1. ShareTrip’s Approach to Communication, People Being the Most Critical Strategic Resource
Modern businesses operate differently. We live in a world where it is equally easy and hard to confuse people. As DataBird’s CCO Sadia Haque aptly puts it: “We understand the reality of the online world where anything can go viral for no good reason. Small things can go viral and big things can go unnoticed.”
This is the nature of the world we live in today. As a result, the understanding and practice of communication has changed fundamentally over the past few years.
Brand communication was broadly one way in the past -- brands speaking to its target audience through various media channels such as TV, Newspaper ads, etc. As a result, brands had a relatively better control over the message and discussion happening in the market. That is not the case anymore.
Today, it is a complex communication environment where brands rarely have a meaningful control over their messaging and discussion. Brands can tell their stories, of course, more efficiently than before. But consumers can also talk back and make whatever they want to out of the messaging of the brand. Today, consumers can start discussion, both positive and negative, that could create unwarranted opportunities and challenges for a brand.
This new reality warrants for a deeper understanding and comprehensive implementation of communication strategies. It is no more enough to communicate something, communication needs to be in sync with the overall mission, culture of the company. Hence every communication effort should begin within - people owning the mission of the company, building a culture where customers are being treated well, and everyone understands and recognizes the priorities and delivers on promise.
In an interview with Future Startup published last week, ShareTrip Co-founder and DataBird CCO, Sadia Haque, explains this reality of communication and how she navigates at her companies:
Organizations are about people. If you don’t get the right people, nothing will work. If you have the right people, no challenge is big enough. Ms. Sadia explains how ShareTrip prioritizes hiring for character and how the company incentivizes people to stay longer in the company. While this appears a matter disconnected from communication effort, she laters explains why it is critical for not only communication but for everything a company does.
“When we started to grow as a company at ShareTrip, we decided not to be a typical company. We started to contemplate the kind of organization we wanted to build. Every organization needs some beliefs and motto that ensure everyone in the organization is aligned with the same vision. We have been lucky to have an excellent group of people. We have structured and optimized the company to achieve this goal. These two initiatives helped us to achieve this goal relatively easily.
ShareTrip is structured in a way where we have all these functional units and departments such as HR and Admin, Technical, Product, Customer Service, Marketing, Sales, Finance, and Accounts, etc. In some units, we have multiple sub-teams such as in sales we have teams for B2B, B2E, and B2C.
We have built an organization that can operate independently with limited outside dependencies. We have certain beliefs that dictate how we operate and make decisions as an organization. Kashef, the Founder and CEO of ShareTrip and the CEO of DataBird, and I worked in the corporate world for a long time. We have a certain way of working and seeing the world. We look for similar worldviews in the people we bring in into the company. Cultural fit is something we take very seriously.
We take hiring very seriously at DataBird as we are moving into expanding some of our products and services. This is the same with ShareTrip because the people you bring into the company define the culture and service you offer to your users.”
In a knowledge economy, people make all the difference. Ms. Sadia explains:
“I’m talking about all these things because marketing is not communication alone. It is more than that. We can bring customers in through communication and sales. It is simple, you put a nice visual out there, run some ads, and convince a customer to buy from you. To me, that part is easy. But the most important part is how you are serving that customer when he is finally taking your service. There needs to be a humane approach to serving your customers. That is where people play a critical role. From there, it is all about your culture.
This is critical because customers will come to you seeing a lucrative offer or a visual but they will only stick with you if you serve them well, treat them well. When we are hiring we keep these things in mind. We make sure that we have a culture where we treat customers humanely and provide a sense of personalization for each. Our communication must be excellent. Our strategy has to be sound. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to human interaction. If people don’t find that meaningful and can’t connect with you, no amount of communication would save you.”
In his excellent management book The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management thinkers of all time, explains what makes an effective executive this way: “Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.”
Drucker was a fierce advocate of effectiveness and thus focus. In the opening chapter, of The Effective Executive, he suggests, if an executive wants to be effective he should not focus on more than two tasks at once and that two if wants a little diversity in his to-do list.
Drucker suggests executives should spend time in developing the habit of effectiveness: “Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned.”
This idea of effectiveness is antithetical to our time, when multitasking is viewed as a virtue and capability. But lack of focus can be a costly mistake for founders of early stage companies.
The lure of doing many things and pursue many goals at once could make him/her ineffective and thus put his entire venture at risk. As Drucker puts it: “Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained.”
To that end, it is critical for founders to set priorities. Because, as Drucker puts it: the “effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.”
That being said, most of us struggle with setting priorities. On the other hand, setting priorities right could be transformational for a founder and his organization. In an interview with Future Startup published in January, Apploye founder and president Shiekh Shourav, explains how he sets priority and the transformational power of doing the right with focus and intensity:
“Since I’m a solo founder, product development takes up a lot of my time. Moreover, I enjoy the product development work. As a result, I can’t give a lot of time in closing deals.
Any constraint is almost always good. Now that I don’t have a lot of time, I pay attention to deals that would bring me the highest return. My team is doing their jobs. They are producing content, making cold calls, and so on. For me, I look for high impact deals.
For any startup, one deal is enough to give you a kickstart and put you in a strong position. It depends on the size of the deal. For example, If I launch a software and I make partnership with SalesForce, that’s enough for putting me in a strong position. So I figured out what I could do to that end where a few deals would make a lot of difference. So I started onboarding different launch partners who I realize if I onboard them would promote my product. I then started to find partners and affiliates who already have Facebook and Youtube channels and have a large subscriber base in my industry. It is difficult to build a partnership with them but if I could do it, it is a big win for me.
I try to find the highest impact deals but not spending a lot of time pursuing low-quality deals. Some of these deals might take 3-4 months to close but they are impactful and make sense from that perspective.
Initially, we worked with some launch partners that helped us to bring the highest results. The couple of hundred users that we got from the initial launch then helped us to grow through word of mouth. When there is a discussion regarding time tracking software and people are asking each other what they use, our users say that we use Apployee and it has helped us a lot to attract new users.
We got the initial 400-500 customers through launch partners. The rest of the customers are through word of mouth.”
We all have limited time, it is critical that we use our time wisely. It is more so for founders. If you don’t prioritize, your chance of wasting time doing nothing grows. As Drucker puts it: “If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away “operating.” He may be an excellent man. But he is certain to waste his knowledge and ability and to throw away what little effectiveness he might have achieved.”