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Growth: The Silent Killer

Imagine that your little startup actually does what millions of others fail to do, it finds success! Now imagine what happens if you aren’t prepared to deal with it.

Growing too rapidly can kill your business just as quickly as not being successful in the first place. Worst of all, you’re less likely to be prepared for massive success than you are massive failure. You won’t see it coming fast enough.

Here are a few ways your business might grow that could kill it:

  • You might try to do everything your customers ask for. After all, you want to please them because they’re paying the bills. The problem is, you need to grow at a pace that’s sustainable for your sanity and your pocketbook. If you don’t you’ll either grow broke trying to invest in the next thing before you have the money, or you’ll go insane working too many hours.
  • You might back the wrong audience. Maybe early on both consumers and businesses decide your business is great, and they sign up. Let’s say businesses are more profitable initially because they buy more stuff. So you mould your business around that one audience segment, potentially alienating the other segment. Now the business audience dries up. You’re sunk.
  • You might back yourself into a corner. You sign a lease on an office, warehouse, or retail space. It is 3 times bigger than what you need, but you figure you can grow into it. Well if you grow really fast, you could outgrow the space faster than the lease expires. What do you do then? Open a second location? Move out and pay the lease on both spaces? 
  • Supply lines run thin. Maybe you’re growing so fast that either your suppliers can’t keep pace with you, or you can’t hire enough employees to do all the work. Do you have a plan for that?

These are just a few ways success can kill you. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather deal with these issues than lack of success any day. But it’s also good to plan for this silent killer in addition to the more obvious dangers ahead of your business.

Vendors Likely Won’t Change, So You Need To

If you’re creating a company that has to deal with outside vendors, you’re going to run into one terrible inalienable fact: MANY OF THEM WILL SUCK.

Some of them will be stuck in the dark ages and want you to phone or fax an order in to them rather than having a web site you can easily navigate, or a web service you can hook into your own systems. Or if they do have a web site, it won’t be easy to place orders on it, because it will be some terrible free thing that was auto-generated out of their ERP system.

Other vendors will take up to a week to reply to your requests. Some of them will take more than a month to ship out the goods once you’ve ordered them. We work with one vendor who’s standard shipping time is 3 months for replacement parts. Mind you that you can get a new machine next week, but if you need to fix an existing machine it will be 3 months.

Some vendors will make it as hard as possible for you to give them your money. Either their sales people are stretched too thin, or they have too many layers of red tape, but you may have to reach out to them many many times in order to place an order. 

These things aren’t going to change. You need to change. If you can, see if you can find a different vendor. Someone who’s easier or faster to work with. Sometimes this might cost you slightly more money, but it’s worth every single penny. If you can’t get a new vendor, then you need to build processes around the fact that the vendor is going to suck. If it’s replacement parts, then keep extra on hand so you can do any repair at a moment’s notice. If it’s consumable supplies, then set a schedule to order them well in advance of running out so that by the time they do get to you, you haven’t yet run out. If it’s a piece of software that needs support, maybe you’ll be better off training your own employees to support it.

Don’t let your business suck just because your vendors suck. Your customers won’t care why something has gone wrong in the back end. It all just look like you are the one failing. So build processes and system in place to mask these problems so that your customers see you firing on all cylinders. 

Never Be Afraid To Change Your Design

A few years ago I wrote a little video game in Perl called Lacuna Expanse. Tens of thousands of people have played it, and while I wouldn’t call it a raging success, it has paid for itself and continues to make a modest profit. That said, it wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been willing to make drastic changes to the design of it way late in its development. 

For the first 3 months of its development, Lacuna was storing it’s data in Amazon’s Simple Storage Service. When I had trouble getting that to scale I switched it over to MySQL. Three months into a 12 month development cycle is far, but not that far, for a major change.

About six months into the development cycle we decided to entirely change how space was configured. It was originally modeled in 3D space and the user would be able to see a slice of it at a time.

For some reason it took us a very long time to realize what a horrible user experience that was going to be. Also, there were separate UI’s for the star map view vs the star system view.

This just meant a lot of clicking for the user. So we decided to simplify the star system. Instead of 3D space we would go to a flat 2D version of space and we would display the planets in orbit around the stars.

From a user perspective this worked much better. It was easier to see where things were in relation to each other. There was only one space UI. Everything just worked better. 

Even though everything was working better, it really bothered me that we lost the system view, because I liked the effect of the light coming from the star, and I liked that we could show the relative size of a planet in that view. It bothered me so much that 9 months in I changed the map yet again. This time it was mostly an aesthetic change which resulted in the modern version that players are familiar with.

As you can see the planets are rendered showing the light source of their star. The planets are also tiny in comparison with their star, and they show their relative size to each other. In addition, they have a much more natural looking orbit.

No matter whether you’re designing a game, a program, or a business, never be afraid to change it. If something is bugging you about how its working, it will bug other people too. You’ll be far more successful if you keep evolving it.

Use Meet Ups To Your Advantage

Whatever kind of business you start, getting people involved is going to be a huge part of it. This is where meet ups can give you an edge. If you’re a starting a technology firm, then start or join meet ups in your area related to the technologies you’re involved with. Same thing goes for any business whether it be cosmetics, education, games, or event planning. No matter what you’re doing, there will likely be people doing or interested in doing things related your topic areas. 

Being involved in these meet ups will help you with several things:

1) It’s a great place to find potential employees and contractors.

2) It’s a great place to find potential customers. 

3) It’s one more way to establish yourself as an expert in your field. 

So what are you waiting for. Seek out users groups, high-tech happy hours, business breakfasts, or any other kind of engagement you can be a part of. If you don’t know how to start, check in with your local chamber of commerce and 

Don’t Treat Money As Scarce

Growing up, I always thought of money as a scarce resource. My parents taught me that, perhaps because their parents were from the Great Depression and they taught their children that. However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Money isn’t scarce, it’s abundant. Economists believe that there is about $75 trillion floating around in the world. That is a lot of money! 

Instead of thinking about how money is a scarce resource, instead spend your time realizing that it’s abundant, and try to figure out how to get more of it! Sometimes that will mean you need to spend some money to get some more money.