Improving on the last 5 years
Ian Dyason . 5 March 2021.
We are into our introspective journey at GCA. Having celebrated our 5 Years' anniversary last week, I took a short tour into the highlights of the past five years and published the key things we had done well in my previously post. This week, I continue on this journey by looking at what we hadn't done so well, and the lessons these bring for us. I hope that by being open on our shortcomings, we can learn from them so that we don't repeat them as we move into the next 5 years. So here they are... the things we did over the last 5 years where we could have done better and resolve to learn from them...
If the business volume is not high enough to support a larger headcount, then, we cannot hire. But when we do not hire enough of the right people, for example business development, then we will will not be able to build more revenue. So it is a vicious cycle.
A friend of mine commented on LinkedIn last month that resource - or the lack thereof, more accurately - is the KEY reason why a business will fail. I don't disagree. Resource is so important and one cannot start up without doing his/her sums 10 times, and then 10 times over. The worst thing that can happen to a business is to have a winning product or service, but no resources to bring them, or sustain them, in the market. By resources, I don't just mean capital; although with enough capital, we can overcome many other resource issues. But resources also refer to knowledge, manpower (referred to as capability and capacity), time, technology and real estate. While some of these will impact your business more than others, all of them are important considerations. Over the past 5 years, we have had to test our business to ensure that it can support a higher resource level. (In fact, we are constantly testing our business to ensure that we have a viable on-going concern!) Getting capital is one issue, but spending that capital to create more is another! If the business volume is not high enough to support a larger headcount, then, we cannot hire. But when we do not hire enough of the right people, for example business development, then we will will not be able to build more revenue. So it is a vicious cycle. In our case, what we did poorly, is started small. We injected just enough capital to keep it chugging along, but perhaps not enough to take great leaps. Such is the bootstrapping methodology. While I swear by bootstrapping, it may sometimes confine us to playing the small game.
And this brings me to the next point...
2. Too conservative
If there is anything I can learn from this, is to bite the bullet sooner! You might think that someone with more than 20 years of entrepreneurship experience would know this, right?
Since every dollar came from my pocket, I tended to be more conservative. I tried to take it slowly and built every dollar upon the other. While this is prudent, it is also very slow. In systems thinking, we know that what goes around comes around. If you drip drop the support, business will also be dripped-dropped! It is easy for us to exhort others to take risks when it is not our resources; but when you are the one who is supplying the resources, you suddenly become risk averse! It is difficult to divorce personal feelings from professional decisions when the cost of your decisions will impact your personal life! And yet, these conservative decisions serve to hold back the business, not advance it. If only we had a way to devolve emotion from logic! Even when I facilitate strategic decisions, and give people an unfiltered analysis of the decision as an outsider, I fall for the same problems when it is my turn to make those decisions! Fortunately, the business has turned a corner and we are now able to take more risks and hire more people. And with that, growth begets growth. It would be so much easier if we knew this in the beginning and took that leap then! But since we cannot tell the future, we tend to be more conservative. If there is anything I can learn from this, is to bite the bullet sooner! You might think that someone with more than 20 years of entrepreneurship experience would know this, right?
3. Greater sense of urgency
I am putting pressure back on the business so that we are at the precipice of failure! And in that position, we become alive! We think of new and novel ideas because it is now existential. We take more risks and we come up - hopefully - on top!
In last week's post, I shared that having been at SCALA was good since it had also been able to help me conserve capital. But having had that luxury, I suddenly lost focus for GCA (I was putting all my energies into SCALA, also a startup). I didn't take risks for GCA. I didn't hire. I didn't do business development. Because I didn't have to. There was no more sense of urgency because going to SCALA allowed me to hit almost all my Marlow's needs! I could actually just have remained at SCALA and not bothered about GCA and retired well and happy! But that would not have been fair to 5DGM! That would have sold out on GCA and the vision we created when we started the company! It would have negated all the efforts of the almost 100 people who participated in the research if we abandoned it. So I kept GCA on life support; maintaining what needed to be maintained, but no more. On hindsight, I could have done better with a greater sense of urgency! If the business was one step away from failure, it would have done so much better. It would have fought for every business, and scrapped for every opportunity. This is a strange twist of fate - we are creative and hungry when we have one foot in the grave; but when we are comfortable, we forget all that and live in ignorant bliss! Unfortunately, that is precisely the opposite of what a business needs! So right now, I am hiring more staff for the business. I am putting pressure back on the business so that we are at the precipice of failure! And in that position, we become alive! We think of new and novel ideas because it is now existential. We take more risks and we come up - hopefully - on top!
4. Putting the word out more
This is no time to be bashful about what you can do for your clients because no one will speak up for you, even if you are the best thing next to sliced bread!
