The secret to building a successful and sustainable business

“How useful is what I do?”

This is a question that is so simple on paper, yet so difficult to answer in real life.

The usefulness of your product or service is a metric that is difficult to measure. As a result, a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders don’t mind trying to measure it at all. Instead, they’ll replace a backward-looking figure like revenue, or worse, they’ll rely on vanity metrics that don’t make sense.

Then they will find that revenue may one day suddenly vanish without any explanation. Or they will use false positives as a justification for poor decisions on spending. Either way the money goes net negative real quick.

I assure you that in more than 20 years building and growing companies, I have learned that there is no single answer to any other question that is going to more accurately predict the success of your business.

the question is really about your business mission

Last week, I talked about mission startup vs machine startup. It’s my own terminology, but basically a machine startup is one that develops or buys a product around it, usually by raising money from outside investors. A mission startup follows a more organic path, and grows step-by-step from a solution, gradually built into an ever-improving product, and delivered to an ever-growing market.

While mission startup and machine startup are two completely different animals, all startups – even machine startups with shedloads of money – must be built around a single, unbroken mission. This is why their solution exists, and so does their product and their company.

While a machine startup needs venture investment to survive, its product doesn’t have to be very useful out of the gate. In fact, a machine startup doesn’t even need a working product in the beginning, only money to design and build a grand machine that will eat up a large segment of the market, including all of it. Competition is also included.

On the other hand, to be successful, a mission startup’s product must score nine out of 10 or higher on the usability scale. Without that rocket-fuel of funding, demand for a mission startup’s product must continue to grow, its market must be large and addressable, and its margins thick.

Whether you are building a machine or carrying out a mission, no good product is complete without a product that is most useful to a growing number of customers.

Ask your customers about your mission

In the same post, I have also given an example of some Mission startups that I have just established, including one startup, Teaching Startup, The mission of that startup is to create more and more entrepreneurs by providing startup advice in an affordable way.

Now, when I said earlier that the usability level of a mission startup’s product should be a nine out of 10 or higher, well, more than two years after building a teaching startup on the foundation of its mission, I’ve been able to help my clients. surveyed about its usefulness. My first question was to score on a scale of 1 to 10. That question:

“Teaching startup has helped me or will help me build and grow my startup.”

And the result was 8.95 out of 10. quite close.

This question was not asked arbitrarily. I’m not asking if they are selling more products, as there are already solutions for this, solutions that offer a completely different value proposition. I’m not asking whether my clients feel better about themselves or their leadership, because I’m not trying to create happier and more confident business people. Again, coaching already exists, and it’s a completely different value-prop.

No, Teaching Startup exists to advise entrepreneurs on how to build and grow their startups. That’s the mission. That’s my thesis.

you must constantly Ask your customers how useful your product is, And you can only get answers by asking a question that speaks directly to whatever mission your solution is driving.

Use Engagement to Support Your Mission Thesis

When asked properly, the utility answer is a more important metric than NPS, as brand loyalty rarely moves the revenue needle. And in my opinion, the utility question must be answered before measuring engagement, because that linkage may not be attractive for the right reasons.

I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time using the products and services for no reason, because you weren’t willing to make changes. So far. But then when that change became inevitable – think flip phone to smart phone, or cable to streaming – there was no going back.

The cable company I left five years ago still sends me NPS surveys.

Once you’ve established usability, measuring engagement takes on a whole new meaning. Not only will your results tell you where to make your product better, faster and stronger, but you’ll also know why – which leads to lighter expenses for more customer value. You won’t add features they don’t want, or sell to customers who don’t care.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.