When Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman, recent college grads, started collecting unwanted junk, they were out to build an empire. But two years later their business was struggling. So they had a conversation than switched their mindset and turn them instantly onto a new growth path. They have since hit the Inc. 500 list of America's fastest-growing private companies and their $3M+ revenues are still expanding.
What insight did their conversation reveal? And what impact might it have on your ability to unlock new growth?
The team met with entrepreneurship guru Michael Gerber and laid out their challenge a few years ago at the same annual Gazelles Growth Conference I am attending this week. When Gerber asked them, "Why do people like to do business with you?" the team realized it had nothing to do with their garbage-removal expertise. It was because people love college. They like helping college students. When they hire "College Hunks Hauling Junk," they don't just expect their garbage to be removed, they expect an experience, a connection to earlier, more care-free days.
That one insight shifted their company's identity--they would now operate like a university and suddenly they made a number of small business decisions that seem counter intuitive for a regular junk-removal company.
They looked at each customer touch point--how employees answered the phone or said hello upon first entering a new client's home--and asked, "Does this fit our identity?"
They started recycling or donating their clients' junk whenever they could because this just seemed what college students should do. They developed a list of 10 criteria their employees' physical appearance should meet (e.g., shirt tucked in, hat on straight).
I could go on to the 100 other small decisions College Hunks Hauling Junk made to align their customer experience to their new perspective, but to do so misses the point. The lesson is this: setting your company's identity is like gently guiding the head of a horse. It does not take much energy but the slightest adjustment can align the thousands of small decisions your people make every day and redirect your company's strategic trajectory.
Apple dropping "Computer" from its name is an example of the power of shaping identity. CarMax viewing itself as a retailer rather than car dealer is another.
Next Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 at 2pm EST, I will be holding a free webinar with Nick Friedman to learn more about how these two young entrepreneurs built this successful company. Sign up now  to attend and hear some of the "winning moves" that prepared Nick's company for a steep positive trajectory and learn how you can apply some of the same principles to whatever you are building. For now, ask yourself the questions below to see if you can change your company's agenda and transform its advantage.
1) How do your competitors view themselves? What identity do they hold?
2) What is your identity and is it different than your competitors'?
3) What different identity could your company adopt to transform itself into something more unique?