When I founded OpenView in 2006, I did so with the specific goal of creating a VC firm that was much more than what Ben Thompson describes as a “middleman” or “moneyman”. You can read more about the value-add approach we ultimately implemented here, but our mission was simple: To create an internal team and system that consistently delivered highly relevant, meaningful value to the companies we invested in.
Today, everyone on our team is involved with adding value in one way or another. This is true with respect to our portfolio (through hands-on, value-add projects like these), but I think it’s also true of the value we aim to provide to the broader tech community through this site and the OpenView Newsletter.
That said, our goal isn’t — and has never been — to just scratch the surface by throwing ideas against a wall and seeing what sticks. Instead, I push our team to follow a process that makes great ideas possible, but also makes them repeatable, sharable, and scalable. When this happens, the value of those projects is amplified significantly.
To expand on that, here are the different levels of value I think can be created from this process, as well as how they can be applied to the way your startup team generates, implements, and documents ideas:
Level 1: Doing something helpful for a customer (in our case, a portfolio company).
This might include addressing a billing issue, fixing a product bug, or providing services that help a customer be more successful. These types of tasks typically happen so often that they’re hard to keep track of, but each task adds value. Even if it fails, it adds value by allowing your team to better understand what not to do. While this aspect of value creation might seem small, the collective power of these actions can be huge over time. Which leads to the next level.
Level 10: Passing ideas on to others around you.
Let’s say you’ve helped a customer address a small problem, or found a fix for a small product bug. While those actions are valuable on their own, sharing what you learned with your direct team makes them significantly more valuable. Doing this helps to develop your team’s skills and improves organizational efficiency by providing a framework when similar issues occur in the future. This process is also valuable because it promotes feedback and encourages group discussion on how to deliver even greater customer value.
Level 100: Documenting ideas and sharing the most important ones with senior leadership.
While it’s great to solve a customer’s problem, what you don’t want to find yourself doing at scale is repeatedly reinventing the wheel to solve that same problem over and over again. This is why documenting ideas, value creation, and other activities — the successful and unsuccessful ones — is critical. Doing this will help educate everyone in the company on the right (and wrong) ways to distribute value, and it will alert senior management about opportunities for important strategic changes.
Level 1000: Implementing a process for repeatedly executing and improving an idea.
As you document ideas and actions, you’ll begin to notice trends and best practices that can be converted into a clear process for adding even more value in a particular area. This will help today’s team become more effective and efficient, but it will also give future team members the roadmap they need to ramp up quicker. Even better, as others use the process you created, they can suggest tweaks and improvements that might make it better. Over time, this step dramatically amplifies the value of your original idea.
Ultimately, the goal of this concept is perpetual improvement and value repeatability.
If one sales manager creates a call script that’s generating huge results for her team, there should be a process in place to make sure it’s shared, documented, and improved upon over time. If a customer service rep uses a particular tactic to successfully solve a key user pain point, make sure that person has a forum for sharing it with the rest of the organization.
There are many small and large examples of this in practice at startups every day, and we continue to use it at OpenView. Our mission has been (and always will be) to progressively build our knowledge base in a way that makes it easier to repeatedly create value for our portfolio, and improve the ways in which that value is delivered. And the same simple approach can be used at any startup to focus attention on good (and bad) ideas, improve efficiency, and significantly amplify customer value.