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Switching From Survival to "Thrival"

Bob Tinker

I spent the first two and a half years after founding MobileIron worrying about survival, stretching every dollar and scrutinizing every expense. It took us 18 months to develop the product. During the early days we’d use LinkedIn to find new hires. (Recruiters charge 20% or more, which basically means for every four or five hires you lose one full-time position.)

That frugality was religion for the first year our product was in the market. Then, the business took off. In the third quarter of 2010, we went from landing 40 new customers a quarter to 80 per quarter.

That’s when the little circuit breaker in my head flipped. We still had to be frugal, but I stopped worrying that we were on the verge of not surviving and realized we might have a real business. I had to change from operating purely in survival mode to “thrival” mode, which is a word that I saw in a Kaiser Permanente billboard.

In survival mode your biggest restraint is cash. In thrival mode, it’s people. So you can’t be penny wise, pound foolish, especially on hiring. A three-month delay in hiring the next sales manager is a three-month delay in their revenue production. A three-month delay in hiring a critical engineer is a three-month delay in their work. We decided to selectively pay recruiters for key positions to speed up hiring because it made business sense in thrival mode.

Another change we made was investing in things to help customers be successful and see us as a leader. In the early days, everyone does customer support. In thrival mode, you need to have strong customer support, invest in training, user groups, and so on. In thrival mode, you can’t afford not to invest in customer success.

There were other things besides the number of deals that let me know things had changed. For instance, all of a sudden instead of our sales guys making outbound calls all day long, we started getting inbound calls from customers. An “a-ha” moment for me was when our VP Sales volunteered to raise quotas in order to expand the sales team. The result: We ended up doubling our sales force and it paid off.

Lots of companies developed a great product—but then missed their window because they were too slow or couldn’t figure out how to sell effectively. You can’t miss your chance.

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