Figuring Out How To Be Great

It’s been eight days since I last posted. Normally I try to post every few days, but the combination of Thanksgiving and being busier than normal has led me to procrastinate on this post for a while. Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately on how to make Pure Adapt a great company, primarily for two reasons:

  1. I’m in the middle of reading Good to Great, and it’s one of the few business books I’ve ever read that actually makes me think (as opposed to saying “duh, that’s so obvious” throughout the entire thing).
  2. Our November is going waaaaay better than we ever anticipated. Mike and I are quickly getting backed up with jobs for Faceup-Sites, and more importantly Detailed Image is having a record-breaking month…we’re talking 3X revenue from what George and Greg did last November combined with the fact that it’s our largest month in one of the traditionally slowest months for auto-detailing supplies (the cumulative impact of our new SE friendly site combined with being first to market with a new product).

One of the things that Jim Collins, author of Good to Great talks about is the “hedgehog concept” where to become a great company you need to have equal parts of:

  • What you are deeply passionate about
  • What you can be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine

And after reflecting on that, I had an epiphany of sorts: we are not a web development company (at least in the traditional sense). Our programming skills are adequate to accomplish our business goals, but if you put us in a programming competition with any other four person web development company in the world we’d finish last. There are however, two things that we are passionate about, can be best in the world at, and are currently accounting for 90%+ of our revenue:

  1. We are a great operations company. The primary reason we overhauled the Detailed Image site was because of the back-end automation. Most e-commerce sites have several steps from purchase to shipment (charging out the customers credit card, creating invoices, entering the order into an accounting system, creating a shipping label, etc) and we have all of that 100% automated – saving hours of time and eliminating human error. On the other side, Mike has become so efficient at WordPress, that Faceup-Sites is able to provide our clients with search engine friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and easy-to-update sites in about 1/5 the time it used to take us. We charge less, and we still profit more. Other examples: we have an internal Wiki where we document everything we do so all partners can do any process at any time (this was the idea I got from Anthony from Xonatek web development…don’t want to take credit for an idea that isn’t mine). I also built an internal project management system to organize all of our clients and their account information. Another good example is setting up our payroll service to automatically direct deposit our checks and pay our taxes for us. I think you get the idea. But I ask you: how many ~1 year old companies owned by four 25 year olds have these systems in place?
  2. We are great at marketing/sales/customer service (yea I kind of lump these things together). Prior to forming Pure Adapt, George and Greg built Detailed Image on sheer will – they sponsored forums and taught others how to detail, and in doing so were able to pitch their products. The secondary reason we overhauled the DI site was for the SEO impact, and now (only a few months later) that accounts for almost as much in sales as their direct sales approach. On the client side of things, Mike and I are closing 80%+ of our leads, mostly because we take the time to listen to the customer, put ourselves in their shoes, and suggest the solutions that fit their unique case the best. And for all of our sites we answer questions rapidly and never, ever attack customers…going above and beyond to make sure they know we care about their experience and want them to be treated fairly. Again, how many companies have the web marketing knowledge we do and combine that with exceptional sales and customer service?

A large part of why we’re good at these two things is because we all have an operations background, and we all have significant sales experience. None of us really have a programming background. This “realization” doesn’t much change our current position, but it does change the way I think of Pure Adapt in the years to come. I always pictured us creating a lot of web2.0 style sites, but that’s clearly the wrong approach. We’ll be in a warehouse/office by 1.1.2008 (we’re actively looking right now) and at that point we’ll start planning our next move. Rather than thinking of software or web apps, I think we’ll focus on growing our niche client services and creating more e-commerce platforms like Detailed Image. After all, we already have the shopping cart in place that gives us a huge competitive advantage on the front-end and the back-end, so it just makes sense to port that cart over to other sites and ship products from the same warehouse (saving on boxes, shipping costs, etc).

Finally, as we approach our one year anniversary, it seems like everything is becoming clear. Over 90% of our revenue comes from those things, so it makes sense to spend 90%+ of our time on becoming great at e-commerce and client work. I’ll always spend the remaining 10% of my time creating Music-Alerts-type sites because they’re fun and that’s how I advance my programming skills, but the difference now is that I want to spend my time working on making us great and not making just enough money so I can create crazy web apps and try to become rich by hitting a home run with one of them. I *think* we just figured out how to become a great company. Now we just have to do it 🙂

6 comments on Figuring Out How To Be Great

  1. Good luck Adam! It’s a great book, I also recommend reading The E-Myth Revisited if you haven’t already.

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Thanks Scott. I have read the E-Myth revisited, and it was fantastic. I actually read it back in 2003 prior to starting SportsLizard, and I’ve referenced back to it often since then – definitely on my “every business owner should read” list.

  3. Jeff says:

    Hey Adam,

    I’ve been a daily visitor to your blog dating back to the old SportsLizard one for the past 12 months (at least). Never dropped you a line here to say how much I enjoyed it though. Lots of times reading your entries has given me the push I’ve needed to keep my own projects going. I still haven’t had the stones to quit my job yet. Hopefully I’ll be to that point in the next twelve months though.

    Best Wishes.

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    Jeff,

    Thank you so much for being a loyal reader. It’s great to finally hear from you! I’m glad following this blog and my story has helped you – that’s why I publish it online as opposed to keeping a diary in a word document. Feel free to email me anytime if there’s ever anything I can do to help you with your projects.

    Take care,

    Adam

  5. Anthony says:

    Adam,

    I thoroughly enjoy reading every post you write because they always have the perfect combination of concepts I can understand & relate to, but also, concepts that are new, exciting & worth thinking further about. And it’s posts like this that make me sure we’ll both be headed in even better directions after we meet up on the 15th.

  6. Adam McFarland says:

    Thanks Anthony. You’ve obviously had a great influence on me and on our company as a whole, so I’m really looking forward to meeting up in a few weeks to discuss how we can grow our businesses together…I’m keeping a running list of questions to ask you 🙂

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