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Many of today’s hottest tech startups found their success by creating radical change or defining a new industry. But Smartsheet, a Forbes Cloud 100 company based in Bellevue, Washington, has cemented its place as a leading cloud player by innovating technologies that are redefining an existing industry, and in doing so, has positioned itself for rapid growth.
“We’ve had a very evidence-based approach,” says CEO Mark Mader. “One of the big misunderstandings in the market today is that in order to have a multibillion-dollar market, you need to do something radically different. We’re proving that’s just not the case.”
Standing on the shoulders of giants
Smartsheet’s product, a cloud-based platform for enterprise work management, collaboration, and automation, has its DNA in a workplace staple: the spreadsheet. The company’s insight has been that while businesses’ work management needs have evolved, existing products on the market have been unable to meet those growing needs.
Smartsheet found the solution: build powerful automation, collaboration, planning, and reporting capabilities that meet the demands of today’s workforce, while capitalizing on a deep loyalty to a platform that’s familiar to nearly a billion people worldwide.
“Some might say, ‘That’s not very sexy,'” Mader says. “It’s ok to be less sexy, as long as millions of people assign relevance and value to what you provide.”
Customers have flocked to Smartsheet’s product; the company’s growing user base stretches over 190 countries and now includes more than 70,000 businesses, including more than half of the Fortune 500.
Such a reception has helped Smartsheet to propel revenues by more than 60% year-over-year for the past five years, to their current altitude of over $100 million. The company is valued at $850 million, having recently raised $52 million in a Series F venture-funding round.
Learning to dance with giants
While an all-in or home-run mindset is often embraced by startups, Smartsheet has instead opted for a more pragmatic, balanced approach. Mader explains that a significant part of this strategy lies in recognizing that tech firms need not only to offer a distinct value proposition to customers (necessary for any company), but also consciously and conspicuously link their success to other companies.
“As a software company, you have to have an ecosystem mindset,” Mader says. “Unlike 10 or 20 years ago, web services and apps can much more easily communicate and play with one another today. Businesses don’t have to buy an all-encompassing product suite from Google, or Salesforce, or Microsoft. As a software vendor, you have to know your place in the ecosystem and also understand how you can help others succeed.”
This is how Smartsheet, which might appear to directly compete with enterprise-technology giants, dances with them. Because of strong partnerships and product integrations with companies like Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Atlassian, Smartsheet’s success makes competitors’ connected products more valuable, and keeps consumers coming back.
By aligning itself in a market with such established companies, Smartsheet affords itself relative breathing room; Mader says that fewer than 5% of the company’s sales prospects mention a competitor.
This organizational philosophy of building from demonstrated success and finding mutually reinforcing strategies is evident throughout the company. During orientations, Mader tells new employees that at Smartsheet “values don’t matter.” They give him curious looks, of course, but he goes on to explain that values only carry value when they’re exhibited through action — and ideally tied to collective success.
Given that Smartsheet was just named Seattle’s Best Workplace, it’s clear that employees have embraced this philosophy.
It’s this kind of seemingly simple, tried-and-true approach that has no doubt helped Smartsheet ascend as one of the leading cloud companies worldwide. And in a market that has historically celebrated newness for newness’ sake, it should serve as a reminder that, oftentimes, the wisest strategy is to innovate while embracing what works.
This post is sponsored by Smartsheet.
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