When a business is launched, it is through the energy of the founding group. With no reputation, limited resources and often an industry filled with established, better-resourced competition, the burgeoning company is forced to do whatever it can to grow, innovate and differentiates itself. You grow the business with energy and tenacity.

The Three Founder – Two Others, and You

One goal – grow the business. Products are launched, campaigns are developed with reckless abandon, and often sacred cows within the industry or specific businesses are targeted for criticism. The founders stake their claim as being different, or better than everyone else through continued, focused and fearless attack on the industry and those it serves. Products continue to be fed to the market, advertising campaigns gain momentum, and an ethos is formed, resonating with prospects, who recognise the value being created by this new and exciting organisation.

Growth increases, as a critical mass of clients begin talking about their experience with this business which values its clients, and continues to innovate, fight for market share and regards each sale as valuable. Those clients feel like they are helping shape products and are a part of something much larger than simply paying someone to perform a service, or in exchange for a product. Communication between founders, the business, and clients is a fluid and regular occurrence, and as you grow the business, the clients are right there, understanding developments, contributing to innovations and participating as valued partners.

High-value talent targets also transition to the organisation, enticed by the excitement of being involved in something special, which people are talking about. They bring with them best practice and cutting-edge innovations, predicated on evidence and taken from the laboratory of those who have gone beforecompetitors and innovators.

Investors become interested, offering pathways to growth, ways to scale the organisation and move into new countries, tap into other markets and access resources previously unthinkable. Capital is invested, spent and lines of credit are created in order to sustain the exponential growth path.

Management structures are put in place to ensure the continuity of growth. Experienced administrators create systems and structures around each role, along with explanations as to how individuals within the organisation should behave, standards that should be adhered to and minimum performance standards are introduced.

When you started to grow the business, there was exponential growth, which now slows to solid growth, and, as the attitude of the organisation shifts from creating new innovations worthy of attracting the best clients, to building trusted partnerships with the larger clients on whom cash flow has become reliant, new ideas and projects are shelved in order to adhere to current industry standards, attempting to out-imitate the competition, or do some things, slightly better.

Salaries increase, long-term stock options are offered to employees seen as valuable for sustainable growth, and those involved in projects deemed to be important or of value from a public relations standpoint. Entrepreneurial managers are removed in favour of experienced and mature practitioners who can appreciate the importance of sustainability over action.

The business is sold, having been split into several divisions. The original founders leave, feeling like they should be happy with their substantial payouts, but instead experiencing a sense of emptiness as a result of being rich, but having had to sell their heart and soul in order to do it.

Over a coffee a few months later they discuss where there have been spending their windfall, and what they would do differently if they could go back to the beginning.

“It was fun back when we started,” says one. “It was so much fun, and seemed to have a life of its own.”

“Yeah, I feel like we lost that when we decided we needed to move from being a bunch of people making awesome stuff, to being a business,” says another. “I mean, I’m not sure what any of us gained out of thatother than not having to do what we love quite as much.

“Come to think of it,” said the founder who came up with the original concept. “All I ever wanted was to do what we were doing before we let other people dictate rules.”

The founders agree that they will never make the same mistake again. Now well-known, they start new businesses, attempting to get back that feeling of being a start-up. The problem, they recognise early, is that there is no urgency. Their businesses have plenty of money, and whatever they need is readily available, in the form of employees, marketing budgets, advisors and industry experts. They look longingly at start-ups that are seen to be under-resourced, but are still fighting with multinational corporations, and are innovating, creating and winning some battles.

The founders learn that the critical element of genuine innovation is necessity. Having less than is seen to be required, forces entrepreneurs to think, fight and go on the offensive; something they are more than prepared to do, due to a lack of reputation. They have nothing to lose. A plan to grow the business, turned into letting it take on a life of it’s own.

The founders realised that they had their chance and traded in their passion for money. They sold a part of themselves, not only the business, but their own identity as thinkers, fighters and innovators. They have become another success story, and too late they learned that success is dictated by others, and is a circumstance they cannot repair.

Ten years later they meet up again, and this time or have a clear understanding as to where things went wrong, and what they should have done.

“I always thought of growth and aggressive business practice as a short-term necessity,” says one. “If I stopped and thought about that at the time, I would have understood that we only have a short amount of time on earth, and having fun, thinking, and coming up with new ideas is what I love doing. We should have just kept doing that, and ignored the investors, managers and experts.

“We were told what we should want, and that’s what we went after,” says another.

All agree that their children will learn from their mistakes.

“My kids are going to understand the importance of doing something you love, not just cashing out in order to do what you want; because when you think about it, you already are,” says the former head of finance. “Grow the business, then forgive it for not being perfect. That’s what we should have done.”

All agree it was fun while it lasted, and to teach the kids that listening to your own instincts, even at the expense of an expert’s opinion, is the most important thing a genuine innovator could ever do.