Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, recently caught up with Naomi Simson, entrepreneur and judge of Shark Tank Australia, at the Salesforce Incubator event in San Francisco where she spoke to the latest batch of startups on growth and scaling the business. With first-hand experience growing her own small business, Redballoon, to become Australia’s leading online experience retailer, Tiffani sat down with Naomi to get her insights on how to manage business growth, how customer centricity plays a role, and what does it take to get the attention of a Shark investor.

You started your career working for large companies, but later became an entrepreneur. Why did you want to move into smaller business?  


I started my career as a marketing executive and I thought that if I started my own business I would have more control over where I spent my time— I thought I would have more flexibility. As I found out my boss just shifted from being my employer to being my customer.  I never managed to achieve the flexibility that I craved, but my children have always been very much a part of my entrepreneurial journey. 

"Business growth, let alone just business survival, is never on a set-it-and-forget-it mode."

You grew Redballoon from your home into a very successful business. What’s your secret to managing business growth?


Business growth, let alone just business survival, is never on a set-it-and-forget-it mode. You must continually focus on growth and have growth in the centre of every single conversation. I put scoreboards up throughout the office so that we could see the customers we were impacting and it made a world of difference. Making our customer success visible serves as a constant reminder for our growth aspirations and our “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.”


What’s your philosophy on customer centricity and service in growing a business from the ground up?


I don’t know that I have always got this right, but the intention has always been to listen deeply to our customers. We then take those customer conversations and aggregate what we have learned and look for commonalities and trends. I personally answer the phone and listen to my customers—it is the best way for me to stay close to the customer experience and truly walk in their shoes. Every customer conversation is an opportunity to learn and grow.

What’s your advice for how small business owners can build a customer centric company culture?


The first thing is to have listening posts. Then listen to the whole spectrum of feedback; don’t just look at the negatives, customer complaints or bad net promoter scores. You also need to pay attention to the other side and find out what you are doing right and then do more of it. I have found that a qualitative customer advisory board can be great to get feedback on ideas, as well as a safe group to test out new concepts. A Facebook Group can work equally as well as a place to listen to ideas and put concepts to customers.

Also remember, it is not just about you— it’s also about making sure that your team is as 'in love’ with the customer as you are. Share customer feedback—the good and the bad—on the company’s intranet or internal communications channels. Or, share customer stories at your company meetings.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get more out of their local ecosystem (connecting with peers, partners, and advisors) to scale?


The ecosystem can be incredibly valuable but also distracting. Be really clear about why you want to connect. Is it to learn, network, or for peer-to-peer support? Or is it to connect to advisors?  I’d just be circumspect about what you want and why. You must focus on your business, your customers and your growth. Being single minded in this will help you deliver results. If you are a startup, check out Ready to Soar, where I paint a picture of the ecosystem and the resources available for startup. If you are established in business then perhaps join me at join.naomisimson.com where we support fellow small business owners with knowledge, ideas and learnings.

"The only way to scale a business is to have repeatable processes done by technology and creativity and innovation by people."              

How can or should entrepreneurs prioritise technology investments vs product or people investments?


When looking at any capital spend or new role, I always take the time to do a love/loathe list. What do I love about what I (or the team) is doing and what do I hate? For the things on the loathe list I ask: is there a system or process or technology that can take this project on? The only way to scale a business is to have repeatable processes done by technology and creativity and innovation by people. I always want people to be doing their best work and playing to their strengths.

You’ve met many entrepreneurs as a judge on Shark Tank Australia. What are the qualities you look for in an entrepreneur to invest in?  


If there is no customer traction or at least customer feedback, no matter how great the person, then they are unlikely to get investment. Customers tell so much of the entrepreneur’s story. Next, I look at the person. I want to know that they have passion, that they will stick with the idea and that they are persistent. I need to know that they will stay positive through thick and thin and that they have a sense of purpose. They must know why they do what they do, they must realise that success comes from how they contribute to others, and they must be making the world a slightly better place.

Salesforce can help you find customers, win their businesses, and keep them happy so you can grow your business faster than ever. Find out everything you need to take your business’s growth to new heights with the new Small Business Growth Kit or join the conversation with #SalesforceGROW.