Start Up Phase Over – Now What?

“Communication breakdown.  It’s always the same Having a nervous breakdown Drive me insane”

Lyrics from Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin

One of the real thrills of being an advisor to entrepreneurs is getting the chance to watch a fledgling startup evolve into an early stage growth company.  Like an adolescent moving on to adulthood, you suffer through the pains of minor failures and rejoice at the success maturity brings.  As is usually the case, after witnessing this phenomenon hundreds of times, it is easy to make some observations about what seems to have worked.  While many facets of an evolving entity are involved here, these are my top five focus points which seem to foster success when they get into the sight of an emerging entrepreneur:

  1. Communication – you can probably guess from my sighting above that first and foremost, there has to be a focus on communication.  Expectations are higher as you reach this stage.  What you expect from others, the ability to talk to every employee every day and other techniques that were your modus operandi begin to get challenged.
  2. Build your team – you by now realize you can’t do it all so finding the right people to help execute your vision is key. This is another “says easy; does hard” challenge. Use all the tools you can from word of mouth to social media to attract the right talent. Do not skimp on the time you spend in this area. It is your most important task.
  3. Direct vs. do – instructing others instead of doing it yourself requires a different skillset. It means planning and setting goals so others can help to move the business forward. Letting go a bit becomes the biggest barrier to success but soon you realize you can’t just cram for that exam the night before and ace it. Not enough hours in the day for that approach.
  4. Establish processes– yes, as non-entrepreneurial as it sounds, those that are successful in executing a growth plan follow processes. There is a reason places like Zappos achieve their levels of customer satisfaction – there are tested processes to cover every situation
  5. Formalize measurement– you can’t just look around and see what is happening anymore. You need formalized goals and ways to measure progress against those goals. You can’t see product going out the door if your distribution center is now hundreds of miles away.

So, as you take your journey to success, reflect on these points of focus and never lose sight of the “culture” which is your company and which in many ways, helps to determine not only what you are but what you will become.  Have a great trip.


How Do I Know It Is Time To Get Out?

“Well come on an’ let me know

Should I stay or should I go” . . .  lyrics from The Clash

Many established owners in mature businesses confront this dilemma at least once in their business lives.  In many cases, they are hoping that others will make the decision for them but unlike this classic Clash song, usually there is nobody to tell them; it is a question they have to answer for themselves.

“Getting out” has a different meaning depending on circumstances.  If you are the owner of a successful business and have a functioning management team in place to take over, that is one scenario.  If that is not the case and you are just at the start of this decision cycle, that is a whole different ballgame.  I will leave the former case to another time; let’s talk about someone considering an exit and cover the more common reason for doing so.

In his 2000-Year-Old-Man character, Mel Brooks pointed out countless times how fear motivated individuals.  In fact, he attributed the origin of dance to fear.  What better way to neutralize a potential enemy; grab the hand so they can’t hold a weapon and keep their feet occupied so they do not kick you.  Mel may have been on to something as fear is what has driven many of my clients to “get out.”  Just a few examples:

  • Disruption – a new “kid on the block” who has a more effective and economical product.  I had an industrial products client who was a specialist in transistors until they heard of something known as solid state and sold out before the new technology came to dominate the marketplace.
  • Paradigm change – while I only saw a small portion of the impact, how do you think Borders and Barnes & Noble felt when this upstart called Amazon began to rear its ugly head in their market?
  • Succession plan failure – I have had the chance to nurse more than one client through the painful process of realizing they had no successor – – no family member or management leader who wanted to take over the business or worse yet, family members who the owner was convinced would lead their legacy right into bankruptcy. In many cases, those owners took an “offer they couldn’t refuse.”
  • Not fun anymore – many of my owners truly enjoyed the daily challenges and rewards of “working” their business and making those tough decisions. But when the fun went out of it and it became constantly stressful – – maybe even to the point of impacting their health, they made the call that it was time to do something different.

Let’s face it; this is not an easy decision.  If there is one tried and true piece of advice I would give, it would be to develop some outside interest (golf, grandkids, volunteer work, travel, etc.) that will give you something to “go to.”  The reason for this is simple; if you do not have something to “go to” you will never leave because “going from” something can feel like failure and as we all know, entrepreneurs do not fail.