I grew up on the notion that it is rude to blow your own trumpet (Yes! I am THAT old!). I grew up thinking that if you are good, you don't have to draw attention to it; people will see. Unfortunately, the world has changed and the rules have changed. If we don't blow our own trumpet, we are losing out to those who do but don't have anything real to show for it! This is the age of social media, where people's "perfect lives" are constantly on display! 24/7!! Yet, we all know that this is a facade, it is not the true picture. But tell that to the 3 billion people on social who gush at every pic and like every comment! We now judge ourselves based on the number of likes we get, even if these likes don't translate to ANYTHING! So on the back of so much attention, imagine what will happen to a business that eschews such self-promotion! That business will fall into oblivion; as we had. I had foolishly thought that my work, my research, my blogs were enough! Maybe they were 30 years ago; but not now! No one cares how great your product is, how smart you are, how much effort you put into your product! They only care how well you connect with them; how well you sell yourself; how well you put the word out!! You have to sing praises of yourself because no one will! This is no time to be bashful about what you can do for your clients because no one will speak up for you, even if you are the best thing next to sliced bread! It is time for us to put the word out more!
5. Letting go of control
I have certified other trainers to run with the content. It may not have the quality and history I bring to the programmes, but it does have something else - the quality and intellect that other trainers add to the content! So 1 + 1 = 3+!
It is difficult to be a Founder, because in order to grow, you need to give up control. And that is precisely what did NOT happen - not in the first 4 years of GCA, at least! Because I wanted to maintain the integrity, the quality and the intellectual robustness of the programs, I was not open to the idea of allowing anyone else to touch the 5DGM. I had to administer it, report on it, and then train on it! No one else! While this is good for quality control, it is bad for scalability. Nothing can happen if I was not involved in it, and I was seldom involved in it! In fact, being in Qatar, if I held on tightly to controls, it would be a sure recipe for business failure! If I was not willing to let go of the controls of the programmes, and allow some level of quality to slip, there will not be any growth. Fortunately we are no longer there; I have given up a lot of the control of the business. I have conducted Train the Trainers, and I have certified other trainers to run with the content. It may not have the quality and history I bring to the programmes, but it does have something else - the quality and intellect that other trainers add to the content! So 1 + 1 = 3+! (That's synergy!) There had been a need for me to let go of control of the content and the business, to create more than the sum of the parts; and I have! These days, I am not involved in the running of the business and the delivery of the solutions. I only create new intellectual property! In that way, I let the professionals get on with their work, as I get on with mine!
6. Embrace more technology
We now need to embrace more technology to create content that is both engaging and relevant to our learners; because that is what is expected!
It is strange that GCA first began life by offering many programs - including Embracing the Growth Mindset - via e-learning! We had created so much content using SCORM, and uploaded it onto our own LMS... and waited for customers to bite. It was only last year that we shut down our LMS... after ZERO revenue from e-learning! Well, this is not surprising because we are in the B2B market, whereas e-learning best serves the B2C market! And let's face it - not many people want to spend hours online learning something that they MIGHT need! So our initial business model failed! Yet.... technology-driven training is even more important these days than then. With Covid19, we are now forced to go back to technology backed training; but it is the synchronous (live) training method, and not asynchronous (recorded) training, that is catching on. Over the course of the years running training, we are VERY good at our face-to-face programs! We score an average of about 6.5 out of 7 for our face-to-face training effectiveness. However, we have failed miserably in our online delivery of content. We have not delivered the same engagement level online as we can face-to-face. We have not been able to adopt the technologies that have been rampant during these times to connect with our learners. We have been sitting very comfortably on our face-to-face delivery methods so much so that we had completely ignored the online learning methodologies. Before Covid19, that was fine. But after Covid, that is now a hindrance. We now need to embrace more technology to create content that is both engaging and relevant to our learners; because that is what is expected! There is now an urgent need to create engaging, online learning methodologies for our programmes to remain relevant with the environment!
Securing the next five!
therein lies the beauty of the growth mindset! We don't have to discard our past experience; we just make use of what is relevant - and if it isn't, we create new ones!
We fell quite a bit along the way over these past 5 years, but we are getting better. Running a training company 20 years ago is so much different from today, and we need to adapt to changes. What worked then may not really work today, although we need to test which does and which doesn't. And therein lies the beauty of the growth mindset! We don't have to discard our past experience; we just make use of what is relevant - and if it isn't, we create new ones! And with new experience, we learn, we adapt, and we grow. And that is PRECISELY the position we need to be to secure the next 5 years!
Looking forward to an exciting next lap for GCA! Please join us for this fantastic journey!