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3 lessons learned from offline companies finding wild success online

(Business) While you may not think of these companies as disruptive, they’ve shaken things up by going online and finding great sales success.

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Really, Christmas Lights?

Yeah, there are people disrupting that industry, too! In my social circle, I’ve been noticing an interesting trend. Most people wouldn’t put Christmas lights or golf clothing for youth at the top of their list of big opportunities, but a few of my friends are seeing some great returns in those industries and industries like them.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Uncle D. That’s what we always called him. He was the fun uncle that never let money get in the way of a good time. Given my recent success with my startup, he started asking me some questions about selling online and social media. He’s been making a killing in the holiday lighting business for quite a while, and come to find out, he’s taken his business online during the last few years to great success. Yardoutlet.com focuses on LED Christmas lights for commercial buyers, landscapers, and the DIY types. Given the great relationships he had in the “offline” business, setting up his online business was pretty straightforward.

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Around the same time, I was on another phone call with a person that shared a similar story with me in the youth golf clothing business. They had a golf clothing brand – Garb Inc. – that was being sold through country clubs around the country and was now entering the online space. They were making good money in their online business that started “offline.”

What surprised me about both of these stories was their rate of growth. Neither did poorly in 2013, but in 2014 they are looking to triple and quadruple traffic! I’ve identified a few things I learned from these companies that might help you:

1. Disrupt an industry you know well

While this isn’t a must-have for innovation, it certainly starts you off on the right foot. When looking for growth opportunities, these companies stayed with what they knew well. They didn’t force themselves into awkward business situations where the learning curves were steep. They focused on taking something they already knew and offering it in a different way.

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Take for example a good friend of mine who started a business a while back after winning a number of business plan competitions and everyone was pretty impressed. There was only one problem – the product he’d been pitching was way more difficult to build than predicted. He didn’t know the lay of the land in the industry he’d chosen to attempt to disrupt. If you’re entering a new industry that you know little about, it is vital to get to know people in that industry that know it well and can give you honest feedback about your ideas.

2. Embrace new technologies

You’re probably thinking that the internet isn’t exactly a new technology and that these companies weren’t demonstrating their disruptive prowess by beginning to sell online in 2012 or 2013 respectively, and I would agree to a certain extent, but you can’t argue with the results. They hadn’t really embraced the power of the internet. Now they have, and their bank account is filling faster than mine. Tough to argue with that!

The big take away is that there will always be laggards in a market that fail to adopt new technologies. I’m all about being among the first to onboard as many technologies as I can so it surprises me when people adopt them to great success much later. Most of the world is slow to change. As long as you beat most of them you still have a great opportunity.

3. Strengthen relationships always

The other day, my business partner and I were discussing a competitor that had done some pretty offensive things. While we work our tails off every day to put them out of business, we still maintain friendships that aren’t always easy. Who knows, maybe one of us will be acquiring the other someday. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” (One of the great business principles we learn from ‘You’ve Got Mail’)

These businesses created and maintained phenomenal relationships in their industries. They literally spend time golfing with their customers, fishing with them, and much more. They have created cultures where they build relationships in meaningful ways. You never know when you might need that friendship, so don’t burn a bridge by saying something stupid today that you’ll regret later. Pour your time and energy into building relationships in your industry and your investment will come back to you with a generous amount of interest. The more you give, the more interest you get.

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Written By

Most recently Jordan was the Co-founder and CEO at Unbill - a FinTech startup that was acquired by Q2ebanking (QTWO) in January of 2017. Before that, Jordan was an early employee and product manager at NextPage which sold to Proofpoint (PFPT) in December of 2011. Jordan is happily married and has 3 children.

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