August 15, 2011, 2:47am
IT’S HOT and the big beasts of the corporate jungle are getting desperate for easy prey. Gathering around the entrepreneurial watering holes, they are hungrily eyeing up one species in particular, the gazelles.
In business parlance being a gazelle is about as good as it gets. Often found on the open plains around London’s Silicon Roundabout, these are fast-growth young businesses with the fitness to leap over the competition and live the entrepreneurial dream.
But not so fast. According to research by SAP UK & Ireland and Delta Economics, these young bucks should beware the perils of growth. Many of them are set to be culled because of the speed of their success.
Business failure is a very real risk, but this set piece of summer season silliness misses the point. Apparently 33 per cent of businesses that disappear do so because they are acquired. What a disaster, except, hold on, I thought that selling your business was the point for many entrepreneurs. Tell Iain Dodsworth, who sold his business Tweetdeck for £25m, that selling after three years was the worst mistake he made.
This sort of message says a lot about the mindset of many large corporates struggling to find a theme that works with the small business market. That when in doubt, the best way to win is to scare the market half to death.
But that’s not my overwhelming objection. It is more that the negative message to small, fast growth companies is such a siren call of folly. Most companies don’t have a realistic choice about controlling their pace of growth, and while a reputation for being dull but dependable might sound good in a corporate ivory tower, on the street it’s an ingredient to be ignored and a recipe for failure.
The pursuit of growth is great. Two years ago, the business I co-founded was an idea on the kitchen table. A big part of our thinking was that if people believed we could grow then we would grow. The strategy was all about momentum and so far the good news is that the strategy works.
Our business is known as a fast-growth business because we have the aspiration, ambition and optimism to excite our clients. Maybe we will fall off the curve at some point but we also might get right back on it because of these very same character assets.
Growth most certainly has its challenges but we wouldn’t change the direction for a second. It provides the lifeblood that drives the business, develops the people, and delivers better results for clients.
For the vast majority of businesses it’s not too much growth that is the problem; it’s that they don’t have enough of it. So rather than read extinct research, my advice to aspiring gazelles is to get hold of the Jungle Book, and heed the lyrics of King Louie’s song, I wanna be like you: “I've reached the top and had to stop and that's what botherin' me.” And that really is the problem of growth.
Michael Hayman is co-founder of the public relations consultancy Seven Hills. You can follow Michael on Twitter @michaelhayman