I was having a conversation with company founders in a healthcare startup who made the comment: “we’re new to being entrepreneurs.”
That was their opening for free advice. It’s hard building and scaling a business when most startups fail or have a tough time and that’s not celebrated enough. Instead we just marvel at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and aspire to be like Uber, Facebook, Google.
The truth is that most every new businesses – it’s a slog. A grind. A tough battle at some point in their existence, if not in fact for many years. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft had a phrase for this: the long middle. He said its fairly easy to be creative, think up a brilliant new product, and decide to charge forward. Then comes the middle: the long slog.
And the end point? That’s easy. That’s the promised land. But to get there? OMG. Ballmer was referring to Windows becoming a graphic user interface. They knew upfront what it had to become (like Apple). To actually pull it off took 20+ years.
For many business owners forming the concept of the business and getting it off the ground was easy in a way – they knew exactly what had to be done.
The reality of getting to the next stage in its growth and scaling a business up is complicated, hard and sometimes messy. Part of the challenge is squaring costs with revenues – to make sure you can produce a profit. Without a profit, you do not control your own fate. No profit? You are beholden to investors or lenders.
I do wonder that at some point a little ruthlessness enters the equation for entrepreneurs who know that if they don’t make a profit – the business dies. No one starts a company while thinking about who may have to be fired when things get tough.
This point pushes an owner to reflect on a business scaling strategy and when and how to make the tough decisions. Are they the right person to scale the business – to take it from early stage to the next level? What talent alongside them would give the business a boost? The “who” question is ultimately the most important: what skills are missing in the management equation?
The mark of a great CEO is to be able to make decisions, act with speed and confidence. When things are going well, you add to the team. And when things are tough, if you have to cut, you cut. The key is, in either good weather or bad – you act.