It never occurred to me that all entrepreneurs weren’t wired for fast growth until I was standing at the podium accepting an award for creating Canada’s #9 fastest growing company. I had made it through my entrepreneurial career assuming everyone was running the same race day after day. It sincerely shocked me to be asked by reporters, “How do you do it?” The answer seemed so obvious. It seemed so simple. I just do. I was pregnant 18 of the first 24 months of my first award-winning business in a country where I was a new immigrant. There wasn’t a chapter of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that covered entrepreneurs, so I just assumed all pregnant ladies carried on. I thought every new mom breastfed in her business’ bathroom while a wet sheepdog watched. Fast forward a decade later and my appreciation for the unique race each entrepreneur is running has only continued to grow.
When you are establishing your business with the hope of fast growth I recommend two things: know thyself and lay a solid foundation of diverse entrepreneurial experience. Your business can only grow to your personal leadership abilities, so it is imperative that you know your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. When I started my first venture I was cocky. I was sure that I had all the answers and it was reflected in my inability to appreciate that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. A decade later and I am a much more reflective leader. I know that I am terrible with financial management, so I hired an experienced CFO and have continued to get her more involved in my business. I appreciate that I am phenomenal at strategy, but my enthusiasm wanes at execution, so I have a Director of Sales who thrives on execution. The solid foundation of diverse entrepreneurial experience will carry you efficiently through challenges you can’t even imagine on day one that can be speed bumps or endless craters hundreds of days down the road.
One of the keys to fast growth for all of the organizations I have created is to answer the question of scalability early on. No matter if it is a chain of pet boutiques, an advertising agency, or manufacturing cannabis products, the sooner that you answer how you will scale your business, the more opportunities you can realistically consider. When you are constantly having to reconfigure your organization to accommodate opportunities you struggle to react in real time. Your vision for the business you are building should scare the crap out of you. It should stretch you as a leader and require all of you, but the day to day mission should be baby steps towards the big scary goal. I have always been a big fan of the lean start up methodology because I believe bulky business plans with 5 year pro forma statements are essentially business fairy tales. The reality is that a start up canvas can help you to adopt a more reactive, real time approach to how you run your business. If this happens, then we will do this. If this doesn’t happen, then we will go this direction. When wrapped into your organization’s core values it becomes the roadmap for fast growth.
In the first year of a fast growth venture there are several speed bumps that can slow growth overall. In all of my ventures I have found that I have to remind myself not to get too caught up in the day to day. It’s a funny situation, isn’t it? You start a business because you love what you do and you love doing it, but then you eventually get to the point where in order to grow it you are no longer the best use doing what you love. One of the greatest struggles I face as a leader is appreciating that leaders don’t lead. Leaders grow other leaders. The greatest opportunity you have to build a fast growth organization that lasts is to build an organization of leaders who lead.
As a fast growth entrepreneur data has become my best friend. I’m a small town girl who lives for the relationships, the old school human to human interaction of client and service provider, but I have to force myself to be cognizant of the data behind those relationships. Jack Daly wrote “Hyper Sales Growth” and says that all sales relationships can be replicated by good systems, which transformed my thinking about relationships. Love the relationship, grow it, embrace who you authentically are, but be present in the data. Be aware of how you spend your time, of what systems you have built, and constantly- literally 24/7, every hour of the day- be thinking about how you can replicate those systems.
Leadership in an organization that is quickly growing and evolving should reflect the diverse experience required of the challenges that they are facing. I always chuckle when I see an organization built of only one demographic of people because it’s a massive handicap to achieving fast growth. The more diversity you have in any organization at every level, the better. I want a 60 year old woman from India working alongside a 22 year old man from Canada working with a 35 year old mom from Kansas. Can you imagine the different life experiences and opinions that will come from that trio alone? At Social Media Unicorn we are working in the six top cannabis markets in the United States and I love that some things work in Colorado that could never work in Las Vegas. The differences of leadership backgrounds at each level of our organization help us to serve cannabis brands with each opportunity that presents itself.
Most importantly, not every organization is meant to grow quickly- nor should it aspire to this. I’ve won a bucket of fast growth awards in my own entrepreneurial journey and for every award I have hours of wishing I had a 9-5 job with benefits that I could just turn off. There is a balance to all things and, as one of my mentors reminded me, “Some people are just drawn that way.” I am drawn to type fast, talk fast, walk fast, think fast, and I would last all of 5 minutes in a 9-5 job. Embrace your own entrepreneurial journey without judgement. And, if you find yourself in the fast lane with me, reach out. I’m always happy to commiserate or share secrets for how I’ve spent more than a decade pushing the speed limit.