn’t know about…yet.
Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it
Jeff Bezos in 2016 Letter to Shareholders
2. Don’t go at it alone.
Having a focused goal doesn’t mean that accomplishing is sunshine and roses. Gilbert recommends that entrepreneurs “Seek opportunity to spread the work and spread the wealth”. Being at the top can be lonely…but it can be far less lonely if you know who to tap – whether partners, investors, or employees – to get a different view.
3. Be skeptical of exclusivity.
A company that has an incredible offering will always rise to the top. If you have a core competency, exclusivity for partnerships is a beginner mistake that Gilbert warns founders to avoid. If there’s a fit, there will be a fit without needing that type of relationships:
If the level of engagement is there, if the synergy, the implicit synergy between the two partners and what they’re trying to do, and their go to market plan is there and well defined and executed, there’s no need for exclusivity.
4. Do more with what you got.
One of the most amazing stories to emerge from Silicon Valley is Slack, an email alternative for businesses. But its origins stem from being an in-house communication platform as the Slack team worked on a failed computer game.
Identifying the internal assets (an awesome communication platform) and scaling that instead of a floundering game, belays an ability to discern an opportunity that stemmed from existing capabilities.
According to Gilbert, in many cases, there’s somethings sitting under founders’ noses that can be quickly tapped to scale, instead of embarking on new projects. Focus on what you already have and scale from there.