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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Stay hungry, stay current: maintaining a startup mentality after success

Holding onto a hungry, product-focused attitude keeps you relevant and competitive.

Stay hungry, stay current: maintaining a startup mentality after success
[tadamichi / Adobe Stock]

When I started my company, Vagaro, the sense of urgency and excitement I had about it was electric. I answered phones and interacted with our customers one-on-one to make things work. We didn’t do design reviews for every little thing because the team knew everyone else had the background necessary to excel at what they were doing. Mistakes didn’t have a weight that would sink us.

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Thirteen years later, we’re well past the beginnings of the startup stage. The stakes are higher. We’ve built processes to check for mistakes because we know the ramifications will run deeper. Things are very different, but that energy and excitement—that intangible soul of the company—is still there.

I haven’t lost sight of the fact a company needs both quality and speed to get to the top, or that holding onto a hungry, product-focused attitude keeps you relevant and competitive. Maintaining the urgent feelings and thoughts you had as a brand-new startup, while simultaneously implementing calculated scaling strategies, can push you forward in the same way.

A STARTUP MENTALITY YIELDS A GREAT PRODUCT

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When my team and I were still getting Vagaro off the ground, we were completely driven by possibility. We were excited to embrace new technologies and play around with what we could do with them. We focused on using those technologies to add features to our product that had real value. Then we took all the energy and excitement we had about the product and shouted it from the rooftops.

Put another way, the early years at Vagaro weren’t about how many customers we had. It wasn’t even about how the team was growing. It was about how the product was evolving, and ensuring that that product would deliver the same excitement we felt. Because that was our focus, the product developed in a wonderfully solid way. We built a foundation underneath it that customers knew they could trust.

WHAT SELLS THE PRODUCT IS THE PRODUCT

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Great marketing doesn’t actually sell what you’ve got. What sells the product is the product.

Imagine that you spend lots of money to create beautiful sales and signup pages for your website. Then, when people log in, things are hard to find and use, and it’s difficult to connect with you. People feel duped because you’ve sold them false advertising on those first few pages. The would-be customers don’t stick around, let alone recommend you to anybody else.

This scenario plays out all the time. The bounce-and-exit rates for businesses that operate this way prove that all the fancy packaging in the world won’t save you if what you deliver doesn’t work, breaks, or otherwise disappoints.

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BE WILLING TO EVOLVE CONSTANTLY

As a brand new startup team, we were always looking for ways to modify and improve what we had, because we knew that what customers were looking for wasn’t going to stay static for very long. But we also understood that the process of evolution doesn’t start with something shiny and new. Rather, it starts with rearchitecting yourself on a basement level. In our business, rearchitecting means that, every three years or so, we go back to our software and rewrite the code. When we’re done, those new standards mean we can adapt with the user and bring a better product to our customers.

Does rearchitecting and rewriting bring us leaps and bounds ahead of where we are all by itself? Not really. It’s a lot like fixing a cracked windshield on your car. When you pull out of the repair shop, your car doesn’t look all that different. But by taking the time to do the fix, you have ensured you’re in a safe position to keep delivering and pleasing customers as you have before. You maintain the reliable foundation you’ll need to build something fresh.

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WORK FOR THE SUCCESS YOU’RE CAPABLE OF CLAIMING

From the start, we wanted to be honest about what we could do for people. We were passionate about building something solid that could sell itself, rather than trying to cover up flaws or gaps with flashy marketing and sales. We knew evolving was necessary over time, and that evolution, in turn, required continuous maintenance.

At the end of the day, you can’t buy success. You can only work for it. To lay the groundwork for your own success, be proactive about maintaining high-quality standards, stay willing to evolve, and never lose that startup mentality.

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Fady “Fred” Helou has built Vagaro into a business that uses creative problem-solving to help more than 150,000 service providers annually.

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