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Are You Ready For The World?

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September 4, 2019

As startup founders and leaders of impact driven organizations, perhaps the answer should be a resounding, “yes.” 

Admittedly, being ready for world domination often falls second to surviving the day-to-day.  Unless, of course, you are the Brain or Dr. Evil:

Whether to expand operations, offerings or geographic footprint is a tough decision. Though these purely fictional examples give us important considerations to take into account  (like how a billion dollars should do the trick!), this week we’re wondering what else should be included in the expansion equation?

So we’re taking tips from a few unicorn founders who know a thing or two about exponential growth.

Sell The Vision

Expansion is inherently about selling a vision of something that has not happened yet.  It’s a prediction, an educated guess, and in its most basic form– a dream.   When the unassuming luggage company, Away, launched in 2015, it didn’t even have a product ready.  Instead, Away garnered $12 MN in sales during its first year by setting its launch stage with a clear vision of their brand through a super limited edition travel book  The Places We Return To, accompanied by a gift card redeemable for suitcase from their first manufacturing run.  Now valued at $1.4 BN following it’s recent $100MN raise,  Away offers an important lesson that finds it’s roots in sage teachings: write the vision and make it plain.  In a world full of consious marketing and unrivalled brand allegiance, selling your product is equally as important as selling your vision.

Power Dynamics

No matter how grand the vision, inevitably, power dynamics will come into play.  Typically, in the form of rules; not all of which are made to be broken.  For example, Anne Wojcicki’s, co-founder of 23andMe– a mail-order genetic testing company– endured several well-publicized disputes with  the FDA.  Specifically, whether or not 23andMe needed to obtain regulatory approval to advise consumers about important health risks like Parkinson’s or Alzheimers. Her story is lesson in knowing who has the power. Managing the power dynamics of expansion requires identifying who holds the political capital and carefully influencing them to open doors. Now valued at $1.75 MN following at $250 MN raise, 23andMe’s tactic of “if you can’t beat ’em, join them” has clearly paid off.

Don’t Close The Window

Another tool of expansion that we rarely address is pace.  Marathon runners understand the importance of pace just as much as NASCAR drivers.   In his book, Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path To Building Massively Valuable Companies, author and cofounder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman shares “the window for action can be tiny and it can close quickly. Even a few months of hesitation can mean the difference between leading and chasing.” Therefore, understand that the market is not the exclusive dictator of your pace of growth— you are.  Defined as prioritizing speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty, Blitzscaling is a choice.  Just be sure you can keep up with the pace.

Really, Get Your Hopes Up

Richard Branson is arguably one of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time.  Not just because of his mastery of media publicity or astronomically successful ventures to date.  But, rather, because of the clarity of vision, moral philosophy and purpose that he seamlessly integrates into his work.  That’s why our final rule comes from Sir Branson’s holy trinity of expansion: the three questions you must consider before taking a giant leap forward:

(1) would you do this for fun? (2) does it make a positive difference in people’s lives, and (3) will it be profitable enough to sustain?  Expansion for the sake of expansion is insufficient to fuel the morale and dedication necessary for growth.  A clear purpose beyond profits is key.

Cheers,

Leigh-Ann

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