What Every Startup Can Learn from Google

You may think your startup has little in common with an industry giant like Google. However, while recently participating in Google’s “Mobilizing Mobile” event in Mobile, Alabama, I was reminded that Google excels in certain areas that can serve as valuable lessons for any business, regardless of size.

1. Set the Agenda

Throughout its history, Google has taken the lead in framing what the future looks like. In the case of Mobilizing Mobile and the whole GoMo initiative, Google took it upon itself to show us where the world is headed…in this case, a world where more people access the web through mobile devices than any other way.

Does setting the agenda sound like a lofty goal for a startup? Probably, but nonetheless that’s where you should focus. After all, startups are all about painting the picture before anyone else can see it. Armed with a big vision, you’re more likely to differentiate your business and convince others to join your quest, listen to your pitch, fund your ventures, support your ideas, and buy your product.

2. Make Your Innovation Approachable

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With a framework in hand, it’s time to show your innovation to your audience. Google goes to great lengths to make its products approachable and tangible for users and developers alike. Its strategy centers around getting users to try products as soon as possible, since trying something first-hand is the first step to believing.

In the GoMobile initiative, Google built a GoMo Meter, which shows companies what their current website looks like on a smartphone and provides a quick report on how it’s performing. This tool is particularly effective since there’s a low barrier to start, zero commitment, a simple interface, and it’s all tied to a topic of considerable interest to each of us…ourselves (in this case, our websites).

For your startup, think about where your customer touches your technology. What do they see and feel at their first product encounter? Create an experience that’s easy, obvious, and tangible. Perhaps it’s watching a video, clicking a button to initiate an action, or show some before-and-after screen shots. Whatever you do, figure out what makes your innovation meaningful to your customers and make this meaning tangible.

3. Focus on the Fundamental

As a huge, sprawling, multi-armed business, Google could focus anywhere and everywhere. Yet it has chosen to focus on the shift to mobile, as it’s fundamental to how people experience Google’s core search products.

Once Google decided on mobile for the long-haul, it threw some real muscle behind the initiative, allocating time, people, and money. Yes, it may sound easy for a behemoth like Google to allocate resources; however, focus is as much of a challenge for Google as it is for a startup. Having a lot of resources means all these resources can easily get derailed and scattered.

As a startup, resources may be in short supply, but you have the freedom to focus wherever you choose and change this focus whenever you choose.

Use this freedom cautiously. Businesses derive success from momentum, and a startup that changes direction all the time picks up no velocity and no momentum. Instead, focus on the parts of your business that are fundamental to your customer's experience of your core product.

4. Track the Micro, Decide on the Macro

A data-driven company, Google has built its business by understanding data and making it meaningful for users.

During the Go Mobile event, Google was interested in tracking the traffic it sent from the event: visits, conversions, and leads. Such micro metrics should be used to gauge the effectiveness of a program and fine-tune it. However, it’s the macro metrics – years of mobile adoption, traffic, and revenue – that should drive the larger strategy and focus.

5. Lessons from a Giant

While your startup may not near the scale of Google, it can still make a sizable difference. The four lessons outlined above resonate with businesses of all shapes and sizes. Paint the picture before anyone can see it. Never lose sight of what makes you meaningful to customers and convey this as concretely and tangibly as possible. Lastly, while it’s important to adapt to changing market conditions, a successful company must have the resolve to focus where focus is needed and not be swayed from its big picture goals.

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