Which would you rather: Hot start up — or quiet success?

English: homson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO...

English: Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO of Groupon Andrew Mason at a plenary at the E-G8 Forum in Paris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The business press often paints a very skewed picture of small-business success.

We see so many articles about the “hot new start up” or the brash genius 20-something who is setting the world on fire with their breakthrough product or service. Those types of stories are fun to read because they are exciting and novel. But the story about the mid–40s business executive who’s running a vibrant business with strong year-over-year growth by leading a capable team and delivering excellent value to her clients … that’s a boring story.

But let me ask you — which one would you rather be? Which one would you rather work for?

Andrew Mason was fired from one of those meteoric startups (Groupon) this week. Groupon has been through at least three business models in the last five years. Their employee count rose (too) quickly and now has shrunk quickly too. The refugees that I’ve talked with from there describe never really knowing what they were supposed to do. That lack of clarity produced waste and confusion throughout the organization. In short, it wasted their time and talents. Yet if you read the business press you will see story after story about these type of rocket-ship growth companies — you might think that this was the model to emulate. That this was what small business is all about.

It’s not.

In contrast, I think of another company I know. They have grown from five people in 2005 to the mid-30s now. No big jumps, no innovative products — just quietly delivering more value to their customers and refining their processes to be more consistent. Their consistency means that their employees don’t work long hours, they go home on the weekends and their shareholders make steadily growing money. I love to go in there and see the happy productivity that fills their offices. Everyone is very clear about what they are doing, and how they should be doing it. They have clear measurements of success and feel good at the end of the day when they see that those measurements are improving. They’re being productive with their time and talents.

Which are you doing? Do you have a business that reliability turns the hard work, smarts and talents that your team brings to work every day into a solid profit for the owners? Have you established clarity and measurements for every department so that they can see that they are making progress, and making a difference for the clients?

That’s my measure of small business success — sustainably turning your team’s talent and hard work into productivity and profit.

I understand that the meteoric start-up sells more magazines, but for every Groupon there are ten quiet success stories that are steadily creating jobs, building wealth and delivering great service. Which one are you?


  1. Barrett Lombardo says:

    Couldn’t help but jump into this topic Brad! Our slow growth success was mostly out of necessity. No capital, lots of time, but something valuable to offer, and not much vision beyond making through that year. It’s hard to imagine the hot-start-up energy in contrast to the slow/steady growth energy. It’s likely equal in passion, but I have enjoyed the control with slow growth – control of my time, team, offering, decisions, reputation, etc.

  2. Barrett;

    That’s a good point — when you take in money from other people you lose a lot of that control and the enterprise becomes about making a return for those investors. When the enterprise is still “yours” you control the values and the way things are done.

    Thanks for the input.

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