5 Small Business Lessons From Airbnb, Dollar Shave Club, And Other Awesome Companies

What do Airbnb, Dollar Shave Club, and LinkedIn have in common?

First and foremost, these are big brands with market values crossing the 7-figure mark.

But like everyone else, these awesome companies started small, dwarfed by the incumbents in their chosen industries. They reached unprecedented heights, but only after making mistakes and facing challenges that would’ve made others buckle.

Yes, these are awesome companies are massive. But their journey can teach you how to run a successful small business – and maybe even reach the summit like they did.

Airbnb – Starting A Business Is Tough, You Gotta Hustle

Airbnb topped Glassdoor’s annual “Best Places To Work” roundup in 2016.

The online accommodation platform’s employees can only sing songs of praises and satisfaction. And their love for the company is well-reflected by the its growth. Today, Airbnb is valued at $30 billion, accommodating 150,000,000+ guests and counting through through over 3 million listings.

However, things weren’t always rosy.

For starters, Airbnb was created out of desperation. Co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, Jr. found themselves unable to pay their rent in 2007. So to make ends meet, they turned their loft into a lodging space and promoted it through their self-designed website.

So far so good. Chesky and Gebbia got to pay their rent and start a business to boot! But the duo had to scale taller mountains before they find massive success.

As Airbnb started during the summer of 2008, the team had hit rock-bottom.

The founders needed to raise money, but the website isn’t getting a lot of sign-ups. To make the ends meet, they bought cereals in bulk, designed special election edition boxes, and sold them for $40 a pop. With more than 500 boxes sold, Chesky and Gebbia raised $30,000 for Airbnb.

Since then, the company encountered even more challenges – from growing their userbase to facing lawsuits. But their collective grit and wit allowed them to find creative solutions, like Craigslist growth hack.

None of Airbnb’s success would’ve been possible had Chesky and Gebbia called it quits. If you want to succeed in business and in life, you better harden up. Because when the going gets tough, only the tough gets going!

Dollar Shave Club – Humor Sells

“Our Blades Are F****** Great!”

Who would forget that viral video from Dollar Shave Club in 2012? I know I wouldn’t! The unique value proposition was too clear to miss.

“For a dollar a month, we send high-quality razors right to your door,” said founder and CEO Mike Dubin at the start. But the ad packs a punch that goes beyond a straightforward value proposition.

Just as important, Dollar Shave Club’s video is funny!

In an interview with Marketing Land, DSC’s chief marketing officer Adam Weber laid out one of the key takeaways from the razor subscription service’s success:

“Tell a story, don’t just sell. Ads are by nature intrusive — videos should reward the consumer for giving you a moment of their time.”

And what’s the easiest way to reward potential customers for viewing your ad?

Make them laugh!

If you haven’t seen the video yet, I recommend you watch it and come back here.

Done having a laugh? 🙂

The video only took $4,500 to produce, a drop in the bucket compared to what big brands spend in their video ads. But combined with Mike Dubin’s knack for improv comedy and a 204-word persuasive copy, the ad was enough to send chills down Gillette’s spine!

Within 48 hours after the video’s release, Dollar Shave Club got 12,000 subscribers. The website even crashed from the massive traffic, but the company has recovered from their massive success.

And 5 years later, the video is still getting a ton of comments from YouTube users, while Dollar Shave Club is now valued at $1 billion!

Hubspot – Pull Customers In By Providing Value

Hubspot, the inbound marketing software developer, enjoys the continued support of over 18,000 B2B clients from around the world. What started as a brewing collaboration in MIT turned to an international business that generates over $270 million in revenue.

But how did the company achieve such rapid growth?

They practice what they teach.

Hubspot used a wide range of inbound marketing techniques. And in particular, they excelled (and still do) in content marketing.

But what is content marketing really?

According to the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

And boy did Hubspot know how to provide valuable content and attract leads!

First on the list are their free yet handy tools. Hubspot’s Website Grader evaluated over 4 million websites between 2006 and 2011. Simply enter a URL and you’d get insight as to which parts of the website are in good shape and which need improvement.

Not only was the tool free and easy to use, the Website Grader helped both potential customers and Hubspot. The users gained a better understanding of their website, while the marketing company got high-quality leads without paying for a sales team.

Hubspot’s blog was nothing short of impressive, too.

Packed with expert insights, facts-based infographics, and shareable content, their Inbound Marketing Hub attracts 2 million readers every month and generates 20% of all of Hubspot’s organic leads.

And thanks to customized calls to actions at the bottom of every post, potential customers and existing clients keep coming back to read more of their stuff.

JetBlue – Deliver Nothing Less Than Stellar Customer Service

JetBlue Airways is nowhere near as massive as other North American airlines like Delta and American Airlines. Their fleet size, number of destinations, and enplaned passengers only put them at the number 7 spot.

But what JetBlue lacks in size is more than compensated by its dedication to customer service. And in the 2016 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, JetBlue ranked the highest for the 11th consecutive year!

Customer service and airlines often don’t go together.

From delayed flights, lost luggages, to apathetic flight crews, flying has been associated with stress. But JetBlue was built with differently, eliminating the strict protocols and empowering employees to solve customer complaints in a creative way.

Alena Rae, a passenger, missed her flight home to San Francisco because of a delay. The good news, a JetBlue manager by the name of Adrian found her another flight from DC. The bad news? The airport was 60 miles away.

But the long drive wasn’t a problem.

“The manager himself literally drove me an hour-and-a-half from Baltimore to the Dulles airport so I’d make the flight on time,” said Alena in her Facebook post.

Amazing, eh?

In another heartwarming customer service story, a Boston man tweeted how he couldn’t get coffee at Starbuck’s as he’s running late to catch JetBlue’s plane at Logan Airport.

Other airlines may have just shrugged that off. But not the most customer-friendly low-cost carrier in the country!

JetBlue’s social media team tipped the customer service team at Logan. And when the man took his seat, customer service handed him his Starbucks coffee.

“That guy raved about us for weeks on Twitter,” said Jamie Perry, VP for brand and product development. “You can’t buy that kind of publicity.”

LinkedIn – Solve A Genuine Problem And Opportunities Will Follow

LinkedIn launched in 2003, back when Friendster dominated the social media scene.

Most of the  networks worked well for dating and connecting with friends. But as a place to meet new people and conduct business, they are lacking!

You see, the most important ingredient in landing a job, hiring a talented candidate, or finding a business partner is a quality referral. Yet none of the social networks in 2003 offered a way to refer someone a user thinks highly of.

Worse, staying in touch with established connections was difficult, with people changing jobs, email addresses, and phone numbers on the regular.

And let’s not forget how unrestricted messaging, which was common back then, meant high-profile executives are likely to get bombarded with spam.

Business folks need a better way to connect over the internet.

Reid Hoffman’s solution was LinkedIn, a professional network based on identity and connection.

LinkedIn’s inner workings are based on the theory of 6 degrees of separation. The theory states that people are only 6 introductions away from anyone they want to meet.

The professional social network didn’t only made it easy for users to see who’s within their network (or within 4 degrees of separation) at a glance. But LinkedIn also adopted a gated-connection system, setting it apart from the competition.

The restrictions meant users only got messages and invites from people they know, while keeping spam and flood of unwanted invites at bay.

LinkedIn only had 13 users during the launch. Today, however, it’s the largest professional social network with 467 million members across over 200 countries.

Richard Kao is the sales director of COSSales, a UK-based office and tech solutions provider. When he’s not busy assisting B2B clients, he’s often reading blogs like Small Businesses Do It Better and experimenting with the latest marketing trends.

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