Entrepreneur Beginners Guide “Think Big”
It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach…. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin. —Benjamin E. Mays, minister, educator, scholar, social activist
The Two Types of Failure in Business
A business can fail in two ways: not surviving beyond its start and not reaching its full potential. While shutdowns receive the most attention, failure to reach full potential is much more catastrophic.
On the one hand, measuring and understanding Why so many businesses fail in the traditional sense is relatively easy. We have the data. Organizations ranging from the Kauffman Foundation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have analyzed years of statistics, giving us a solid idea of why about 75 percent of businesses do not survive fifteen years or more. Some of the reasons for failure include undercapitalization, overexpansion, poor planning, and a declining market.
On the other hand, measuring and understanding why a business fails to maximize its potential is quite difficult. Studies and statistics aren’t readily available. Also, the default measuring stick for success in business is often the very existence of the business it-self I am guilty of perpetuating this low expectation, frequently congratulating business owners for having survived their first five years. While this accomplishment is honorable, it’s more impressive to have a profitable and a high-growth business after five years. Instead of flattering business owners who have reached a certain number of years, the goal should be to challenge and to help solid businesses ascend to the next level—to think big.
“Thinking Big” Defined
The phrase “Think big” is ubiquitous whether it’s from an ESPN commentator or Donald Trump. Likewise, a popular T-shirt carries the phrase, “Go big or go home!” Apparently, we have an epidemic of small thinkers, and we must be cured of this contagious inability to think big. Despite its popularity and ascendancy to pop culture status, the saying has no clear meaning, especially as it relates to business.
In business, “thinking big” simply means pursuing ideas that maximize the scope of your potential. Likewise, it can mean pursuing ideas that have maximum impact in the world. Despite its simple definition, thinking big is difficult to do for many reasons, but if you are aware of the obstacles you can avoid them altogether.
- One of the main obstacles to thinking big is the inability to outgrow your environment. 1 am a mentor to several young entrepreneurs, and one of the common disappointments I have about my mentees is their inability to create businesses that go beyond the confines of their reality or environment. In other words, their environment restricts their thinking to the point that their business suffers limited growth or even death.
To counter this effect I provide examples of entrepreneurs who have gone outside their environment to succeed. For example, many college students wish to start a business that targets only college students on their own campus. Instead, I encourage them to expand their markets by applying their product or service to additional segments. Students, for instance, could sell their product or service to colleges across the nation or the world. If the idea has broad appeal, it could be even larger. Also, I share with my college mentees how Facebook, originally for college students only, was founded on an ideology that appeals to people all around the world. It was just a matter of time before Facebook’s cofounder Mark Zuckerberg expanded his company’s target from college students to everyone on the planet.
- Many entrepreneurs lack the motivation to pursue big ideas. I find this mentality prevalent among entrepreneurs who have had some level of monetary success in business that diminishes their willingness to pursue bigger ideas. These entrepreneurs strive to maintain their comfort or have become accustomed to going for low-hanging fruit. As business author Michael Gerber says, “Comfort makes cowards of us all.” Moreover, these entrepreneurs could simply be overwhelmed with running their own business and don’t have the bandwidth to do anything else.
For overcoming lack of motivation, entrepreneurs should find an individual or team to hold them accountable for pursing their big idea, step by step. I know that staying motivated can be difficult. However, having people ‘hold me accountable for my goals has really worked. Moreover, if you have several businesses like I do, you have to delegate tasks to others and carve out priority time to develop your idea. Otherwise, you make little progress.
- Several entrepreneurs lack the self-confidence to think big. They don’t see themselves running a large organization, or they are frozen by the immensity of their idea. They may ask themselves, Where do I start? How will I build a team capable of pulling this off? Where will I get the start-up capital for such a huge idea?
To boost your self-confidence, devise and take small steps that start you working on your idea. For example, do some basic re-search about your idea or write down your ideas. If you are like most people, these small wins will add up to increase your confidence and to propel you forward.
