The “Little Steps” Entrepreneur

A friend of mine has a company he started several years ago and he’s on an unbelievable roll. If he’s not there already it won’t be long before his top line revenues exceed nine figures. When I first met him, his business was grossing nearly $10 million. Not only has he seen a gigantic increase in his sales, but his profitability is off the charts. I fully expect to read about him in Forbes one of these days. How has he done it?

My friend is not a particularly flashy guy. He didn’t design fancy strategies or engage in crazy risks. Instead, he concentrated on taking little steps. You or I might see them individually as pretty mundane. But when viewed collectively these small steps have become giant leaps, propelling his organization to dizzying heights. What have I learned over the years about how my friend has built such a successful company?

In the early days my friend was the classic bootstrapper. He literally did everything. He and one key associate were the “executive” level management. They paid attention to the little details and obsessed over their customers. I remember urging my friend to spend more time working “on” his business than “in” it. Over time he took this to heart and began to be more strategic. But initially he was the chief cook and bottle washer as well as the CEO.

Also in the beginning, this man was allergic to debt. He re-invested his profits and made sacrifices to get through the leaner times. I suggested that he procure a line of credit to which he responded, “Why? I don’t need it.” I explained that at some point in the future he would need a lending relationship with a bank and that he should establish it sooner rather than later. He could borrow against it and then pay it right back if that would make him feel better. Ultimately, he did obtain a line of credit and it was eventually quite helpful in accelerating his growth.

My friend was very particular about the business he would take. There were opportunities abound, but he showed great discipline in staying in his lane. He did not set out to be the biggest company in his industry, nor did he care if he developed a national footprint. By only taking assignments that he knew he could handle, he avoided the pitfalls that many entrepreneurs have made (including yours truly) by gobbling up every piece of business they could. At first, I thought he might have an affliction of limited thinking. But I was wrong. Though it wasn’t articulated, it was obvious that he had a winning formula that was taking shape because of his intuition.

Over time, my friend learned how to scale his company. He gradually created the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of more and more customers. Today he hires more than 50,000 people a year to staff the industrial operations of his customers. He attributes his continued growth to his ability to identify and value talent. The “value” part is especially intriguing. He genuinely cares about the team he has assembled. It would be easy to view 50,000 workers as a commodity. But he doesn’t. My friend goes to great lengths to make certain that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Above all, he’s played it straight as long as I’ve known him. He makes certain that he only hires team members who are legal, and I’ve never seen him cut corners. Over many breakfast meetings and other encounters, I’ve observed this man to be grounded in principle and integrity. We’ve all heard about high-flying businesses that came crashing down when it was revealed that they had been involved in some form of cheating. My friend is Mr. Straight Arrow and has marched to that tune from Day One.

Overall, I think I can ascribe his level of success to his ability to execute. Some leaders are born to perform – my friend seems to do so effortlessly. I’m sure he’s stubbed his toe along the way. But I’m not aware that he’s made any major mistakes that would have jeopardized his future. I can’t say that he was studious about creating strategic plans and organizational charts or subscribed to the Harvard Business Review. Maybe he did. My guess is that he simply exercised a great deal of common sense and had an amazingly deep understanding of his industry.

My friend is a living example of how taking little steps can lead to sweet success. What he has done can be instructive for the rest of us as we grow and flourish as entrepreneurs.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It seems like I’m on a roll these days with rants about customer service. And this one is a doozy. A few weeks ago my wife and I were flying to Las Vegas where I was to speak at a conference. We were supposed to fly from Kansas City to Phoenix and then to Vegas. It was a Sunday morning and when we arrived at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, the trouble began. Apparently some joker decided to leave a locked vehicle unattended at the curb outside one of the terminals. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was late for a flight and didn’t have time to take the car to the off-site rental car return and simply dropped it at the curb and figured he’d deal with the flak later. Well flak there was.

As we got off the plane, we were told that the terminal was closed due to a “security issue.” Passengers were not allowed to move down the concourse with TSA and the Phoenix Police Department enforcing this edict. Shortly thereafter, we were quickly herded to an adjoining section of the terminal where even more passengers were gathered. The line of demarcation was just short of the restrooms and very quickly the scene turned ugly. People were chanting and a full-scale riot was minutes away. Fortunately, someone in authority decided that letting people go to the bathroom might be a good idea, so they began creating bathroom lines and allowed ten people at a time to step under the tape and head single-file to the restrooms – all the while under the watchful eye of those in “authority.” Finally, they allowed the mob to move deeper into the concourse where everyone had access to the restrooms.

This situation persisted for somewhere between three and four hours. And not once did law enforcement provide any information whatsoever. I was able to watch some video on my phone from a local television station that enabled me to understand what was happening. Eventually (I was told), the bomb squad decided they needed to blow something up, so they blew the trunk of the car and the passenger doors to find . . . nothing. I guess I can understand how cautious we need to be in this day and age. But it was absolutely inexcusable that everyone was kept in the dark through the entire ordeal. A public affairs representative for law enforcement should have provided updates every 15 minutes on the overhead PA system as well as on social media along with an estimated time for resolution. Phoenix PD and the TSA did nothing to help their image with this display of arrogance. It was equally inexcusable that the decision was made to cordon off the terminal at a point where the restrooms weren’t accessible. From a practical standpoint, we’re talking 30 or 40 feet – and eventually the decision was made to move the cordon anyway.

Of course a number of flights were cancelled including ours. I received a text message from the airline (I’d “love” to say which one but I won’t) informing me that our flight was cancelled and to click on a link to re-book . . . except the link didn’t work. So, shame on the airline. Eventually we made a standby flight to Los Angeles that took us on to Las Vegas. But of course our luggage was MIA. The one bright spot in all of this was a very delightful lady named Lori at the airline’s lost baggage department in Las Vegas who really cared about our situation and said she’d do everything she could to see that we got our bag ASAP. And later that evening our bag did arrive. Kudos to Lori! Unfortunately, this airline – which is supposedly known for its technological prowess – has still not deployed a bar coding system for baggage. Another major airline we fly sticks a bar code on our luggage and we can look at a phone app and know exactly where it is in the country at all times. So another pox on the airline we used that Sunday for not getting with the bar coding program.

Things can really go wrong for us as entrepreneurs and sometimes they do. We can learn from experiences like this and avoid the mistakes that others are making. Above all, continual, clear and honest communications is paramount as long as the train is off the rails. And it’s also important to make sure all systems and processes are working and that common sense prevails. If we do it right, we can actually score points with our customers as they weather the storm with us.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 119 – Good or Bad Signals?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.