Flourish: How to hustle but not get scrambled

Hustle, scale, pivot, pitch – these are the words of entrepreneurship today. But should they be?

Hiking at The Bluff Wilderness Trail
Hiking at The Bluff Wilderness Trail

Building a great business, one that matters to you as the founder and makes a positive difference for customers, is not a transaction. It is an investment. And I don’t think we are investing the right way in terms of our time, energy, and resources to create companies that are meaningful and last. But we can – we just need to disrupt the way we approach being an entrepreneur.

For me, there are really three keys to starting a great business —  a business that will create value for its customers, create less stress for its founders and sustain long term growth. They are,

●     Having an idea that matters

●     Creating a thoughtful plan of action

●     Maintaining your independence

Realistically, setting a business up for success that lasts doesn't mean stumbling on a gold mine with enough reserves to last a lifetime. It means having a really great idea that the founder is passionate about and has knowledge of, an idea that the founder can run with; it means finding an equally passionate market for your product or service. It means being keeping a healthy mindset and having the ability to pay yourself.

Finding your great idea

The very first step to starting a great business is identifying a great idea. So, what is the anatomy of a great idea?

Ask yourself, "can my idea generate a sustainable revenue stream by creating value for customers that is differentiated from others in the market?" If you answered yes than you might have a great idea on your hands.

Starting up a business revolves around your idea, but your idea is nothing unless it creates value. Enough value that it attracts customers who pay, otherwise it's just a nice thought.

Next ask yourself, "am I committed enough to see my idea through?" As a successful business owner you will need to

1.    Really know why this idea matters to you

2.    Have clarity and focus on what winning looks like

3.    Persevere in the face of many challenges, known and unknown

You will not be prepared for the pressures coming at you so knowing your strengths and what you need to do to keep your positive energy is critical.

If you're onside with all of the above, you'll be in great shape to beginning the second key step to starting and running a successful company.

Creating a thoughtful plan of action

The word thoughtful is there for a reason. Being busy, chasing investors, pitching – many of the activities founders are caught up in today are not thoughtful. They are reactionary. A plan of action is a strategy to move your idea to market. And strategy means it proactively positions the business to compete through a coordinated set of focused activities.

It must include the following:

1.    Reasonable goals

2.    Developed marketing and sales strategies

3.    Access to capital

Once your idea is in place, starting the company is simple. Yes, simply but not easy. The real challenge is keeping the original vision in firm place as the business starts to meet the market.

Setting the right targets and expectations is a critical link to actually achieving results. You need to be challenged yet capable. Unreasonable goals simply exhaust energy and resources. It isn’t about action, it is about the right actions.

You need to know your customer and how to reach them. That is just not an option. Talk to them, know how they live and work, understand their problems and opportunities, and whether and what they will pay for your offerings. What is value for them? With this in hand you can approach them the right way. You need customers to pay you.

Cash flow from customers beats capital from investors every time. Access to money doesn’t necessarily mean investors. Investors can distract you from your reasonable plan. You need a plan of funding your business from the start so you can focus on doing the right things. A lot more thought needs to be placed here so what happens after doesn’t create a vice for you.

It's time to move on to the final and most important step in the first stage of starting a successful business.

Maintaining your independence

Knowing yourself and never forgetting who you are and why you’re doing this is imperative to every step of the process throughout the life of a successful business.

Once the planning is done, capital is in place and a customer base is recognized a business owner will enter what I like to call the scramble stage, a stage that can take your life over if not handled correctly.  You scramble to manage, if not control, all the moving pieces. And keeping your hands on everything can stretch you to the breaking point.

To successfully find your way through the scramble you have to personally know what you want from the business — don't let others distract you. Your idea came out of a desire to create a meaningful impact for yourself in the world around you.

You must always strive to preserve this feeling, because it is what connects you to the greater project. Although, as we will learn in a later stage, it is important to compartmentalize this connection when it comes time to expand. From the beginning, it is very important to get started the right way. It may sound ironic as you may seem to be the business now but it is essential at this stage is maintain your independence from the business.

1.    Keep your outside interests alive

2.    Be clear on what you want from the business and what success will look like

3.    Don't let your vision get hijacked by investors

It is very important to maintain your vision. And think ahead about the growth you need to develop so you can grow the business and realize that vision. You can make decisions in reaction to things that can take you off your vision and you end up wondering why you are doing this anyway. Be true to your vision and yourself. To do that, you need to have a healthy life.

All of the propaganda about needing to give up your life to build a business is just that – propaganda. Don’t believe them – exercise, take time for you and your family, and breathe. Working longer hours each week does not correlate to business success.

The keys to starting a great business —  a business that will create value for its customers, create less stress for its founders and sustain long term growth — are really that simple.

You have to have a great idea, an idea that you're passionate about, you have to create a plan of action and be able to see it through and you must remain independent from your company. You do this by knowing yourself and never forgetting who you are. Continually reassess your vision for the future and catch yourself if you sidetrack.

Remember back to the reasons you began your business in the first place. These are the reasons that will see you through the toughest of times. 

Flourish: How to move beyond an owner-reliant business is a three part series focused on the growth of a successful business from the early, idea stage to a fully-independent, large-scale company while balancing smart business moves with a healthy founder mindset.

By Michael DeVenney