:: An ominous title for a blog post, but “Grow or Die” has been one of the most basic rules in the high-growth startup world for decades. And by growth I mean revenue growth.
The first trick is to offer something that the world will need more and more over the next few years (growing market), without that it doesn’t matter much anyway; your product/service/thing must “catch on”. This can be somewhat manipulated by your successful marketing execution (i.e. why one iPhone app succeeds vs. another).
If you do have something compelling, you’re either running as fast as you can to catch up to something bigger or to stay ahead of those below you. Lack of growth will encourage others to come along and knock you off the track, attack you; they will smell blood. Inconsistency in growth can do the same thing. Millions are currently watching boastful high flyers like Zynga, Google, and Facebook to see if they stumble. If you’re not offering something in a growth market, it doesn’t matter so much; you become either a zombie/lifestyle company or shrink slowly then die.
If you’ve got something hot, the idea is to spread your footprint quickly and prevent others from knocking you off (first mover). Growth means bigger and more complex barriers to entry – more advertising, products, support and security for your users/buyers, advanced services, etc. And protection form death. And gasoline to create more growth.
Flat to negative revenue growth is a real red flag, especially for early stage companies. Your stakeholders start to wonder what is going wrong? Did we build the wrong product? Are we becoming passé? Time for a new CEO? And all those other depressing clichés. If you’re venture funded, things get kind of ugly -unhappy board members, cut off from communications, down- rounds to keep you going, or no more funding.
Many early stage founders aren’t sure how to handle this requirement for success. What about users? Eyeballs? Hits? Press Mentions? Those are all nice and should be designed impact revenues, but usually aren’t a real measurement (unless you’re Twitter). Revenue growth must be the core strategy and drive all other strategies.
Continued growth becomes more and more difficult for larger companies, you must “feed the monster” as it grows. Many companies are currently hitting the wall after strong growth, like MySpace, Yahoo, Dell, Fedex. Even Google is starting to struggle due to a slowing growth rate, and attracting attention for this problem – losing employees to Facebook, trying across the board 10% raises, switching out their CEO of 10 years.
But the focus here is not big companies, it’s startups in their first years of revenue. Companies that hit their “first millions” then get stuck, and often panic. I was once VP of Sales for a startup that went from zero to >$10 million in one year, then back to zero the following year. Talk about panic! That’s an extremely contracted timeline for up then down the growth curve, but the general trend is not that unusual in startup land – up then down quickly. In our case we didn’t have our internal house in order, and didn’t know how to handle our sudden success – no strategic planning and thereby no adherence to such a plan.
The bottom line is that continuous growth, at a good rate, is imperative for long term scalability. If this is a hole in your business strategy, don’t ignore it. Put your heads together, hire expertise, call your advisors, revisit your business models, sacrifice sacred cows, and respect this key piece of your success.
But make sure you deal with it.