This post is part of our Business Innovation Series where we interview businesses with innovative or disruptive business models to help shed light on what made the founder start the business, how they handle their industries, and what is next for these amazing companies. Each month we research and select two companies to be featured in this series.
What service does your company provide to consumers and how is this valuable?
Leaders in medium and large organizations are increasingly disconnected from the useful knowledge and actionable insights of their teams -- costing time, talent and value.
Cultivate Labs offers an engagement platform that gives teams the ability to respond anonymously to questions posed about future performance. By identifying “ground truth,” we give organizations the power to see and shape their future.
The value of our platform is evidenced every day in the business press when you read about failed product launches or missing market trends where “unofficially” everyone inside the company is talking about problems: missed deadlines, stronger competition, or budget overruns, but “officially” leaders are unaware (or unwilling to acknowledge) issues and make costly missteps as a consequence.
What made you think of this innovative business model and what made you take the leap to launch it?
Our experience as consultants working in large organizations and managing large teams ourselves. You begin to understand there is rampant bias and politics in decision-making, along with a basic inability to manage effectively when you are under-utilizing the knowledge, experience, and views of the people you work with. The way we manage teams and make important decisions hasn’t fundamentally changed in decades. We thought there had to be a better way.
Now that you are a fully operating business, do you attempt to adapt to any industry changes or do you create your own path?
We are too small to be large-scale evangelists for the problem we’re trying to address, so we must always rely on larger trends to lift our boat. Given we are in the internal crowdsourcing business, the rise of Kickstarter, the publicity around prediction markets at election time, and even discussion in the business press of related Government-funded research has made organizations more accepting of what we do and has helped them understand that they must make the types of changes we advocate in the next few years or they will be in trouble.
Is your company continually innovating? If so, what steps do you take to launch a new product or service?
We are continually innovating, but in small ways. We experiment a lot. We build new features quickly and see if they work (or not.) We talk constantly about tweaks to our business model that can also be considered a form of innovation. When we do launch something new, our main barometer of success is simply: Are people using this? Do they get it? Did we just make something they’re doing more efficient or replace something painful or annoying?
What processes have you put in place to help you grow and not undergo growing pains in the future?
For now, we are self-funded, so we’re very careful to make sure our projected revenue leaves us with the ability to pay decent salaries, and still have room to offer other small perks and be profitable – essentially live the values we established for ourselves as a company.
Given we sell almost exclusively to large enterprise, our growth strategy has been to establish long term relationships with “anchor” clients, then build from there. For those initial clients we were willing to lower our prices and “invest” in the relationship, all in the hopes of turning them in to stable income and named credentials. Once we had those, then we were able to be more aggressive about looking for additional clients. We also make sure to always live within our means. We don’t hire until there is no other way to get the work done. Our office is modest. We don’t get top shelf liquor for our Friday beer-thirties.
How closely do you listen to your customers' needs and how important is this feedback to you?
Some customers pay us to customize our software platform, so we must obviously listen to what they want very closely. Even in those relationships however, we try to have a back and forth with them about what the best approach would be given what they’re trying to accomplish. For other feedback, it’s either a strong signal we’re hearing from multiple people and so it becomes a priority, or we try to politely say “thank you very much for the feedback,” log it, and either commit to putting it on our roadmap at some point or try to articulate why it will simply never make sense. One thing I would like us to improve on across all this different type of feedback is getting better about just saying “no.” In a service business, “no” is one of the most difficult words to say, but it provides clarity and protects your team from needless work. And sometimes a client is just probing or brainstorming, and the response to “no” is often, “ok!”
Does Cultivate Labs have any initiatives about giving back?
Not yet, but each of us do things on an individual basis that either involve working within the communities in which we live, or doing speaking and teaching gigs at startup schools, etc. for our brethren in the start up community.
What is next for Cultivate Labs?
Obviously we want to continue to grow and prosper. But more specifically, we want to see continued signals that our point of view is being legitimized by trends in the workplace. People just joining the workforce now have very different expectations of what their role is, how they contribute, and how they expect to be supported. Embracing this change will have a fundamental impact on the ability of organizations to compete in the future.
The days of managing from a position of fear or superior title are numbered. Successful managers will readily admit what they don’t know and use their own people to fill in the blanks to guide their decisions. We think we’re well positioned to be part of the vanguard of this evolution over the next 10 years.
Cultivate Labs is based in Chicago, IL. Visit their website to learn more: www.cultivatelabs.com.
Know of a company that has an innovative business model and is disrupting its industry? Reach out to us today.