Once upon a time three inspired information technology technicians working for a large consulting company decided to start a business. One was an architect, one was a project manager and one was a developer. One became the CEO, one became the salesman and one became the lead technician.
This was a time of plenty. Everyone was starting a technology business and overnight success was coming to companies that had nothing to show… no products, no customers and no revenue… the gold rush of the Internet. Companies were spending money like there was no end of it… other people’s money (OPM (rhymes with opium))… huge burn rates with no plans to turn a profit until some vague point in the future when they dominate the market… or cashing in on an IPO. Speculators were buying stock because a company had Linux in its name and a vague promise of a grand future.
Then the bubble burst. OPM dried up. Companies were closing their doors and shareholders were left with nothing. Then the events of 911 further dampened economic outlook.
The three business owners and their staff survived these downturns. They were not addicted to OPM, were not selling a lie, were good technicians, had strong ethics, had great staff, had low costs… and most importantly had a few good customers that remained loyal and fed them enough work to survive.
The company continued to grow and then hit a bump. Then it grew again and hit a bump. Everyone was working really hard, mastering their craft and taking care of the clients. But something was wrong. They just could not achieve the growth they wanted, the dream was not happening.
Then five years into the business, the CEO had a dream. Fast forward 10 years in the future…
The company had grown a bit over the years. Very hard work and perseverance had allowed them to survive the rough times and when times were good they expanded a bit, but not significantly. Many employees have moved on. Some have been around a long time, a few since near the beginning. The loyal ones had been rewarded with an ownership stake in the company. Several of the owners (original and new) were ready to move on to the next phase of their lives. But, there was no easy way out. The customers were loyal to the people, not the company. There were too few customers. There were key people that could not easily be replaced. People were getting tired of doing the same thing with no change. There was no way to extract the value out of the company… no way to exit gracefully… only failure or a partial success…and too much pride to fail.
The next morning the CEO awoke with the dream still vivid in his mind. He knew what was wrong. They had spent all those years, working very hard, sacrificing… to create jobs for themselves.
After much reading, reflecting and soul searching the answers became clear. To really become an entrepreneur you have to embrace two fundamental truths:
- You must work on the business and not in it, and
- You must work on yourself as much or more than you work on the business.
Being a great practitioner of your craft (what you are selling) merely gets you a job. The limiting factor of any business is the owner (leadership).
You must learn to become a master entrepreneur.
That is your real craft… building something great from nothing… passionate… inspiring shareholders, employees and customers… making a difference… a creator… always evolving … a CEO… a master entrepreneur.
The CEO decides to embark on the journey to become a master entrepreneur. Only time will tell what great adventures the CEO and those who journey with him will enjoy. But with this knowledge the future is much brighter.
The End… and the Beginning.
Update: This is a repost from 4 July 2008. I decided to reshare this post because it is the business need and story that started Manifast, our new product to help business owners avoid this exact situation.
Disclaimer: This fable is only loosely based on a true story and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.