- Entrepreneurs often lack the diversity and expertise of influencers required to think and eventually to execute in a big way. I am a fan of the television show Shark Tank in which entrepreneurs pitch their business, idea to a panel of investors, or sharks, who then decide whether-to place an investment with the presenting company. Entrepreneurs who appear on the show seek investment capital as much as the valuable experience of the sharks. In one episode, a shark suggested that an entrepreneur license his product instead of selling it to individual retailers, an arduous process. The entrepreneur had not thought about licensing his product, a strategy that would yield him profits faster and minimize risk. In this case like so many others, the founder needed the experience and influence of seasoned entrepreneurs to maximize the potential of a business idea.
To jump this hurdle, you must establish a diverse network of individuals who think big and understand what it takes to arrive at that level. Likewise, they can help you to vet and improve your idea. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, recently told a group of aspiring entrepreneurs in Cambridge, England, —Falk to as many people as you can. What you want arc the people who will tell you what’s wrong with your idea. They are the ones you can learn from.”
My First Big Idea
Like many of my college mentees today, I was unable to think big during my early start-up days, because I was limited by my environment. Also, my network at the time didn’t include older entrepreneurs who could help me translate the value of my college website to a larger more profitable audience. By the time I realized the great potential of my idea, it was too late. Well-funded and talented competitors seized the larger market aggressively while I focused on increasing my success in my small-college microcosm. Had circumstances been different, I could have been a formidable competitor to companies like CollegeClub.com, or even Facebook itself.
Despite the missed opportunity of becoming a national or even global college web portal, all was not lost. Eager to move on from serving the college market and making my mark in a bigger area, I stumbled upon an opportunity that would forever change how I pursue business ideas. 1 decided to focus on commercializing an internal told that 1 created to help my staff update web pages without having to know computer programming languages. Om-niPublisher, one of the first online content management systems—similar to an early WordPress—was ‘my first product with global appeal. From that point I began to think big and never returned to thinking small.
We sold OmniPublisher to local community newspapers and other publishers to simplify making frequent updates to their websites and to automate archiving with a portable database. Om-niPublisher also helped users with small budgets to obtain enterprise-like software that normally would cost them much more to build or to purchase from an established vendor. My company had regional success with the project and eventually sold Om-niPublisher to a small publishing company. During an early consolidation period, companies with software similar to my company’s were acquired for millions of dollars. My dream of selling to a large media conglomerate at a higher valuation didn’t come through, but I sleep well at night knowing that I dreamed big and went for it.
Where Thinking Rig Helps the Most
I contend that the aggregate loss of value by businesses that fail to reach their potential is much greater than the value lost by businesses that cease to exist. Some compelling statistics support this position, as reported in a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) proposal:
According to the YourEconomy.org website (created by the Edward Lowe Foundation from Dun and Bradstreet data), from 2000-2007, most new job creations in the United States were provided by Stage I (1-9 employees) companies (approximately 5:7 million). However, over this period of time, new jobs by Stage I companies were created at a rate of 1.5 per new company, whereas Stage I1 (10-99 employees) companies created new jobs at a rate of 26 per new company. The website further indicates that since 2000, Stage IV (500 or more employees) companies have yet to create one new net job. Instead, they have lost approximately 2.5 million jobs.
For this reason, economists, entrepreneurs, and others interested in economic development should not necessarily emphasize fostering start-up growth. Instead, they must emphasize helping established businesses and leaders transform their operations from medium to large. In other words, increasing the number of new start-ups is less important than -ensuring the full maturation of established companies that have tremendous and sustainable growth potential.
How do we move medium-sized businesses to become big enterprises? Many economic developers are asking themselves that question today and are working diligently to answer it. One approach, economic gardening, is addressing the challenge and seeing great results, especially in Florida. As defined by the Kauffman Foundation, economic gardening is an economic development model that embraces the fundamental idea that entrepreneurs drive economies. The model seeks to create jobs by supporting existing companies in a community. Economic gardening also develops an entrepreneur’s mental ability to think big and provides resources to make it happen.
Making the jump from thinking small to thinking big can be extremely difficult, but it is worth it. In fact, all of the greatest achievements of humanity started with a daring, big idea. Imagine where we’d be if the inspiring words of the great Benjamin E. Mays that encourage us to think big hadn’t inspired a young student at Morehouse College who dreamed of living in a different world than the one in which he found himself. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most known icons in the world today, could have settled for being just a preacher in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. He never would have set out to accomplish his dream, a vision that changed our world forever. People with the ability and the audacity to think big carve the path to greatness.