In our series on building a house of business, we first covered the numerous aspects of vision, which of course comes before anything else. Now let’s move onto bringing this vision into reality. Where does that begin?
When erecting a building, between the vision and actual construction comes the architectural design, and the detailed plans. This brings the general vision into total detail. A building cannot be constructed unless the contractors know exactly what to do. This requires people capable not only of designing that building but engineers capable of making sure that it will be sound and remain standing once it’s built.
Visions can be simple or complex. Building a hundred-story tower is considerably more complex than building a 3-bedroom home. The same is true for building a business or a sales team. If you want to build a sales team with 1,000 salespeople it’s very different from just hiring an additional 5 salespeople. If you’re going to put together that large sales team, you must sit down and figure out exactly what you want to achieve. If you don’t, when you start to execute that vision, the team will collapse, just like a building that wasn’t designed correctly. And we have seen may companies collapse that weren’t designed right.
Include the Team
For building a business, detailed planning must include how you put together the team. This can become an issue if it’s not done right. I’ve certainly experienced this myself. The wrong team can cost you time, money, energy and pain. You can start with someone who appeared to do fine in the beginning, but as the business began to scale, it turns out this person cannot handle bigger things. Such people must be replaced, and rapidly.
This process is described beautifully by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. He describes a business as a bus, and you must not only put the right people on the bus but put them in the right seats. When you have the wrong personnel onboard and even in key positions, you can ruin the company. While our company wasn’t ruined, we certainly had such a situation at one time, and we had to replace several key executives. They didn’t have the know-how and experience to occupy the positions they had. When you don’t have the right people, it’s hard to build.
While building, regularly look at your team and ask yourself, “Are they the right ones?” Every company has these issues. It’s very rare that a company starts off perfect.
Listen to the Experts
Getting a design flushed out for a building and for a business are the same in at least one major respect: it requires experts who know how everything fits together. You want that business, just like a building, to remain standing once it’s up.
This principle applies to my own industry, software, as well. It’s a factor that has changed dramatically in our business: the truly valuable personnel, especially in web technology, are not so much those in the execution, but those who do the designing. For us, that design is everything because, without it, the product will not scale.
It can happen that the person who has the vision for the building receives the detailed plans which have been drawn up by the architect. The visionary looks at the plans and says, “No! I want this tower on the left side!” But the architect tells the visionary it can’t be done that way because the building will collapse.
It can happen in a business, also, that the visionary wants something that, when he or she consults an expert, can’t be done that exact way. Well, just as with the building, you must listen to the experts, or your business—like the building constructed the wrong way—could collapse.
No matter how you proceed, building a business is a challenge. Many things can go wrong in the beginning and cause it to cease. That is why a measure of potential longevity given by experts is that if a business survives the first 3 years, it will probably make it to 5. If the enterprise makes it to 5 years, it will probably make it longer.
A comparison could be made to a rocket. If you don’t have the right amount of the right kind of fuel, the rocket won’t make it into space. Gravity is pulling you back down. For a business, that “gravity” consists of time, money and people. It takes the right balance of everything to provide longevity for that enterprise to survive.
The Core Problem
Of course, the core issue with constructing a business is the human being. When people get together to accomplish a vision, there can be a lot of egos involved. People being influenced by their egos can be fighting for positions, ideas, and responsibilities. We have the founder of the business, that is clear, but then there are other positions, and everyone can feel themselves to be very important. The bottom line is that humans are unpredictable.
Joseph Schumpeter, one of the leading minds of the Austrian School of Economics, pointed out that it’s not the idea or vision that is disruptive, but the execution of that innovation. That execution requires a team, and that team needs to be cooperatively working together, not against each other. It can happen that very gifted people, because they are in such conflict at the beginning, run a business into the ground before it has a chance to really get up and running. This is a common cause of business failure at the beginning.
The cause, the goal, the vision can be great. But egos can get in the way and cause it not to happen. A human being, when it comes right down to it, can be driven by envy, money, status, or power. The more realistically you view a human being, the more realistically you’ll address your business, and the fewer issues you’ll encounter.
There are, of course, good-hearted people in a company. There are smart, mature people. These are the most important characteristics to look for in potential staff. To get a company really up and running, it is these kinds of people you need. To put it another way, you don’t want to staff a business with a bunch of kids who you would never expect to behave like adults. You want people who will work toward the goal, not only toward their own ambitions.
Learn the Economy
In bringing a vision to reality, an entrepreneur should also have an understanding of the economy. If you have a big vision, and you’ve put together the right team, another factor you must take into account is the economic environment in which you will be operating. A drastic example is the economic crash of 2008. If you were in the real estate or home mortgage business at that time, you would most likely have had to close your company.
The lesson there is, you cannot operate against the business cycle. Again we go back to the economist Schumpeter, who once said that an entrepreneur trying to operate without an understanding of the economy is like Hamlet without the Danish prince. There are entrepreneurs who made it without such an understanding, but they were lucky. I would say that no matter who or where you are, you’re going to have to understand economic issues to remain successful.
To sum up, make sure you have your planning down cold before starting to build. In putting together your plans, consult and listen to the experts. And include the team, the human factor, and the economy in your planning.