How do you define “start-up?” Think about your answer, because that definition can impact your business in a big way, for better or worse.
If you ask most business owners, they’ll tell you that the phrase refers to that period when a new business first introduces its product or service, and begins to sell. I disagree, because I find that definition to be far too limiting. In fact, I’d argue that an enterprise experiences multiple “start-up” phases, every time it passes through what I call the Business Cycle – and having the foresight to anticipate and prepare for them can make or break your business.
During the initial start-up phase of a business, growth is slow if it happens at all. When its new idea or product catches on, a company slowly begins to grow—until it reaches the acceleration-transition point of success. That’s when the Tornado hits. All of a sudden, sales are astronomical. The faster and higher the rate of sales, the taller the arc is going to climb.
Ironically, a Tornado almost always creates havoc with all three elements of the business triangle: people, process, and technology. Many companies cannot keep up with their Tornado, and as a result, they may not get to reap the full rewards of their earlier efforts, because the rest of the company can’t support the growth sprint that has engulfed it. This problem can manifest itself in many ways, such as not being able to get the product out the door, not being able to invoice fast enough to maintain cash flow, or being unable to support the new sales and ending up with a bad reputation. That’s when a copycat product could step in and take the lead—and the company may find itself permanently thrown off the business merry-go-round.
If the company is able to manage the growth cycle through the revenue peak, sooner or later it will head into a slow, gradual downhill slide. This means it has hit the deceleration point, and now it’s heading into an Avalanche, the mirror image of the Tornado. Unfortunately, the higher the company reaches in the first half of the cycle, the harder its fall will be when it hits that next transition point. Once a business hits the deceleration-transition point, the owners and staff may be feeling like someone who has never before experienced winter: they think their life is over and they’re doomed to die. Sometimes that does happen to a business—but it doesn’t have to. If a company is able to manage its cycle in a healthy way, its profits will eventually level off again. This is when the company must undergo a consolidation in order to increase profits and prepare for the next cycle of growth. It will need to cut back enough that revenues once more exceed its expenses. Companies that succeed will find a new way to accelerate again—a new acquisition, a new product, or a new market— something that will trigger another Tornado in order to meet shareholders’ expectations. But none of this can happen without the right kind of IT support to realign the three sides of the triangle.
Remember, cycles never stop moving – and no business can maintain a Tornado forever. Every company goes through this same cycle, whether it’s a new start-up, an old and established company, or something in between. Knowing that you’ll hit that start-up Tornado again down the line will help you plan smarter and better to keep your people, processes, and IT in the proper proportions to support wherever you are at the moment, and plan for where you’re headed next.