Young, nimble and growing fast: Key lessons from the 2013 Smart50

They’re nimble, young and brimming with innovation – they’re the innovators on the Crowe Horwath–SmartCompany Smart50 list of 2013.

The current breed of companies has been through a baptism of fire. Many lived through the global financial crisis, and can tell how it wreaked havoc on their businesses; but plenty saw the chaos as an opportunity – and it’s paid off big time.

To read the entire list, you can visit our page here. Some key statistics are available here, but needless to say – they’re extremely impressive.

In a year when businesses have struggled to stay afloat, the Smart50 have grown at an average rate of 92%. They are collectively turning over $595 million and have created 1750 jobs.

At the top of the list is technology company Plan B, which is built on the idea of making travel agents redundant. It’s working – the company has grown at a massive 210% over the past three years, and turned over $28 million in the last 12 months.

But the list is filled with plenty of stories like this. In fact, there are plenty of lessons entrepreneurs can take from the success stories on the 2013 Smart 50.

Here are just a few.

Keep your customers close

It’s been a few years now since retail king Gerry Harvey dared online retailers to sell bulky goods online. And now, companies like Winning Appliances have taken up that challenge with gusto.

But it isn’t a snappy website or a cool checkout system that has Appliances Online placed at 36th with $150 million in sales – it’s good old-fashioned customer service.

Chief executive John Winning was brought into the business by his father, who taught him a crucial lesson – treat your customers right and they’ll stay with you forever. It’s an important maxim for a company that may only see its customers once every few years.

So how does it do it? One way is by handwriting thank-you letters to every customer.

“Our customers are king ,” Winning says.

“Exceptional customer service has been the driving force behind Appliances Online’s success and the company is the first Australian online retailer with an Australian-based customer support team that’s available 24/7, every day of the year.”

Stay independent if you need to

Selling your start-up to a massive online retailer could be a winning scenario for many entrepreneurs. And for the founders of wine site Vinomofo, it was – for a time.

But a year after selling to wine site Catch of the Day, the founding trio decided it was better for the company to remain independent. So they bought their shares back, and sold to some private investors.

They’re happier as a result.

“We’re revelling in our independence,” says founder Andre Eikmeier.

The lesson is simple. Selling your company as an exit strategy can often bring lucrative rewards. But it’s not always the best move for your company’s future. Knowing when to sell and when to work on the company is a skill worth learning quickly.

Make others redundant

The top company on the list grew tired of dealing with travel agents. So it decided to make them completely redundant.

Plan B, a software company founded by Philip Weinman and Clive Sher, has grown a massive 210% in the past three yours and had revenue of over $28 million last year.

The business’s success is built on that fundamental ideal of solving a problem. The founders were sick of dealing with agents, so they created technology to do the job better. As they point out, “The need for traditional travel agents with high fees is now becoming less relevant.”

Recognising an opportunity is important, but seeing a business and being able to do it even better? That’s what great businesses are made of.

Research and development is key

The Australian market is filled with finance lenders, so it takes a giant leap to stand out. Nimble, which reached 42nd on the list with revenue of $19 million, took the slow and steady approach – and built its own technology over seven years.

The tech allows the company to more quickly determine which customers are ready to apply for financial products. But more than that, it more quickly detects fraud and has the ability to weed out riskier borrowers.

While the company has built a strong brand, it’s the technology that has played a big part in the company’s success. And founders Greg Ellis and Sean Teahan realise how important it is – so much so the R&D team has increased to nine staff.

They even have a mathematician.

“Thanks to that investment and the efforts of the world-class R&D team, the Nimble platform is now recognised as the most advanced credit-risk assessment and fulfilment technology in the country,” Ellis said.

The key lesson here? Investing in your company’s future is never a mistake.

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