The World's Greatest Teachers: 150,000 Small Businesses

In honor of National Small Business week, I want to highlight the 150,000 SMBs that helped me throughout my career in the SMB world and how the lessons I learned from them influence SingleHop today.

My career has been spent servicing the small business space. Prior to SingleHop, I ran midPhase, a shared web hosting company that provided services to 160K clients. I also had ownership in a merchant processing company that provided payment processing to SMBs and an advertising company I started that provided media placement to SMBs. Considering the exposure I’ve had in dealing with SMBs, there are a few things I’ve found along the way that matter greatly to the SMB client.

Dan Ushman and I started midPhase in 2003. midPhase was a shared hosting provider and we catered to the SMB space. Many were just setting up an online presence and overall were doing very simple things, such as hosting email, putting up a contact page using a website builder, etc. In 2006, we began to see a change for many of our clients as they began doing more complex things, like e-commerce shops, database intensive applications, mobile apps, and much more that businesses had traditionally been handling within their four walls. It was clear that this needed to change because a SMB could not handle that level of complexity on its own; outsourcing made far more sense.

We began SingleHop in 2006 to focus on that part of the market; specifically, making complex infrastructure easier to provision for small and medium-sized organizations. Based on our experience running midPhase and other companies and the experience from the world’s greatest teachers, which consisted of over 150,000 small businesses, there were a few lessons that we learned along the way that influence how we run SingleHop.

Lesson 1: Provide Obsessive Levels of Control

As a consumer, we haven’t always been in control of how we consume and manage services, but the information age and Internet are quickly changing that. Putting the user in control creates a great deal of loyalty. Companies that have successfully done this often have the most dedicated and engaged customer bases. One great example is Apple and the iPod. Apple’s key marketing message with the iPod was to become your own DJ: play what genre of music you want, take the music with you, and be in complete control.

More recently, a great example of putting the consumer in control has been Uber. If you live in Chicago, you quickly become very loyal to this service, which is an app that lets you flag a taxi from the warmth of your office to have it ready and waiting by the time you get outside. You can even pick the type of car based on your budget, whenever and wherever you want it.

One of the ways we learned how to put the user in control was at midPhase, where we provided our SMB clients with an interface to both modify their services, such as their email addresses and applications installed, and to design and maintain their website. We had over 150K clients, so by enabling our customers to modify their services, we were able to dramatically reduce the amount of support tickets. Although fewer support tickets was the primary reason for putting our customers in control, we later found that by empowering our customers with this level of control, we also created a more loyal customer base.

At midPhase, we discovered that our customer base appreciated being able to add services with ease, without having to work through a sales person. Small businesses want to be as independent as possible, so having a huge level of control over all the facets of their business gives them confidence that everything is running the way they want and need it to be.

At SingleHop, empowering our customers and putting them in control has been a very big part of our story and our value proposition. We spent the first two years building out our LEAP Platform. LEAP allows our clients to provision and modify services on demand. With LEAP you can control your infrastructure not just from your computer, but you can also use our LEAP app on your mobile phone or tablet, giving you control from anywhere, anytime. This lets us stick to the core of our business by making it easier for our clients to design and deploy complex infrastructures.

By working with over 150,000 small businesses and learning more than I could have ever hoped, I understand what is most important to them and have channeled that into how I run SingleHop.

Stay tuned for the next two parts in this series.