Through my work in the Kansas City startup scene, and particularly the Kansas City Startup Village, I have noticed a shift in speech and rhetoric in the last couple of years. It is a subtle shift, but a significant one. As this shift has been made – and continues to be made – it is contributing to a pivot in startup understanding and practice.
We all know what a pivot is: it’s what results from a change of perspective. A fresh and perhaps entirely new “Aha!” moment can facilitate a badly needed change of direction for a startup business. If the pivot of change is significant, it leads to increased efficiencies, revenue, and that much-coveted scalability prize.
So, what change am I speaking of? What pivot will arise from this new understanding?
The following is, in my opinion, an increasing realization amongst KC and other entrepreneurs as to what it takes to develop successful startups that grow up to be sustainable businesses.
That realization is this:
Birthing a child is one thing; raising a child to adulthood is another.
The Exploding Startup Scene
Over the course of the last few years, the startup scene across the globe has exploded. Just look at all the nation-wide ventures in support of startups that have been globally launched. There’s Startup Chile, Startup Russia, Startup Britain, Startup Weekend, Startup America…and the list goes on. I doubt if there is a region in the world that lack some type of startup activity that is not also supported by various government agencies!
Now, don’t get me wrong. This frenzy over startups is a good thing. After all, talented people, who otherwise would never have a chance at building their own company, are not getting that great opportunity. The startup scene does a wonderful job of fostering creative thought and endeavor.
However, in many quarters, the quality of entrepreneurship in a region is assessed by the quantity of its startup activity.
Startup Businesses are Like Newborn Babies
Everyone loves a new baby being born. All the family members are gaga with excitement. Not long ago my 5th grandchild was born – I myself have been recently caught up in the newborn gush!
Between having 4 children, 5 grandchildren, and simply living, I have seen it over and over: for a few months there is a lot of attention given to the birth of the new child. But as time goes on, one realizes that this new baby will not grow up on its own. The frenzy dies down, the meals and gushing strangers and pampering attention disappears, and new parents are left with the stunning reality that this life is theirs to nourish.
As the baby grows and matures, its needs change, and the parents must adapt as to how to best meet its ever changing needs. Treating a toddler like a newborn will make for a spoiled toddler.
How does this relate to startups? Simply put, the equation of # total startups = quality entrepreneurship is just not complete. That’s like saying that that # birthed babies in a family = quality parenting. Birthing a new startup business is one thing. Scaling it to sustainable success is an entirely different thing. Growing a company requires an expanded skill set from the ones used in conception to birth.
Believe me, I have done my part in facilitating the conception and the ultimate rearing of four children to adulthood. The two endeavors are totally different from one another, and one of them is a lot more fun!
Entrepreneurship is the same. It involves more than startups. Entrepreneurship, historically, is about starting and building a company to sustainability.
Successful Startups = Scalability + Profitability + Sustainability
Successful startups must achieve scalability (which is just another term for growth and increased revenue), profitability, and sustainability.
But let’s get one thing straight: achieving scalability and economic impact does not mean startups need to grow to the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, or Twitter to have a significant economic impact. Research has shown that companies that scale to even small proportions can have highly disproportional contributions to a region’s growth. In other words, a single company that grows to 50 employees has a greater total economic footprint than 25 companies with 2 employees. A relatively small scalable business can exert enormous influence on the surrounding region.
Entrepreneurship consists of many things. Startups are definitely part of the entrepreneurial scene. But startups are just that, the start of entrepreneurship. Great entrepreneurship does not stop at the start. Great entrepreneurship is a grand pursuit to create a company based on great values, not just great ventures…great people who innovate great products and scalable growth, not just a scalable burn rate.
That’s why Agora’s approach to developing entrepreneurs is a long-term approach. We don’t just equip entrepreneurs to launch businesses. We equip them to build sustainable, scalable, profitable businesses. And our support and mentoring doesn’t cease once they have launched; it continues as long as they will embrace it.
I’m hoping that government support programs, private incubators and accelerators will follow suit…continuing not only to foster new birth in startups but also to grow fledging startups into scalable, sustainable companies with a wide socio and economic impact.
If business is going to change the world, we can’t just be content with starting up…we must pursue growing up to scale up!