The 20 Year Perspective

How embracing a long-term mindset changed the way we are building Kipsu.

Chris Smith
February 18, 2016
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About a year ago, I was stuck in a hotel room and happened to flip to the History Channel's "The Men Who Built America". It was a great docudrama focused on entrepreneurs like Rockefeller and Carnegie. In it, Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL, offered his perspective on being an entrepreneur, and he said one thing that really stuck with me:

"Entrepreneurs want to change the world, want to have a significant impact, don’t want to just build a company. They want to build an industry. They don’t want to just create another product or service, they really want to fundamentally improve aspects of people’s lives."

-Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL

The desire to make a big, long-term impact resonated with me, to “make a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs so aptly described it, but I had trouble reconciling that with the immediacy of our 2015 culture and economy. We live in a world that is increasingly executed in the short-term.

Kipsu's Long-Term Perspective

I co-founded a company called Kipsu that reduces the time that many companies typically respond to their customers from days to minutes. Kipsu exists to solve the most short term of human needs: resolving last minute requests that you may have as a guest at a hotel or as a patient in a hospital setting. And while recognizing there’s a need to address short-term problems, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to think long-term as technology advances. A challenge that is here to stay. Despite being an active facilitator in this move to a more short-term-focused world, at Kipsu, we recognize this challenge and have come to value being less reactive. We factor the long term into everything we do, even as we deliver on the immediacy that our customers need.

At the most basic level, the acceleration of new technology makes us ever more connected. That increased contact changes our expectations about how fast we need to act, or react. If we don’t respond to an email to establish a meeting time with our work colleagues within 15 minutes, we lose the opportunity to have our preferences included. If we are calling a spouse and they don’t answer, we lose our patience. We now even have a feature on our smartphones to instantly reply to that person with a text message when we can’t take the call. Instant has infiltrated our lives. We spend a lot of time habitually glancing at our smartphones and reacting to what is in front of us. In a broader context, the changes in markets for new products can be quick and companies who miss the wave risk being left behind.

5 Ways Kipsu Plays the Long Game

1. We think broadly about our vision for the world. Bill Gates and Paul Allen famously envisioned “a computer on every desk and in every home” as their goal for Microsoft. It took Microsoft 35 years to realize their goal and change their vision statement. At Kipsu, we see a future where “every business has a one-on-one personal relationship with every one of their customers.” This long-term, bold vision allows us to evaluate the immediate technology trends (the role of artificial intelligence, for example) and put them in perspective relative to the broader bet we are making as a company over the longer time horizon. It has helped us focus our development priorities — for example, staying away from putting out our functionality in standalone mobile apps — and it has brought clarity in every aspect of how we engage our customers.

2. We don't stress over our competitors. When we started our company five years ago we were the first in our market and, naturally, with competitors comes the potential for paranoia. We now worry less about our competitors and now evaluate them in terms of how their offerings will fit into the world we expect to live in 20 years from now. A lot can happen between now and 20 years: those competitors can sell out to a big company that mismanages them, they can screw up execution or they can go out of business for a long list of reasons. We focus on making sure we win the most important customers that will influence shaping our solution over the next ten years, even if they are small customers. If they are exceptional at what they do, we want to work with them.

3. We hire world-class individuals to build the dream team. We don’t hire based on big titles held in prior jobs. We look for the hidden gems that are motivated by the role they will grow into playing in our long-term development. One of the advantages of being based in Minneapolis rather than Silicon Valley is that our talent pool is more naturally inclined to long term commitment. They are not seeking a jump to the next Facebook around the corner. We actively use their inherent loyalty as part of our key criteria in our hiring process. When we evaluate two employees for a specific role, all other things equal, the one who has demonstrated long-term commitment, wins the job.

4. We are always up for the ride on the “Roller Coaster.” Every early stage company has good days and bad days. Knowing what you are shooting for helps to put into perspective a serious setback, which is rare, from a minor mishap. Minor mishaps present learning opportunities and if we recognize them for what they are, they only help us get better and improve our chances of achieving our longer-term goals. It’s infrequent that we need to overreact when we stay true to our pattern of a longer-term tenet.

5. We bootstrapped our business for a long period of time. This came from wanting to be in control of our own destiny. We also picked a market that was well suited for high growth rates but that we didn’t believe would be decided overnight. As a result, we’ve been able to build our company more organically and leverage our customers instead of equity investors. When we did raise some capital this last year, we started by socializing our strategy as a long-term investment with our investors. They love our story. More than one specifically asked us to stay away from capital sources that would put a timeline on the company and they all viewed the problem we are solving as a long-term opportunity.

The short-term is tempting, and it will only become more inviting as technology advances. It takes discipline to think long-term, but we believe it is critical to building a company of great impact and lasting value. Now go and check your messages — you don’t want to miss out on scheduling for that important meeting.

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Christopher Smith is the Co-Founder and CEO of Kipsu, which helps hoteliers, retailers and healthcare providers build amazing relationships with their customers using text messaging and other digital conversation channels. Chris is also a Co-Founder and the Co-Chair of Minnesota Comeback, an education reform network tackling the opportunity gap in Minneapolis.


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