What problems keep growth entrepreneurs awake at night?
PROFIT's GrowthCamp 2012 brought together the entrepreneurs of Canada's HOT 50 emerging growth companies for a day of networking and motivation at the TSX premises in downtown Toronto. In the hour-long "Idea Exchange," entrepreneurs in groups of eight to 10 shared their most pressing business problems—and listened eagerly for solutions from fellow business leaders who have faced similar challenges.
The conversations were strictly confidential. But that doesn't mean I can't share a few problems that were discussed at my table—on a no-names basis, of course.
- One entrepreneur who had mostly marketed his products through referrals now wants to learn how to set up a sales department.
- A services company sought the secret of expansion: How do you balance new product development vs. "sticking to your knitting"?
- "We're expanding geographically. How do we instill our culture and training into these new offices—and some sense of order?"
- One high-growth entrepreneur wanted to grow even faster. "What's the best way to scale up? We have to build up our sales and recruiting team. And how do we instill our work ethic in these new people?"
- A business-services firm that has expanded across Canada wanted tips on how to expand globally.
- Another company wanted to know how to expand from its home base into two other cities. This company has tried to move into both markets, but it has been forced to retreat both times. (It was a timely reminder that growth into adjacent markets can be just as tough for first-timers as global growth is for more experienced firms.)
- Service was on the mind of the leader of another HOT 50 firm. "How do we make sure everyone in our company understands that the customer is our boss?"
Clearly, the good news is that most of these companies are still in high-growth mode—which is one of the better problems for entrepreneurs to have.
Since I'd like to be invited back to GrowthCamp, I can't share the solutions discussed at my table. However, here are a few random comments from the group that you may find interesting.
- "The key to geographic expansion is distribution. Once you have your distribution network in place, it should be clear sailing."
- "Read Eric Ries's book, The Lean Startup. That's where you learn how to pivot."
- Whether you're expanding to Toronto or Montreal or Calgary, use local people: "They understand the culture better than you do."
- If you find capable partners to help you expand, share the wealth—generously. "You need to trade off margins to keep good partners."
- Make sure your employees know what's expected of them, but don't bury them in rules: "The key is to build culture, not policies."
- Never stop promoting and defending your company culture. "Keep your core values alive," said one entrepreneur. If you slip up, warned another, "You can kill your culture in one second."
- Don't bite off more than you can chew: "You only have two hands and 24 hours in a day."