An Entrepreneurial journey though Jungles, Mountains, Oceans

The Book

Nailing it - "welcome to the jungle!"

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The earliest stage is all about figuring out and successfully prototyping a value proposition that works simultaneously for all the members in your "value chain" (customers, employees, suppliers, distributors, investors, etc.). At this stage, early entrepreneurial intentions, initial resource endowments, fast iterations and experimentations, and marketing efforts play especially important roles. The right mix of people that can work for and with you, along with the perfect array of distributors, suppliers, and investors, all contributing to a viable value chain.

Metaphorically, nailing stands for hacking through a very dense jungle with next to nothing but a machete, a very approximate map designating a very fuzzy destination, but no trail, and a small, determined team of like-minded adventurers, rule breakers and mission-driven problem solvers adventurous with entrepreneurial mindsets led by a mission driven, flexible, empowering and passionate leader. 

To paint a simple picture, the jungle is a foreign, intimidating and dangerous environment, much like the early days of a start-up. The dense surroundings block the sight of the horizon and one can only see as far as the machete allows it, making the journey dependent on the mission and vision, drive, determination and the belief of the founding team that the horizon, while invisible for, is there. Like a fatal bite from a jungle mosquito, the tiniest slip in your entrepreneurial take-off could cost the business the entire journey. Quick thinking, fast actions and reiterations and an innovative state of mind will be the strongest assets for the company. The goal is not to necessarily to make it out unharmed, but alive. It’s a game of survival and only the fittest will make it through.

The outcome might not be perfect but here speed overrides quality and a minimum viable product will do more good than the perfect. It's unlikely that you will have fully figured out your value proposition, a sustainable revenue model, a reliable set of suppliers and the right customer persona.“We have to be prepared to make mistakes, but to fix them quickly. We fly very close to the treetops, but have great confidence in our pilots.

scaling it -"Ain’t no mountain high enough!"

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The “scaling”stage comes once a company has proven some key aspects (e.g., technology, customers, pricing) of its value proposition and now must grow in parallel to its market alongside its production and delivery capabilities. In colloquial term, if Nailing was the ‘What’ then Scaling is the ‘How’. This is the heart of our hoped-for contribution, fleshing out seven attributes in the context of an entrepreneurial firm that has already “nailed it,” and now needs/wants to scale up.

Compared to trekking the jungle, scaling feels like hikingup a long, steep mountain with a rapidly growing team of people. Scaling is a journey of endurance, discipline and resilience. Unlike the jungle, here, the path becomes clearer, the horizon more visible, and the peak more tangible. The mountain is a territory riddled with paths that will give you a better sense of direction and more certainty. The tools that one can take on this trek are slightly more sophisticated and allow for a longer subsistence, but keeping lean is still critical,so you must optimize your resources and be smart with the tools you choose to carry.  

In the jungle, the team was driven by figuring things out, but as you start scaling and adding more people to the team, the need for more structure, more discipline, more rules will arise. In this stage, “Ideas are rewarded.  Execution is worshipped.” (source) Dan Gilbert.

But interestingly enough, those who survive the jungle are not necessarily those who survive the hike.

Scaling is one of the hardest things to accomplish in business and in this research, we propose six capability development thrusts, which we label as: processification, professionalization, automation, segmentation, collaboration and culturalization. 

sailing it - “I can't control the wind but I can adjust the sail.”

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The third stage, “sailing”typically comes much later, after a company has realized a significant fraction of the growth opportunity of its value proposition. Although the firm may still be required to navigate the stormy seas of competitive, technological, and environmental challenges, the average growth rate is much slower and the firm and its processes have reached a certain stage of maturity.  At this point, the focus may be more on sustainability of the business and continuous improvement to navigate the market and avoiding organizational rigidities that make a firm susceptible to disruptive threats. 

We think of sailing as the ability to continuously improve and innovate in product offering, production capabilities and market growth, and maintain your competitive advantage. Big companies have huge advantages in procurement, distribution, and manufacturing, as well as sales and marketing advantages. But they have a challenge of reacting fast to large threats in the market. 

Large companies are similar to tanker ships that are able to hold their course even in heavy weather if they are properly equipped and manned up. 

We interviewed Mike Titzer, a former ASB student, a former captain in the US Marine Corps, to understand the dynamics of serving on a ship. “The chain of command on a Navy ship is crystal clear. Everyone knows their role and responsibilities and take heed to the voice of the captain, who gives out orders that get streamed down a line of officers and series of processes before an action is taken.” Just as the clear chain of command on the inside, the outside of the ship provides an equally assuring view of the horizon allowing the ship to scan the waters and skies for threats and opportunities, a luxury one doesn’t have in the jungle. In other words, maintain a sustainable and profitable growth.