The solution is simple but counterintuitive: Stake out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. This goes against everything you learned in capitalism school, but in fact, it’s the simplest way to matter.
– Seth Godin
Many of us believe that mattering—being meaningful in some way—is valuable. In business, it’s the first step towards being profitable. But to be more important or more valuable we often seek larger audiences and do things to gain attention. Distractions are everywhere. And often it’s these distractions, which begin as well-reasoned investments of resources, that end up getting us lost.
It was July 2014, and Roompact was a small, mighty, and relatively inexperienced four-person team. I had just left my position as a Resident Director to join Roompact, and our current CTO, Christian Charukiewicz, was still a summer tech intern. We were preparing to onboard our very first clients. As I was lying in bed one night, my eyes snapped open and like a ton of bricks it struck me that we had clients (!) and had created exactly zero resources for onboarding and training them.
Early the next morning I rushed through the office doors and blurted… to Matt Unger, our CEO:
“Matt! We need to develop (inaudible) training!”
I knew from my experience in residence life that if we wanted our professional staff users to embrace our technology, we needed to provide high-quality content that could be easily infused into their training activities and materials. But here’s the kicker: We hadn’t been paid by any schools yet, and here I was proposing to spend hundreds of hours on something other than sales!
On top of that, there were so many exciting things we could spend time on: reaching out to prospective schools/clients, doing product demos, launching our blog, creating new features, and enhancing existing parts of the platform. We would also hear suggestions from friends, colleagues, and prospective clients that we should do what other companies were doing. (“You should do roommate matching!” and, “Have you thought about doing housing assignments?”) And they had a point. Unlike training, people will often purchase software based solely on features.
There is a magnetic attraction to reaching the biggest audience possible. Whether it’s marketing university housing, listing personal items on eBay, or buying advertising space on a billboard, the more common approach is “the more eyes the better!” This belief adds to the misconception that what is popular – because of visits, follows, investment, or likes – is also significant.
For us, doing something “bigger” never felt right. Perhaps we left money on the table; there is certainly a market for complementary products and services that we could have pursued, but bigger would mean staking out a larger position. Bigger – it seemed – would lead us further away from those most loyal.
We want to do what’s best for our users. We want to develop relationships with them. We want to collaborate and push our industry forward. We want to contribute to and enhance student learning.
– Matt Unger, Roompact CEO
Thankfully, from the very beginning, our team had a shared vision and prioritized our clients needs over scalability. Our clients gave us a solid idea of what they needed. As a recent residence life professional myself, I also had an understanding of the status-quo for residential education technology. Before enlisting help, I did my due diligence and researched training delivery and monetization strategies from similar companies. Although informative, more useful were ideas and suggestions from our new clients. With less than one month until opening we got started.
Within those few short weeks, we published over fifty support articles and created custom Prezi presentations for clients to use during student staff training. We provided on-campus trainings for free, answered the support phone at all hours of the day (like a duty phone), and to help with consistency, we created internal systems that allowing us to organize client files and share information. With the exception of some help from an outsourced technical writer (my mom) we did it all.
That vision was, and still is, about creating a special and valuable relationship with our clients. Today our client success and development team has grown, allowing us to stay focused on our clients. Our philosophy, that “we are more than service providers,” means we’re not working towards something “bigger,” just for the sake of size. It means we find more value in doing more focused work with more meaning.