I’m particularly curious about innovators who invent new business categories in unexpected industries. One such creator is Sharon Ourian, founder and CEO of CyberActive, a nationally recognized educational technology company delivering online traffic school and driver education courses to licensed and new drivers in over twenty states.
As an executive at Testmasters, one of the nation’s largest test preparation providers, Ourian helped migrate the company’s live classroom courses to the internet. The idea for CyberActive started when her mother received a traffic ticket and expressed a desire to not attend an in-person class. Ourian used her experience in the online education industry, combined with TestMasters’ team of high skilled software programmers, to develop a sophisticated learning content management system to develop a course. Her UCLA law degree also helped her navigate the complex court systems to gain approvals.
I recently sat down virtually with Ourian to discuss her secrets for creating a business category that didn’t exist before. Ourian shared her top six tips with me:
Core competence is essential in creating a move forward strategy. Ourian defines it as “having a unique knowledge or a way of doing something you are passionate about and is different or better than the competition.” Use this competence to articulate the company’s mission from the customer’s perspective, frame internal processes with this in mind, and you will drive sustainable company growth. Additionally, it is imperative that you identify and understand your target audience in order to properly orient your service’s core competence to effectively cater to the appropriate consumer needs.
Build the right robust technology. It’s crucial for start-up businesses, and saves time and money, because it creates advantageous economies of scale and increases productivity with less labor. After graduating over six million people from its programs in 20 years, CyberActive has the competitive advantage of possessing a well-established, robust technology with a myriad of cutting-edge features that can serve one or one million simultaneous customers without interruption. Continuously seeking and implementing improvements to online features and software ensures users that the company internally operates using time-tested, seamlessly functioning processes. Robust technologies must incorporate thoughtful operations and processes and adequate testing in order to naturally cultivate customer loyalty long-term.
Build a broad team. You cannot do everything. Business growth requires collaboration and sourcing individuals who bring a diverse set of skills and expertise to help you realize your goals. Successfully establishing a competent team composed of personnel with a wide range of skills will inherently further the capabilities and overall efficiency of your business. Understanding how to delegate is crucial.
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Establish standard protocols and training. Standardized, repeatable processes effectively delegate work and enable prompt re-delegating if an employee leaves. Incorporating standard protocols in the fundamental business structure has cascading positive effects for both consumers and the business itself, such as guaranteeing service quality and increasing productivity.
Build business organically when possible. Ourian once considered outside equity as the only way to expand, and discovered she wasted time trying to push mergers and acquisitions, so she changed course and found ways to increase sales and expand within the company’s own resources. “CyberActive’s proven strategy is to optimize from within and growth will follow,” says Ourian.
Always innovate. Ourian plans to next incorporate cutting edge technology to improve the learner’s experience within the CyberActive platform. This will include creating new online pedagogical techniques incorporating the exciting and limitless potential of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. Being a trendsetting business requires you to be competitive by being ahead of the curve, and persuading others to catch up. Be ready to wear a lot of hats, from customer relations to marketing to accounting. It takes drive, perseverance, and trusting yourself when others say your idea won’t work.
Ourian is particularly passionate about inspiring female entrepreneurs in the tech space.
“Don’t let being a woman inhibit you from going after things that women traditionally don’t go after,” she advises. “I have always used being a woman as my number one tool to get what I want.”
Ourian also shared how many times she’s been in a room where she was the only woman. Instead of internalizing the fear of gendered, work-related subjugation, she refused to fall victim to symptoms of doubting her capabilities.
Ourian also believes that knowing where to focus your time and energy is crucial to a family-work life balance. As a business owner, it’s critical to establish a reliable, competent team that prioritizes standard protocols. For example, when Ourian alternated her working hours, her team continued operating the business in the same way.
As we continue into 2021, look for top innovators to continue to create unique products in unexpected and impactful industries.