I just recently celebrated a decade in business. Having reached this milestone got me thinking whether or not the things that they say we need in business and the phases we experience are true?
Are the first 999 days the not crucial? Do all businesses suffer a near fatal fiduciary crisis in the five to seven year period?
Does the risk embedded in the business morph and become more sophisticated as the business becomes more mature older and even larger?
I traced the journey of entrepreneurship as I have experienced.
I remembered the first eighteen months: the early-days full of starvation, big dreams with little resources and a wolf-like resolve never to give up on my prey, the client.
I remembered the first time I had cover ratio of six in my bank accounts and how liberating that feeling was. My disposition changed. I began to worry about the softer things, the legacy I was leaving, and the culture I was building and the change we were effecting in the lives of our clients. I remembered my first office outside South Africa: the thrill of knowing that we had truly built a global business without secure tenure from contracts but rather through proving our mettle everyday to each client.
Each of these milestones represented a change in the level of thinking for me as the entrepreneur but also for my team, and even my family. Opportunity must meet an able and equal mind to the measure for it to be actualized. Many people fail not because of the lack of opportunity – although that remains a serious challenge in South Africa – but because their mind was not ready for that opportunity.
So what are the realities of building a high-growth business?
How do you ensure that you protect yourself from yourself?
How do you ensure that growth, whilst necessary, is controlled and manageable?
Here are my two strategies:
Many theorists have argued that risk and opportunity exist in equal measure. That the larger the risk, then proportionately and by default the larger the opportunity. My experience has been that this is a fallacy. Risk and opportunity are often omnipresent and like to travel together but they are not proportional. Opportunities tend to be affixed to the reality of the need from the client whilst risks change as our behaviours change.
Lesson: manage risk as a standalone entity unencumbered by the illusive opportunity.
Each time I made a poor decision that jeopardized my business I was driven by character, ego, personality, pity or some emotive force. To mitigate against this behavior I had to begin to think about building strong and robust processes that would protect me… even from myself.
Large companies have internal audit and compliance. Developing businesses need robust processes that the entrepreneur, regardless of his feelings, must keep to. Simple things like how do hire at a management level. We have a specific process and yet when you need the hire and are taking workload strain it’s easy to want to obfuscate these processes. Don’t.
Lesson: you are not above the processes and systems that govern your business.
We all desire a high-growth business. But growth – if not controlled – can be a curse. Most of us become the hurdles to our own development by using old thinking and learnt behaviours (habits) to make new decisions in a changing context. Free yourself of your own biases. Build strong processes and stick to them.