There are two lines of thought in startup design: short-term gains and long-term profits. Both philosophies have their associated benefits and drawbacks, though it can be argued that those that plan for the long term from the beginning will ultimately be successful.
There’s a lot of founders who want to point to successes like Snapchat — founded in 2011, billion dollar IPO in 2017 — and kid themselves that a startup is a get-rich-quick scheme.
That’s not the case.
I want to talk about three startup companies that focused their business model on long-term market trends instead of counting on making a big splash and cashing out…
MailChimp is an email marketing platform that started as a collection of side projects in 2001. The company’s founders wished to democratize technology for small businesses, and structured their marketing, pricing, and research/development to best serve the needs of clients of all sizes.
Since its inception, MailChimp has grown to serve over 15 million businesses and people worldwide, bringing the finest of modern automated marketing and targeted campaigning to the masses.
The company set its sights on easily manageable short-term goals while still keeping an ironlike focus on the future. After extensive market research, they discovered that clients were looking for something that seems simple in retrospective but was revolutionary for the time: sending graphics focused email promotions that included built-in results tracking technology.
They started out with a simple program and leveraged consumer and employee feedback to add new features while still staying loyal to their core mission — making reaching consumers easier for clients.
Founded in 1999 by just 4 people (37Signals sound off), Basecamp has grown to encompass roughly 50 people located in over 30 cities around the globe.
The company takes remote work to the extreme, with all employees encouraged to live where they feel most comfortable and productive. For nearly 20 years, this company has striven to help its human assets cultivate business tools that have, and will continue, to reshape programming and project management around the world. They have helped thousands of companies ranging from freelancers to large international conglomerates, and look forward to what its next 20 years will bring.
“Don’t be cutthroat competitive. Don’t work ungodly hours. Don’t move fast and break things.”
This quote from Kim Shandrow in her article describing how Basecamp has managed to turn the software development world on its head. Their philosophy has been, since its inception, to leverage organic assets to craft software that handle specific tasks. Grow from there to better serve wide swaths of the population.
By doing so they have been able to avoid needed outside funding (except for a small amount from Jeff Bezos in 2006) and maintain complete autonomy in the business practices and culture. If you look at what they’ve continued to do since — through projects like their new email app — they’ve never changed their core approach, because it’s a part of who they are.
Founded by Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes in 2002, this company has dedicated itself to developing project management software that is custom-developed to help the individual client best achieve his or her goal. They have helped clients in industries as far flung as medicine and advanced aerospace.
The company launched with just a single product and no sales team, and in the 15 years since has grown to include over 1,700 employees spread across six locations.
Starting a company on a credit card with only friends as employees is a risky endeavor for any company, especially in the burgeoning Australian technology industry. Their mantra was to develop the best enterprise software and to not “f**** the customer.”
Atlassian has focused on growth centered around its premier product, Jira, and avoiding outside financial pressures that would emphasize short term profits over long term development. The results were them growing into a company that brings in over $US150 million per year while picking and choosing only the best to incorporate into its business structure.
Focus on the People, Problem, and Product
All three of these companies started out by focusing on a specific need. Leveraging a quality product, they then reinvested those initial profits into further market research and development.
Each company emphasized leveraging its internal strengths with long term goals and resisted any conditions that would have forced them to refocus on short-term profits. In the end, this leads to companies with little debt, greater autonomy, and a lean workforce with a proven history of producing results.
If you’re starting a company or a project, get in it for the long haul. The long haul is where you’ll actually achieve things. The long haul is realistic. At Speedlancer, we’re not focused on getting a quick payday, we’re looking years into the future and talking about what our company looks like then.
We’re already thinking about the next evolution of freelancing and working out how to capitalize on what that will be, rather than just trying to get a score on the board today. The long haul isn’t easy, but it pays off.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.