Heads Up!

I am cycling by the sea but I don’t even see it. There is just one thought on my mind, and it won’t budge:

Can I work through the struggle and build another business?

Usually when I’m on the bike, my mind is free and I just enjoy the ride. Especially when I’m by the ocean on a sunny day. But recently the struggle was getting in the way. Not the pain from the bike – as a cyclist you embrace that suffering and enjoy it (sort of). But as an entrepreneur, the struggle is always there. The trick is to keep your head up and keep moving forward.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress
— Frederick Douglass

Being an entrepreneur is about the struggle. When your business succeeds, the rewards are incredible! Not just in financial terms but because you are really making a difference. You prove that your idea was valid. You build a great company that creates value for others, and stands the test of time and change. You retain your independence and are driven by passion. But to get there you need to struggle and climb some major obstacles.

No one ever said that being an entrepreneur is easy. Still, those who try it can be shocked by just how many challenges must be overcome. I don’t think we are properly prepared for what comes with starting and building a business. In promoting entrepreneurship, we talk about the joys but not the pain.

When you start, it all seems blue skies, with no possibility for failure. And then you are hit with reality. There are so many demands, pressures, and expectations. You have to do so much to keep all the moving parts in motion. Your anxiety builds while your confidence drops. This is the struggle.

You work to play your own game, staying focused on your win while managing the complexities that arise along the way. As the ground rolls and shifts beneath you, you adapt to fit the changing landscape. But you must face the same barriers, no matter the struggle.

Achievement is a core value of most entrepreneurs. We want to make something happen and, as we reach each stage, we want to go one step further. Our courage rises beyond our ambition, so we continue to find the motivation to keep growing and moving to the next level. The elation you feel in overcoming the challenge only drives you to take on the next wall in front of you.

Much has been made of the stages of business growth, but the path to a high-growth company involves your response to these three challenges in building the business:

  • For all start-ups, the first obstacle is targeting and winning your customer – and establishing a market – amidst the competition. Without customers, there is no cashflow and no ability for a business to survive and thrive. Without customers, you have nothing.
  • Once a market has been established, you may start to relax a little. However, sales do not necessarily mean profits. To scale the business and achieve profitability, your business needs the right processes and systems in place to manage the growth. You face the challenge of building capabilities to enable growth. Taking off before you are ready may result in crash and burn. 
  • The first two challenges claim many victims and fewer than 5% of companies make it over the third wall. Some entrepreneurs are even happy to remain at the capabilities stage. But to achieve the status of a high-growth company, you must also have great talent. You need to become the leader, with the right people in the right positions, to sustain the growth of the business and meet your true potential.

I believe most entrepreneurs get stuck somewhere along this labyrinth mostly due to stress. We are simply too overwhelmed to make the right decisions to scale the next wall. And we don’t want to talk about the level of stress we face in building the business. But it is real. It is critical to manage the stress, so you grow along with the company.

Your personal growth is essential – there is such a deep connection between the success of the business and your own development as founder. Many of the companies that stagnate along the journey of these three challenges do so because the owner was not able to make the leap.

With each of these challenges to high growth, you also face a new ceiling of complexity:

  1. With the challenge of competition come the complexities around effectively managing the business, access to capital and cash flow, and understanding the customer.
  2. When facing the challenge of capabilities, blocks to growth include the need for self-managing systems and process efficiency, and focusing on the bottom line for profitability.
  3. Hiring the right talent poses many challenges. First and foremost, you need to transition to the role of leader, letting others manage the company while you focus on innovation and improving the valuation of the business.

The growth of the business is inextricably tied to the personal growth of the entrepreneur. Many do not make it, and fail or stagnate, while others choose to opt out of the game entirely.

Entrepreneurs of high-growth companies are driven by opportunity, finding energy in resolving challenges, and developing their abilities to scale the three walls. It is a struggle, but it is a worthy battle to wage. It is in these hardships that entrepreneurs truly understand their customers, their markets, their people, their company, and, most importantly, themselves.

Are you up for the journey?