Tonight I’ve been asked to speak to the Entrepreneurship Master Class at the London School of Economics. One of the topics that they want me to cover is the journey from the LSE (my university) to my current role as CEO of Vitesse Media Plc – a topic I couldn’t possibly cover as it spans so many years!
But it did get me thinking that building a business is a unique journey because the operation you run evolves through so many different stages – until you stand back from the cash flows, contracts, and strategies, you often can’t recognise at what stage your venture is.
Of course, received wisdom is that a business has three stages: the first is sub-£7 million revenues; the second is the £7-to-£70 million stage; and the final part of the cycle is more than £70 million. Each of these stages requires a different sort of management structure.
An entirely different beast
We are fast approaching the £7 million post (through a combination of organic growth and acquisition), but I have to admit that I have identified many changes during the period from nil revenues to £7 million. For example, when we had nine employees or less, the business was still driven entirely by myself and was wholly dependent on my ability to direct both operations and strategy. Now, we’re in the 45-plus-employee stage and it has suddenly dawned on me that Vitesse is an entirely different beast.
For instance, in terms of the daily grind, I am no longer part of routine operations, apart from when we are a team-member down. What’s more, a recent brainstorm with the top management team (around eight people) came up with 17 good ideas for generating extra revenues – and not one of them was mine. It was clear to me that those same eight people could easily be exposed in most circumstances to the outside world and not land the company in any trouble. What a change – and what a difficult journey from an owner-dominated outfit to a venture run by a professional management team, a journey made much more tortuous by my mistakes.
Our team is now a mixture of ‘home-grown’ and knowledgeable enthusiasts and ‘brought-in’ experts with different skill sets and professional experience. The difficult part of building this group has involved enticing good people to join, integrating them with the existing team and ensuring that the mixture is not explosive. Getting the chemistry right has involved several false starts and backward steps. But now that we’ve reached that crucial point, the business should start benefiting from the freedom the team has to drive forward, liberating me to direct the overall strategy.
That’s my theory, although I’m wondering what bear traps now lie in wait.