Resilience. It’s an essential ingredient of small-business success. What can self-starters learn about resilience from startup companies that make an art form out of agility?
There’s something inherently optimistic about calling a business a startup. Business starts, business goes up. But that’s not how it always works.
Running a successful start-up requires something beyond a great concept and a capable team. Start-ups need resilience; the ingredient that keeps us going. Resilience is an inherent trait, but it’s also a skill that can be strengthened.
It’s often reported that only a minority of startups succeed long term. Those that do have sometimes failed but found a way to keep going. So, how do startups build and maintain organisational resilience?
Danny Gorog is the founder and chief executive of Snap Send Solve and the co-founder of Outware Mobile, which was sold to Melbourne IT in 2015. Gorog says he aimed to build resilience into all facets of his businesses, including his teams, finances, IT systems, sales practises and culture.
Always back it up
Gorog recalls a time when his Outware business was burgled and thieves took everyone’s laptops. But Outware had been using systems and procedures to pre-empt the worst.
“All of our stuff was in the cloud, it was all backed up,” he says.
“I bought 40 new laptops that day and everyone spent a day rebuilding their computer. Ultimately, it only cost us a couple of days of business.”
Money in the bank
To do this, Outware needed a resilient bank balance as well, the means to buy 40 new laptops on the spot. Gorog says this was a result of his past experience, with a previous business that was cash-poor.
“I just knew that after that business I didn’t ever want to be in a position where cash would be a constraint,” he says.
“When we set up Outware, we made a pretty conscientious decision that we would basically let cash accumulate in a bank account until we were at a stage where we had a reasonably predictable revenue stream.”
Is there someone in your organisation you’d be lost without? As touching as that idea might seem, it’s probably not a great indicator of resilience. People leave, so be ready to replace them if you need to.
“As you build a team, you need to have a deep bench. You need to have people who can step up if necessary,” Gorog says.
“Making sure you don’t have single points of failure in a business is super important.”
Entrepreneur Tobi Skovron tasted his first commercial success with Petloo, and now runs CreativeCubes; coworking spaces offering a collaborative community and services to other Melbourne entrepreneurs.
He says it’s critical in a start-up to ensure everyone on your team is sharing your vision. There should be no one just ‘clocking in and clocking out’.
“Resilience, to me, is maintaining focus on the end goal,” Skovron says.
“People think that starting a business means they go from the ground to level 100 and it’s a straight line. The reality is, it’s the furthest thing from a straight line.”
“You end up having to shift your frame of mind from: ‘Today’s going to be an amazing day, I run my own company!’ to: ‘If I can put out 10 of the 30 fires today, that’s a win’.”
Skovron is keen to mark the difference between resilience and resistance. Resilience is essential, but being resistant can be fatal to the business. Start-ups can have a vision, but if they don’t also respond to market demand they’re unlikely to succeed.
“You have to be like jelly, you have to sort of conform,” Skovron says.
“I’m insanely in love with what I do, but I’m also smart enough to know that my passion alone might not move the needle, I have to deliver a product that my customer really likes.”
Danny Gorog advises communicating openly with your team.
“I think if people understand that there’s a plan and there’s a path forward, they naturally become more resilient, they don’t crumble,” he says.
He’s never tracked ‘resilience’ as a metric, but has tracked ‘culture’.
“If your culture’s strong and people are engaged and they know what’s happening in the business, then you’re probably more resilient as a business.”
Keep on keeping on
“There’s so much against you when you’re starting your own business, you need a base level of resilience,” Gorog says.
Most times people will say no, but he says he has learned how not to take it personally and move on quickly.
Tobi Skovron says that when setbacks occurred he stayed focused on the goal and kept going.
“Failure is a bad thing if you don’t learn from it. But if you’re prepared to put your ego to one side, if you’re prepared to listen and learn, failure can be the greatest ingredient towards success.”
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