Growing Your Online Business Part 10

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

If you’ve been following the Olympics this time around in Rio, it may not have escaped your notice that the British track cycling team has again blown away all before them. Not only has every member of the male and female team won at least one medal, but out of a possible ten golds available, the Brits have won six of them! 


The architect of this fantastic achievement is the previous Performance Director of British Cycling,  Sir Dave Brailsford, who since the Sydney Games, has developed his theory called The Aggregation of Marginal Gains. After stepping down from the role in 2013, Sir Dave went on to manage Team Sky who have won the Tour de France three out of the last four years.

So what does this all mean and how is it relevant to growing your e-commerce business?  Well to understand the link let’s look at how Sir Dave approached the problem and then compare the situations. His basic approach is to make a 1% improvement in everything you do. His belief is that if you improve every area related to cycling by just 1%, then those gains will add up to a huge overall difference.

So they started by optimising the most obvious elements such as nutrition of riders, the aerodynamics of the saddle and the weight of the frame. But Brailsford and his team then began to look at those areas ignored by everyone else; they found the best pillows to help the riders with their sleep, they tested and selected the most effective massage gels, they developed ways of attaching the racing numbers to their skin suits to avoid drag. They even taught riders the best ways to wash their hands to avoid infection!  These were only a tiny fraction of the things they improved.

So you can probably see where this is going! If you look at your business and see where your 1% gains can be made, then the overall picture could be transformed.

However, there are some ‘buts’.

The first thing to note is that it’s a lot easier to spend time looking at marginal gains when you have a budget in excess of $40m to hire people, rent the best training facilities and pay for the cleverest scientists – than it would be if you are a ‘one armed wallpaper hanger’ managing your own business. You have to concentrate on the main day-to-day issues of operations and finance before looking at which font type on your website is the most effective for making someone buy your products.

You have also got to clarify your objectives. For the British cycling team the objective is clear and simple; to win as many medals in the next Olympic Games as possible. If they do that, then the team will continue to receive their funding from the public lottery fund. So, they have to peak on the right day every four years and everything is geared to that. In your business there may be many different objectives; to offer the best customer experience, to make the most profit, to create the best lifestyle for yourself and your family, to have the happiest employees or to perhaps to be the most innovative e-commerce business on the planet! Some of these objectives are complementary, and some may not be – so if you are going to embark on a path to improve things, then make sure you know which direction that you will.

So with those two provisos, you can surely take a look at your business and decide where you can make marginal gains to bring you closer to your goals.  

However, the rest of the World now knows about the aggregation theory, and you can be sure that in the 2020 Games in Tokyo, the other cycling teams will have pushed on. So it’s important for the Brits that they keep up their own progress. And the same goes for you and your business;  if you have the energy and the capacity then you will never stop searching for those gains and so will keep improving your business a little ever day.

Richard Bairstow is the founder and CEO of We are Underground and is recognised as a leading authority in the Shopify Theme marketplace with 5 of the best selling published themes within the Shopify theme store and over 20,000 active Shopify customers.

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