How do you build, run, and ultimately grow a mission-driven company that you will be proud of? At inventRight, the company I built with my business partner Andrew Krauss, our mission is simple: To help inventors license their ideas. We began working together in 1999. Twenty years later, we’re hitting our stride. For a long time, it was just the two of us. Today, we have a roster of about 10 licensing coaches and nearly as many other employees.
This is what I’ve learned about running a successful mission-driven business.
First, it should start with a desire to serve your customer in a specific way — one that you truly, genuinely believe in. When you aim to serve a customer that you yourself once were, your vision will become even clearer. For example, I licensed my ideas for new products to companies for many years before I began coaching and teaching other product developers to do the same.
If you make the following principles foundational to your company, your business will thrive.
1. Share your vision. Who doesn’t want to make a difference in this world? This needn’t be complicated. Help people be more productive. Give them a product or service they need. If you want people to stay, recognize that why they are there — their true mission — is much more important than their paycheck. Inspire the people who work for you with a sense of meaning and purpose. Ninety percent of inventRight employees approached us about a job. They were our students first, and then raging fans.
I personally feel that life is way too short to waste on nonsense. My guess is your employees agree.
2. Embrace transparency. In today’s world, your customers and your employees want to know about your business. They want to know where your products or services are produced. They care about how you treat others and they care about the environment. They want to be sure you have their best interests at heart.
Helping your customers (as well as your employees) with whatever problems they may be experiencing is always going to be important. So is your ability to have clear and effective dialogue, which requires close listening.
3. Own up to your mistakes, and quickly. We all make mistakes. We’re human! Never try to avoid a mistake. When you admit to a mistake, it loses its power and can never own you. So, raise your hand as fast as you can to fess up. In my experience, all is generally forgiven. That’s the policy at my company, and it works well.
You can learn about the mistakes I’ve made licensing my inventions here, here, and here.
Mistakes are learning tools.
4. Humanize your company. Creating an awesome culture starts at the top. What kind of culture do you want? It’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. Treat your employees the way that you want them to treat your customers.
From a branding standpoint, we humanize our company by not using stock photography and editing our videos simply.
If you’re too busy to handle the human side of your business, you send a clear message: You don’t care.
5. Help your employees leave. That sounds crazy, right? But trust me, if that’s your attitude, they’ll stay. To that end, be personal with your employees. If you really want them to enjoy what they’re doing, you must help them become successful in all aspects of their lives. Give them room to grow. Ask them what it is they want in life. It’s not all about business.
We’ve given our employees a lot of flexibility in terms of creating their own brand and sharing their own message. To that end, a couple of coaches have their own YouTube channels. One started our podcast. Others contribute to our blog.
We also make company resources available to help them with their own product inventions.
6. Keep striving to be better. There are always opportunities to improve and innovate. Take advantage of them. Pay attention to trends in your industry. Ask yourself: Am I providing the best possible service so that I rise above my competition? This might require cannibalizing an existing service or product to allow for more growth.
7. Truly listen to your critics. There are benefits in hearing complaints. No duh: Receiving criticism in the form of negative reviews of your product or service isn’t fun. But if you examine what’s being said very closely, your critics can actually be of great value to you. Because if you can solve those problems, your company will shine even brighter! You will cultivate a loyal following based on how you handle negative feedback. There is always a golden nugget (sometimes buried deep) to take away. If the criticism really strikes a nerve, it’s most likely because there’s some truth to it.
8. Stop selling. Don’t try to sell. If you solve your customer’s problems, you won’t have to sell. We are bombarded with people trying to sell us things all the time online. For your business to thrive, you need to cut through the noise and the clutter. In my experience, providing good information and guiding your customer every step of the way works best.
If I’m being honest, it was never a goal of mine to run a company. More often than not, I find it stressful. I prefer to move fast, and (like I hope I’ve convincingly outlined above) being a good leader demands that you consider others — that you pause for reflection, contemplation, and ultimately prioritize the long game.
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