The Startup Circle of Life: Team, Customers, Revenue

Originally posted on the HelloSign blog

The image above sums up how I think of everything at HelloSign. If you want a snapshot of what’s going on in my head, it’s an image of a circle with three different pieces: customers, revenue, and team. This is how we will build a significant company.

We rolled this idea out about a year ago. I realized as we grew from 10-20 and 20-30, not everyone was on the same page. I started getting questions like:

  • Are our customers still a priority?
  • Why are we talking about customers so much? We really should be driving revenue.
  • Are we just focused on revenue?

When I’d hear about revenue not being a priority, I’d talk about the importance of revenue at a weekly meeting or mention it more in meetings. When I’d hear about our customers not being a priority, I’d do a presentation on that. It was like communication whack a mole!

I finally realized what I was missing. I needed to tie these separate elements together into one message. I started calling it –

The Circle of Life!

What’s the circle of life? It’s how we enter into a constant, positive flywheel of growth.

  • A really smart and engaged team can build and support a phenomenal product for our customers.
  • We drive value for our customers. They pay us for that value, creating revenue.
  • We use that revenue to invest in our team.

The reality is that all three are the lifeblood of any company. Focusing on just one is like letting the hyenas into the Kingdom. If you only focus on the team but don’t get any customers, you’ll run out of revenue. If you only focus on revenue, but not on the team or making customers happy, you’ll have turnover and churn. If you only focus on customers, you won’t get revenue or be able to continue supporting the team. Explaining the relationship between these three things was hugely helpful for the team. As soon as I explained the circle of life, the questions went away. People seemed to get it.

In the last few months, we’ve started to see which companies aren’t balancing all three, as fundraising has dried up. Maybe they have a phenomenal product but can’t get the revenue to continue supporting the team. Funding can replace revenue for awhile or even kickstart the circle, but it’s not a permanent solution.

You need all three and they all have to work together. When you focus on constantly improving all three, that’s when the magic starts to happen. It’s pretty simple, but this is how you build an enduring company.