For growth that lasts, you need to be willing to slow down — even when your finances are telling you to hurry up!
6 min read
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Go for speed. Build out fast. Scale like lightning. It’s the playbook for hypergrowth.
But for growth that lasts, you also need to take time to do the important things right. When it counts the most — don’t rush.
The startups I’ve worked with often faced severe financial pressures. Their principals went without salaries. They maxed out their credit cards. Despite these enormous strains, the most successful still focused on building for both the present and the future. They took time to balance science with art — the science of finding enough money for the short term, and the art of creating a great company for the long term.
For a company that has a limited runway, the present is most important. Surviving the month, the week, the day can overshadow everything. But companies that sustain rapid growth don't sacrifice the future for the present. They find ways to lay out both their short-term and long-term goals, ensuring that everyone working on the project understands where they're heading and their ultimate destination.
Here are four ways companies of any size can aim to create rapid growth, by taking time to do the right things right.
1. Connect passion to purpose.
Companies that accelerate over the long haul give their people a reason to come to work as humans, not just technicians.
I’ve seen many young companies whose whip-smart founders expected their ideas to deliver magical transformations — but when the money ran out, and their ideas hadn’t changed the world, disenchantment set in quickly. Other companies, however, could power through the funding gaps, energized by their sense of mission.
To keep accelerating through the challenges of early growth, people need to have a larger goal in sight, one that’s been defined and communicated from the outset. Building a new business is exciting, but what’s truly rewarding is knowing that when you reach your destination, you’ll have changed lives for the better.
It takes time to bring passion to purpose, to look beyond the immediate and connect with a larger human mission. When you do, you’ll have a foundation that’s strong enough to rally teams past the early days, through good times and bad.
2. Find the fast followers.
All the speed in the world won’t get it done if you’re not speeding with the right people.
The cult video “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” makes this case perfectly. It opens with one man dancing wildly on a hill at a concert. Soon he’s joined by another, then two, then dozens of people pile on and dance. In a few minutes the “lone nut in the field” changes from an eccentric outlier into the leader of a movement.
Hypergrowth runs on the same principle. An audacious hero (or lone nut) can start with an idea, but it’s the fast followers who accelerate. It’s the group of people who pick up the cause, who join the dance, that makes the difference between a company that can’t sustain the pressures of growth, and one that keeps growing.
But despite what “dancing guy” suggests, the right fast followers generally won’t materialize on a hillside.
How do you find these people? Take time to observe and even more time to hire. The teams that can grow together are grounded in a shared sense of creative possibility, and you can’t rush finding and building them.
3. Bring your inner artist to work.
I remember how my father, a carpenter, could turn a block of wood into shapes that would amaze the nine-year-old me. One block became a boat, another a horse — they were forms and figures only he could find in the wood. His passion for his craft lasted a lifetime.
Sustaining growth needs artistry. Again and again, I’ve seen young companies step back from the pressures of day-to-day business and re-think what they’re doing one more time. You may not be able to take your foot off the gas, but you can simultaneously continually look for fresh insights and approaches.
People who bring artistry to their work, like my father, are the ones who can push their tools to create something that’s built to last. They’ll be able to keep a young company moving forward when money gets short and times get rough, as they always do.
4. Wait for the right investors.
Venture capital loves a moon shot. It’s all about turbocharging, the next big thing, and being a unicorn. What’s missing is how important patient capital can be to long-term success. Just because you’re offered a check doesn’t mean you should cash it.
Imagine telling a young company today that it takes 15 years to break even. That’s what Amazon needed, now largely forgotten. Founded in 1994, the company didn’t turn a profit until 2001 and historically was in the red until 2009.
Young companies in the hunt for funding generally have little financial leverage. Saying yes to the first investor is hard to resist, but if it’s the wrong fit, you can tether people to unrealistic demands, and set a young company up for disappointment.
In fact, investors come in all shapes and sizes. Patient investors know there’s more than one way to succeed. For many young companies, it’s better to scramble and keep the lights on as best you can, while taking time to find partners with the right expectation and time horizons.
Of course, speed is essential for growth. But when it matters most, it’s just as important not to rush.
As much as possible, young companies need to balance the narrative of hypergrowth, and its expectation to "move fast and break things," with the equally important counter-narrative: "Build things that last."
It takes time to connect with a larger purpose, find the right fast followers, unlock your full creativity, and choose your partners wisely. Many may feel they don't have that luxury, but if you find the right mix, the secret sauce of art and science together, you can keep the day-to-day operation moving while still taking time to build for the future.
For growth that endures, it’s the best time spent of all.