The gig reporter has its perks. We get a front row seat to the most powerful people in our beat, sometimes the most powerful people on the planet. We get paid to learn – and share the best lessons with you. Interviewing business leaders in 2021 has given us incredible access to America’s top presidents as they navigate a complex, volatile and fascinating year.
Below, five tips from creative and influential leaders. Whether in times of crisis or recovery, these are practical lessons for launching – and growing – any company in 2022 and beyond.
Don’t waste a crisis
When Covid shut down the world in March 2020, Americans all found themselves dressed with nowhere to go. Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of the fashion giant, Rent The Runway, has seen her business freeze as clients flee. Her special events department, which rents out large dresses and parties, has discontinued her. Subscribers, most of whom used the service for business wear (and who now make up about 75% of Rent the Runway’s business), have collectively canceled or suspended their accounts. By May, only 30% were still active.
It was brutal, but Hyman took advantage of the unexpected pause to make improvements that would have been impossible when Rent The Runway was moving at full speed. “We won’t let 2020 go to waste. The pandemic has been horrific, but it’s also a time for creativity,” Hyman told Forbes in June. “Looking at things through a positive lens, we have never had the opportunity to make changes of the kind in our operations in a period of continued growth of missile ships.”
Its rocket ship has been temporarily grounded, and Hyman has refurbished, modernized, and further automated the Rent The Runway pricing model at existing fulfillment centers in New Jersey and Texas. She invested in artificial intelligence, radio ID tags, and robotics to sort, clean, and ship her clothes more efficiently. Thanks to promotions, Rent the Runway avoided opening an expensive third distribution center while building the company for future growth.
The “runway rental” moves set for a quick recovery this spring as the pollinated community reopens. In October, Rent The Runway went public on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.
Focus, focus, focus
To build a superior music streaming device, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek had to design elegant technology that would provide listeners with a better experience than piracy. He had to convince both musicians and record companies that the future of music was not in ownership but in streaming songs over the web.
I pulled it off. In the process, he created a fortune for himself and his early backers, reviving the once free-falling music industry.
Equally impressive, Spotify maintained its music leadership even as three trillion-dollar giants – Apple, Alphabet and Amazon – launched competitive services. how? Spotify is crazy about digital audio. “We’re very good at saying no to a lot of things,” Ike told Forbes in October. “Everything we do, we look at our mission and say, ‘Is this helping its progression?'” If yes, we will take a look at it. We have a unique view of what needs to be done.”
Ek says that since Spotify only focuses on music and audio, it has helped him recruit the best talent in the industry. “The best people in audio come to Spotify because we’re the best at it,” says Eck. “At Apple, music is priority No. 27.” “If you want to make a self-driving car, don’t come to us.”
User trends are your friends
When Anjali Sud joined digital video service Vimeo as marketing director, the company was betting it could build a subscription service to rival Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO. But Sud notes that small business owners also use the service to upload videos to their websites and email ads.
“It’s been everything from tech startups to the marketing department of big companies,” Sood told Forbes in April. “They were very diverse, and it had to be a trend.”
She had a hunch that Vimeo’s future wasn’t Hollywood but Silicon Valley plumbing. Her plan: to shift her focus from entertainment to entrepreneurs. “There was another, much bigger market — companies,” Sood said. “What Squarespace and GoDaddy have done for websites, we can do with video.”
IAC, owner of Vimeo, gave a small team to Sud to build the service. It took off — so much so that Sud became Vimeo’s CEO in 2017. She has since transformed Vimeo from a dusty web remnant into a showcase for IAC’s tech portfolio. In May, Vimeo separated from IAC, making Sud one of the few female CEOs of a publicly traded technology company. “As a woman, a mother, and a technology CEO, I’m unique in the software world,” Sood said this spring. “I’m excited to bring my point of view and my style to the industry. That would be fun.”
Dive into the data
During the launch of the sofa-surfing app, Airbnb’s founders weren’t sure if they should focus on growing customers or home listings. So Nate Blecharczyk, a computer science expert for the founding trio, scoured data for Airbnb’s early markets — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles — looking for patterns and correlations.
He came up with two important insights. First, listings for homes led to increased demand. Second, once the city has over 300 listings, it has reached the point of no return, and the market will grow on its own. “By looking at the data very carefully, we’ve refocused the problem. Blecharczyk told Forbes in December.” We have simplified the goal of growing the company across the country to just acquiring 300 properties in the most important tourist cities. “
With the data in hand, the founders created a targeted strategy for 300 home rentals in critical locations—a city-by-city approach quickly transformed into a national (and global) dominance of the home-sharing market. Today, Airbnb’s market capitalization exceeds $100 billion.
do the opposite
Giants dominate the retail world. Amazon, Walmart, and Target are some of the largest and most valuable companies. But Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy’s handmade and vintage market, saw a gap in the market. As Covid turned everyone’s home into offices, classrooms and playgrounds, Silverman’s bet wanted it to be surrounded by more unique craft goods. “Our job is to keep the trade human,” Silverman told Forbes in October.
His plan: Let Amazon, Walmart, and Target battle it out to deliver mass-produced items as cheaply and quickly as possible — Etsy will harness technology to provide unique, artisanal goods. Silverman has empowered an eclectic (mostly female) community of artisans using the latest in artificial intelligence, data science, and marketing tools used by retail giants. By doing so, Etsy’s 2020 sales rose 111% to $1.7 billion by selling unique furniture, arts, and toys that quarantined customers. At the same time, Etsy has provided millions of moonlighting giants with significant income – and purpose – in an unprecedented time of layoffs, shutdowns, and turmoil. Etsy stock is up 275% from its 2020 pandemic lows.