The Inc. 5000 and Thoughts on Growing a Tech Business Organically
By John Toepfer, CEO and Co-Founder
A couple weeks ago, it was announced that we made this year’s Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies in America. It is a great feeling to see Synthesis Technology listed among the many successful companies across the U.S.
We experienced tremendous growth (98%) from 2011-2014, which qualified us for this elite award. It is very humbling to receive an honor like this and it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of not only our employees, but our clients as well. Day in and day out, we work together to make investment management companies more efficient and productive with their marketing efforts, while minimizing their business risks.
Over the past few days, I took some time to reflect on how we got here. What key factors lead to high-growth? How does being a privately-held organization impact growth? How can we sustain our growth as we look to the future? I wanted to share some of my thoughts and lessons learned as well as thank those that have helped us along the way.
Hire and retain great talent
It’s cliché but true. You’re only as good as your weakest team member. For those of us that enjoyed Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” we can all agree that the secret to creating a great company is putting the right people on the right seats on the bus. Hiring and retaining top talent is a challenge for any growing business, especially for companies like us who are engaged in high-touch customer service while delivering advanced technical solutions. Finding and retaining people who are smart, motivated and personable is hard, especially in this tight technical labor market. Our lesson in how to keep these people around once you’ve hired them is to structure your organization as bottom-up as possible. The people in the trenches, the ones who actually hear the client’s words and are on the spot to make good on our commitments are the ones who should have voice. We work hard to make sure that every member of our organization knows that they make a difference. Our plans and policies are as often inspired by them as they are by management. If people feel heard, they feel valued. Feeling valued will keep people happy and productive even more than a top compensation package.
Create a culture of caring, inside and out
Every tech vendor claims to ‘partner’ with their clients. This phrase appears in 98% of company overview PowerPoints and often has little realty to back it up. At Synthesis, we take this claim very seriously. In order to maintain and strengthen our partnership with our clients, we resist two things: 1) Moving people around between clients and duties so frequently that there is little continuity from the client’s point of view, and 2) Measuring relationships based on profit versus satisfaction.
Synthesis’ unique model of keeping teams and clients together for the long haul breeds numerous advantages both a technical and relationship-building standpoint. Our team members truly understand their clients’ needs – and why seemingly small concerns actually matter a great deal. As a result, we develop strong trust relationships and even friendships with our clients. The goal is for our clients to think of us as a trusted collaborator, helping them be more productive and successful in their work. When hiring new talent, we work to evaluate whether the candidate will actually care about their work and their clients. It is a critical hiring factor in our organization. Our project and relationship managers operate on the basis that client happiness is their number one measure of success. As a small business serving a niche market it’s critical that our reputation be strong. We are by no means perfect, but we work hard and sacrifice time and money every day to make sure our clients are working with us because they want to, not because they have to.
We’ve learned that when you really invest in your client’s success, they will reward you by referring you to colleagues inside and outside of their organization. They will bring projects to you without a question because they know they can count on you deliver on promises. And as our clients’ businesses grow, our business grows along with them. This type of organic growth is very rewarding and ensures we’ll have successful long term partnerships for years to come.
Reinvest in your people, products, and processes — in lock step
We see a lot of companies come and go in our marketplace. More than once we’ve seen a company with good capital backing show up and seem to have infinite resources to spend on marketing. Their web sites, feature-list, and trade show booths are impressive. Often, they then start buying market share with “free setups” or other artificially low pricing. These companies usually last about two years.
The reason for this is that private equity-backed companies are following a set formula and a timeline. Deep product development and long duration professional service efforts are not usually in this formula, but aggressive marketing and sales strategies most certainly are.
At Synthesis, almost half of every dollar earned goes back into platform development. When a client has a new need we enhance the product; and do so in real time. We could be more aggressive in our marketing efforts, but what happens when we’ve sold more projects than we have quality people to support? We are proudly an organic growth company; we add clients, staff, and capabilities all in lock step so that we’re not overweight in any of these categories. Organic growth may not be glamorous in these days of capital-driven shoot-the-moon growth companies, but it keeps us real and committed as a team, every day.
Growing a company organically takes discipline and heart. Looking back over the past 17 years, I am proud of what we have accomplished and I’m excited about where we’re going. By holding steadfast in our commitments to hiring and retaining great talent, cultivating customer advocacy, and reinvesting back into the company, we can continue to see growth and success for many years to come. And our clients will experience success as well. Congratulations again to all of the companies who made the list – we are in good company!