This post previously appeared on Entrepreneur.com.
I’ve always said that the companies that scale to become large, sustainable and independent franchises are the ones that offer a platform to the market. The constant evolution aspiration for a startup is to go from feature, to product, to platform — to create a company where other companies are born and scaled on your technology offerings. A larger vision and the ability to execute on it is truly what separate the good from the great.
Things have changed a lot for Dyn over the 15 years since its inception — and many of the biggest shifts have come since I joined the company almost eight years ago. Since 2008 we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way SaaS tools and services are sold, and how growing SaaS companies are positioning themselves in the market. Like many SaaS companies, Dyn started as a small niche player in an important corner of the Internet — Managed DNS — and slowly carved out a space, honing our product and beating competitors on service, pricing, relationships and added-value until we grew to be the market leader. Along the way we selectively added complementary products — traffic management, Internet intelligence and email delivery — and continued to grow, ensuring our products worked so well in tandem and delivered such value that the only clear path forward was to deliver a platform sale to our customers.
We’re in the midst of a go-to-market and product transformation to reflect this evolution of our business and the move upstream we’re making with the platform is the natural one for businesses that want to drive growth and continue innovating as an independent entity. Our recent announcement that the business has been infused with $50 million in Series B capital only bolsters our push to drive the platform play. For Dyn, it’s no longer about selling feeds and speeds, but all about selling business value to enterprises.
We’re certainly not alone in our platform-first approach. A recent Accenture Trend Report noted that 81 percent of executives say platform-based business models will be core to their growth strategy within three years. Creating integrated approaches to solving business challenges is not only good for customers, it’s a differentiator for your business that can position you far ahead of the competition. Here are some keys to enabling — and nailing — the move to the platform.
1. Enable a vision and the rest will follow.
Shifting your business to a platform approach requires patience and isn’t for everyone. But if your company has several complementary products that combine to create huge value for your customers and prospects, integrating the products and developing additional tools that continue to differentiate your business could propel your growth story. In 2015 we started a cross-company pivot away from product selling and towards a platform sell — delivering the value of all of our core DNS, data, analytics and traffic steering products into addressing the Internet Performance Management space, where we see huge potential for the company through the next five years and beyond. But before we saw a platform approach, we had to see the vision for how our existing products could deliver on a larger promise for our customers.
Having the vision for a platform sale is also necessary for any business to continue to be an independent player, especially in an ecosystem where companies with unique tools or services are targets for companies that already have a platform play. Building out a platform and successfully rolling it out to customers — and ensuring they embrace it — is a big challenge; but with big challenges come big opportunities.
2. Build what customers want — and validate.
It may seem obvious to build products well-tailored to customers’ wants and needs but too many SaaS product development teams fall into the trap of iterating based on their own visions for the product rather that keeping to the goal of solving very specific customer problems, and solving them well. At Dyn, we’ve kept our focus on this and it has helped us grow over the long-run, with 29 consecutive quarters of growth and counting.
Keeping a keen eye on the customer has meant each of our products and each of our acquisitions has been based on fulfilling a need. As customer needs have been filled we’ve constantly challenged ourselves and this has lead to a natural progression in thinking from feature to product to suite to platform. The platform has always been the goal, but it has become the emphasis based on clear customer need. This “market-in” rather than “product out” mindset is imperative to understanding what customers truly want and enabling your business to deliver through the out years. It was critical for us to match our own maturation with the macro trends happening across the Internet infrastructure landscape and affecting CIO and CTOs of companies big and small. Timing is everything.
3. Empower leadership for a full throttle change.
Building the vision and strategy and green-lighting the move to a platform approach was one of the most significant decisions our leadership has made over the history of the business. Not only did it signal a serious shift in our marketing and sales approach, it required a mammoth undertaking by our product and engineering teams to build the software that would enable our massive business shift. Many times products are utilized by customers with siloed interaction points. This user experience needs to be elegant with clean workflows and interfaces or via robust APIs.
While it was a true team effort to develop the strategy and action plan for the platform play, it was crucial for the plan to be communicated to leaders across our near 500-person business, to our regional offices in the U.K., Australia and Singapore, and understood and internalized by all of our staff. Enabling this change was a huge decision and we’ve had to turn the company and ensure the message is resonating and being communicated across all departments and through all disciplines. We also based one of our biggest hires to date, our global head of sales, on his ability to grow our sales apparatus to meet this platform approach. If you want to have a big vision for your company’s future, you truly have to go all in.
4. Reorg and resize.
You can’t make a platform play without shaking up your organization significantly. We have shifted focus in many areas of our business and have had to reorganize teams and assets to meet the challenges we’ve placed on ourselves. This is never an easy proposition for a business, but if leadership articulates the vision, charts the course and firmly plants the flag, showing how your business can meet the opportunity before it, your business will be set to optimize for the exciting opportunities ahead.
At Dyn, our platform play has meant that we’re now prepared to hunt down opportunities in business categories that are emerging as the big prospects of the future: automation, predictive analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), full cloud adoption, mobile and ever more globalization and global growth. Our internal reorganization has meant shifting focus for many of our best thinkers and the creation of new strategic groups that are helping the whole organization to shift to meet opportunity. We’ve developed a specific research group, integration group, partnerships and alliances group and a solution architecture team to set us on a footing for success.
Change is never easy, especially in already successful organizations, but if you want to be sustainable and impactful you need to see the future and set a foundation to get you there. Employees, long-time customers and other stakeholders might question a shift in focus after so many successful years of business. But moving to a platform play requires opportunism, guts, and vision with a commitment to taking on the challenges of tomorrow.