How’s Business?

Every Monday, I take my kids Alex and Vivian to their Jiu Jitsu class. The martial arts club conveniently offers an adult fitness class during the kid Jiu Jitsu session, so that us parents can get in a workout instead of spending the next 45 minutes fiddling with our phones.

When the three of us emerge hungry, sweaty, and thirsty from class, we cross the street to go to the Lebanese bakery and pick up a week’s supply of cheese bread.  Low carb diet be damned.

Since I’m something of a regular there (enough to ask for “the usual”), I often chat with the owner and exchange pleasantries.

Last week I asked him “So how’s business?”

I ask that question regularly to business owners both large and small and here is the response I usually get,  especially when talking with owners of tech companies.

  • “Awesome. We’re crushing it! Just hired 10 more people.”
  • “Awesome. We’re crushing it! Our revenue grew 50% this year.”
  • “Awesome. We’re crushing it! We just added two new product lines.”
  • “Awesome. We’re crushing it! We just closed another $5 million in funding.”

But Moussa from Aladdin’s Bakery responded in a completely different way. 

“Do you still like the food? Yes? So then, business is good.” 

Then he added, “When you don’t like the food, business won’t be good.”

Huh. Defining success based on how well you are satisfying your customers.  What a radical concept.

The management guru Peter Drucker, once said “The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.” 

Like most simple and true ideas, it’s not sexy, and it’s not shiny.  But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

When I interviewed Mark Templeton, the former CEO of Citrix, he emphasized that the key to their success was a relentless focus on creating customer value at all levels of the company.  “After all, “customer value leads naturally to shareholder value” he said.  When pundits point to Citrix’s meteoric revenue growth under his stewardship, he is quick to point out that the revenue was not the end goal.  Creating happy customers is what mattered to him.

Metrics like revenue, product lines, VC fundraising are all well and good.  But focusing on them exclusively can sometimes lead to ignoring the main reason your business exists: making products your customers love.

So here’s my challenge to you.  The next time someone asks you: “How’s business?” spare a few thoughts for your customers.  Instead of talking about your company, what can you say about how your customers think about you?