Limor Fried founded of Adafruit Industries in 2005, a New York-based electronic and engineering kit company. Her company helps demystify engineering through helping consumers make simple gadgets with the help of her company’s videos, tutorials and its open source community. The company has built itself the old-fashioned way, funding through revenue and hiring from within, and seen consistent growth, bringing in $33.2 million last year. For entrepreneurs looking to grow their business, we’ve collected some of Fried’s slow and steady strategies for success.
Put your company first.
By not seeking funding, Adafruit could focus on building the company, not getting outside dollars. This helped her and her team serve the company’s needs first and not those of investors. Says Fried, "Managing that organic growth, first off I think it’s a little easier than taking funding, because at least it's increasing day by day, it's not like suddenly a million dollars, and what are you going to do with it? A lot of it is keeping to our roots."
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Let your team grow with you. Adafruit grooms its staffers to become managers. As a result, its leaders come to their upper level positions with built-in relationships throughout the organization. They understand how the company walks and talks and since they’ve done the jobs they’re managing, it’s easier to gain their teams’ respect. Says Fried, “We’ve groomed [our staff] and they’ve learned how to take care of the people that they manage, how to take care of groups.” She adds, “I found that it does take some effort but as long as you're willing to invest in your team, it pays off handsomely."
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Find new ways to listen. Adafruit’s open source model encourages customers to ‘hack’ products and improve them. Through this process, the company gets insight into what customers want and need that informs future offerings. "I'll take those ideas and work them into new products,” says Fried. “We get this big feedback loop and it’s very fast, on the order of months instead of years of R&D."
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Remember: It’s supposed to be scary. Fried reminds us that building anything new is scary and uncertain – and completely necessary. "When you're going through hell, keep going. And it’s actually really good advice,” she says. “You feel like this is just really awful, painful, traumatic, but you keep going because you will get through it. If it was easy, everyone would do it."
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Train for change. A truly nimble team can’t be too rigid. Fried suggest trying ideas out for a month and re-evaluating those ideas, to make the shift easier to take. “A lot of people when there is change,” says Fried, “they start to freak out, because they're like 'oh, everything is changing, I'm going to have to re-do everything.' If you say we're going to try this for a month and then reevaluate it's not as scary.”
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Don’t outsource what’s essential. Adafruit keeps manufacturing in-house rather than outsourcing to a vendor overseas. The approach saves time and maintains quality control, as Adafruit understands the limits of a particular material or the capabilities of a particular machine. "I always suggest to people do even a small run in-house so you'll know a lot about manufacturing process instead of just sending it out and saying 'well, someone will know to create a quality product.' That's your responsibility. "
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