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Venture Growth Is a Choice

For those of you with growth on your mind and optimism in your heart, you must recognize from the start that you are among a very select few. Growth is a deliberate choice that is both personal and strategic. While we recognize that most people will choose low or slow growth businesses, this book is not for them. It is for those of you who want to build significant businesses. It is also for those of you who started small but quickly embraced growth when you realized how big your opportunity really can be. Just what are those numbers?

Approximately 350,000 of the 22.9 million businesses in the United States can be classified as "gazelles," or businesses growing at more than 20% per year for at least four years.[9] The vast majority of these are self-funded at start-up, but reach out to external providers of capital (friends, family, banks, angel investors, and venture capitalists) as they grow. High-potential businesses that receive venture capital are the rarest breed. There were approximately 8,000 venture capital deals in the banner investment year of 2000, but, by 2002, this number had dropped to 2,453.[10] The few businesses that do obtain venture funding are highly innovative, scalable (usually technology-based), and in possession of unique advantages that are very hard to copy.

Growth-oriented entrepreneurs think big. Their goals include expanding their businesses in both scale and scope. Strategic choices of industry, market sector, competitive position, and technology base profoundly influence growth potential. Consider the following examples from the floral industry and their potential for growth:

Joan Larke owns Flower Power, a neighborhood flower shop that employs five people and has revenues of $100,000 a year. Her business yields a comfortable living, gives her a strong sense of satisfaction and achievement, and is easily managed. Ruth Owades launched Calyx & Corolla with an entirely different vision in mind. In 1988 with an initial investment of more than $2 million, she set up computer systems, nailed down strategic partner contracts, and launched an innovative catalog floral business that delivered flowers directly from the grower to the consumer. Revenues grew to more than $25 million and the company became a prototype for entrepreneurs hoping to cut supplyside costs while delivering greater value to customers.[11]

From the outset, Ruth Owades's aspirations clearly shaped her vision of what a floral business could be. She planned a large-scale venture and she was willing to take on all the associated challenges. She invested time and energy to develop a competitive strategy, build an organizational structure, and assemble her team. She was willing to give up some of the ownership and control to capture the needed financial resources. She maintained the primary leadership role, but shared decision making with the board in a way that Joan Larke did not.

Owades also drew deeply on her own resources, starting with her personal assets (education and experience, social contacts, personal funds) and then leveraged the resources of her management team. Together they had strength in finance, marketing, operations, human resources, and technology. She also acquired the physical resources she needed: furniture, fixtures, computers, and software. At the same time she was building the physical platform for the business, Owades was also creating the operating infrastructure: setting up policies, systems, and information flows for managing the business transactions (e.g., sales, purchasing, banking, inventory); training and supporting human resources (e.g., hiring, recruiting, work rules, benefits, etc.); and managing customer relationships. The growth process was dynamic, requiring constant invention because there was no organizational history to fall back on.

Every one of these activities requires skill and ingenuity, but their success also depends on financial resources. For most entrepreneurs, by far the biggest challenge to growth is getting the money. Few entrepreneurs—men or women—have sufficient personal assets to fund growth entirely on their own. Most "bootstrap" their businesses, working creatively and often without salary, investing their own savings and maxing out their credit cards, then turning to family and friends for informal investment, and next to banks and suppliers for credit or debt. Acquiring money to grow is daunting for even the most seasoned entrepreneurs.

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