Reflections from an Inc. 500 Company

by | Nov 10, 2015


In soccer, there is a higher probability of a penalty kick being blocked if the goalkeeper remains in the center of the goal, rather than leaping to one side or the other. Therefore, it would seem logical that goalkeepers should stay in the middle of the net for the highest probability of blocking the ball, right? Well, that’s not the case.

A study of professional soccer penalty kicks showed that goalkeepers almost always jump to their left or their right. The reason behind this phenomenon: It was found there is a psychological aversion to inaction and a bias toward action. If the other team scores a goal on the goalkeeper’s watch, it is better socially and emotionally for the goalkeeper to have acted, even by diving in the wrong direction, than to watch the ball fly into the net without moving to either side.

Action is a huge part of American culture. We love taking action. We’re working longer and longer hours, and we champion the idea of learning by doing. It seems that the opposite — inaction — is a sure way to fail, and we stigmatize it. That’s why every December people start making lists upon lists of the big things they’re going to accomplish in the coming year, and how they’re going to make up for the things they didn’t do over the past 12 months.

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” – Anaïs Nin

Let’s face it. Most New Year’s resolutions fail miserably. The odds are not in our favor this year, either. It’s well-known that around 80% of New Year’s resolutions don’t stick, and if they do, it’s not for long. So why do we take the same approach year after year?

Research suggests that a much better way of approaching our goals is to engage in reflection on a daily basis. The Harvard Business Review cites a paper called “Overcoming the Bias for Action Through Reflection,” which found that reflection on a task was key to improvement.

Researchers evaluated employees during a training program over the course of 30 days. During the training program, some employees were asked to simply continue doing their work as usual, while the other sample was asked to take the last 15 minutes of their day to reflect upon and record what they learned that day.

At the end of the training the employees were given a skills test. Employees who practiced reflection performed 23% better than those who did not. The study concluded that people learn better when they take time to think about what they’re doing.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

A Look Back on 2015

In business, a little reflection goes a long way, and the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. is rife with accomplished folks who have a lot to sing about this year, the pros here at TNP included. With nearly 3,000% growth over the past three years, The Newsletter Pro. landed at No. 120 on the list.

There is so much talent on this list, I decided it would be a shame not to give a nod to the achievements of these all-star companies, and reflect upon and learn a few things from the CEOs who managed to land themselves on the list. Here’s what I found.

They take insane risks: Coming in at numero uno on the list is telecom company Ultra Mobile, whose ingenuity is matched only by their confidence. Taking a sort of “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, CEO David Glickman suggests acting  bigger than you are to foster incredible growth. With fingers crossed, Ultra licensed $50 million in service from T-Mobile, unsure of how much they’d earn back. They took a huge risk — and it paid off. The company’s confidence earned them 100,849% growth and $118 million in revenue in just three years.

TNP “Kill it in the New Year” Tip: Reflect on one major business risk you regret not taking. What was holding you back? Now, think of a risk you’ve been tossing around in your head, and see the response it gets. Do people think you sound crazy? It’s probably just the type of risk you’re looking for.

They manage with extraordinary empathy and trust: Taking a very unconventional approach to empowering her team, Jessica Mah, founder and CEO of InDinero, a full-service financial software firm out of Walnut, California, took couple’s counseling with her platonic business partner and co-founder/CEO Andy Su to maintain a healthy working relationship with him and learn how to better deal with conflict.

This people-first approach goes beyond the founders, too. Mah and Su empower their team by completely taking away the element of middle management and giving team members more power to make decisions and take on responsibility. By taking care of their people and trusting them to grow and change with the company, InDinero has experienced great success. At just 25 years old, Mah has grown her company to see a three-year growth rate of 2,685%.

TNPKill it in the New Year” Tip: Want to empower your team? Make a list of duties or decisions you made this year that you think could be taken from the shoulders of management and given to the team. With more responsibility will come more trust, passion, and accountability among team members.

They hire the best of the best: When an extremely proficient CEO can admit what they don’t know and hire people who can do it better, they’re doing it right. Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, founder of Drawbridge, which connects consumers and brands across devices, is a great leader because she is not only extremely intelligent and capable, but she also hired the right people.

With roots in engineering and mathematics, Sivaramakrishnan took on entrepreneurship and teamed up with people who knew business inside and out. Her ability to grow the company organically depended on hiring the best minds to push it forward. Her company is now No. 6 on the Inc. 500 list, has a 23,484% growth rate, and made $32.9 million in revenue in 2014.

TNP “Kill it in the New Year” Tip: Reflect on a time you hired to your weaknesses. What was the result? Think of your new team members as prosthetics. You wouldn’t replace a weak leg with another weak one, would you? Review the quality of your job ads, salary packages, and screening processes in order to attract the strongest applicants, then whittle down the list until you find the right fit.

They believe wholeheartedly in the value of their product: StartApp, a monetization platform for Android apps, landed at No. 7 on the list. Many of the team at StartApp had experience using the same monetization model at other companies, so when they came together, they were a force to be reckoned with.

startapp2Itay Rokni, VP for marketing at Israeli StartApp, said that by understanding the value of the model, StartApp is able to provide a product that is profitable and simple for app developers.

At StartApp, they invest in learning more about what users want from ads and use that information to design the most desirable ads for mobile users. StartApp grew by an incredible 22,036% in three years, and earned $37.2 million in revenue in 2014.

TNP “Kill it in the New Year” Tip: It’s easy for product value to get convoluted and watered down when a business lacks confidence in what makes their product special. Think about how and when your product was most profitable in 2015. Why was it profitable? What was the context? With those factors fresh in your mind, you’ll be more likely to spend your time, energy, and money exploring and expanding those areas next year.

This month, take a moment to look back on the year and take note of what you’ve accomplished. If you aren’t exactly where you want to be, think about what these CEOs have done, and what you could do to emulate their success.

Know an amazing CEO? Give them a shout-out on our Facebook page! Share who they are and how they make their company so successful.

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