And Profit Can Kill Your Growth
Huh? Aren’t profit and growth both good? Only in the right sequence. Focus on the wrong one at the wrong time and either one of them can drive you out of business.
At Startup, It’s All About Profit
Startups make the mistake of thinking what they need right away is growth. We measure growth in a number of ways, and all of them are largely unhelpful to an early stage business:
1) Revenue (is not profit!)
2) Market Share (lots of new customers)
3) Operational scalability (lots of new people, machines or square footage).
4) More investors (lots of cash being invested early on)
Problem: The ONLY thing that matters in the very early stages is finding something that can and will make us profitable for the life of the company. Why? Amar Bhide says 93% of all businesses leave their prime objective to become profitable. I think it’s even higher. If you focus on growth first, you’re almost certain to grow something that won’t be your long-term profit center, and backing out of it could be disastrous.
In 2006 we started Crankset Group believing our main profit center was something we stopped doing two and a half years later, and will never do again. It took us longer than normal to find our profit center, and I’m very thankful we didn’t invest a lot in making it go. Committing a lot of resources to it early on might have us mucking along trying to keep it alive just because we were too vested to move on.
An emphasis on growth before you’re 100% convinced you’ve found your long-term profit center will drain your resources and drive you out of business, by chasing an idea or a product that hasn’t been tested by your customer’s checkbooks (the only true focus group). Find your REAL prime objective, the one that will create long-term profitability, first. It almost certainly isn’t what you planned.
Found Your Profit Center? Forget Profit!
The game shifts radically once you’ve found what will make you profitable in the long run. Most business owners miss this one. I worked for a company that became profitable, decided to stop investing, and three years later, profited and saved their way right into bankruptcy.
Most small business owners do the same thing. As soon as they become profitable, they have something to protect (profit), and they’ll protect and defend that profit so fiercely that they either never hire anyone else to build the chair (I can do it cheaper myself) and never get off the treadmill, or their business becomes obsolete and just fades away. This is where Ray Kroc’s (founder of McDonalds) terse warning applies, “If you don’t want to take a risk, get the hell out of business.”
After finding your profit center, if you are worried about profit, you will likely never grow.
Growth means one of two things – you grow enough to build a true business that can make money while you’re on vacation. Or if you want to be Giant Corporation, Inc., then growth means figuring out how to capture the most market share. Most business owners will never want to be Giant Corporation, Inc., but all of us should grow our businesses to the point where we are no longer hostages, but can very regularly get away and enjoy the fruit of our business. To do that, focus on profit first, than be willing to take the risk to focus on growth, even at the risk of short-term profit.
It’s Worth the Risk
If you take the risk to grow, you’ll make a lot more money in a lot less time, for a lot longer than if you focus solely on profit.