By Mike Cardus
Lots of people aspire to be their own boss. In fact, I have spent much of my professional life helping others find the building blocks to create successful businesses.
In Buffalo, we see this a lot today. An influx of homegrown startups, expat entrepreneurs and small business owners are taking root in this city, armed with an idea and a vision. But too many times, I’ve seen founders struggle with growing pains. With growth comes change. And with change comes the fear that you’ll lose touch with what you created. But you can grow a company you still want to work for.
Make no mistake – change is a great thing. I remember back when I was a student at Clemson, I studied insects. After years that included interstate travel, summer science camp programs and a role at the Department of Environmental Conservation, I was convinced that science education was my calling. It’s also how I met my wife.
When our paths brought us back to Buffalo, I had to adjust. There were no full-time opportunities as an educator or entomologist. So, I took a job as a team-building and recreation director. I followed what I knew while watching and observing others. It was instinctual, but it felt right.
I then ventured on my own to create a website and blog. No budget. No cash. Like many entrepreneurs, I just had a laptop and ideas. In two weeks, I got my first check to run a college orientation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, building a business is a little different than entomology. Entrepreneurs aspire to create companies that self-sustain from the beginning. But with growth comes rules, procedures, policies and process. In many cases, this leads to fears about scaling your company to a point where it loses identity. I imagine many Buffalo companies – of any size – face this same fear.
These are normal concerns. In his book, “Managing Corporate Lifecycles,” Ichak Adizes notes that when a company transitions into a new stage, it reaches a point where it needs to think different. This makes complete sense to me – you encounter a problem, solve it, learn from it and move on. The trouble is when business owners get stuck in “cul-de-sac problems” where they drive in circles. Management starts to feel incapable, and the organization soon loses trust in the leadership.
I love the challenge – working with companies and organizations on building the trust, processes and considerations that will help keep their vision intact as they grow.
I also hugely admire companies that abandoned convention to find success. At one point, Google wondered whether it needed managers at all. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, the company thinks of itself as “built by engineers for engineers” – led by individuals who would rather tinker, design and test than communicate in any corporate hierarchy.
Another great example is with companies like Gore-Tex, which implemented a self-imposed “magic number” of 150. Once a plant reached 150 employees, a new plant was built. This increased the collaboration and connection between people in each plant, making growth seem more natural.
I am not here to stand on a soapbox. But if my journey has taught me anything, it’s that those passionate to run businesses need to decide what they want to be, and embrace the road ahead. Change is powerful, but it never means that you need to leave behind your identity. You can always grow something that you still recognize and love years later.