The WSJ Interview By-Product

I got interviewed this last week by the (owned by / sister site of the WSJ) on “how I got here”. It’s one of my favorite articles to learn about other people and so I agreed to be interviewed. The journalist asked about “what’s next?” and it’s had me thinking (once again) about that question.
Should I grow the type of work by adding a new specialty, add more consulting talent, think about acquiring another firm or its assets, merge with a similar but more established good firm like Chasm, and the list goes on. The choices are many. People; clients, other CEOs, jealous grad-school buddies seeking a job & many others; have approached me for years to ask the “when are you getting bigger”, or, “are you growing fast enough”, & or, “you’re still just 6 core people, how do you plan on growing?”, “When will you begin to really grow the company”, “Why have you decided not to grow the company?”
For the first 7 years of Rubicon, I would probably mumble something in the hopes they heard what they wanted to, and would simply stop asking. I had no idea what size was “good”, whether we were “big enough” etc. Uggh, what a question! It’s equivalent I would think to being asked by others “when are you going to have another child?”. Yes, you have one but certainly you want more, is the inference. You must want more. More, more, more.
Now, in year 8 of leading Rubicon, I have an answer.
Well, I have a directional answer.
At the root of the question is what is right size and growth strategy for the company. People assume our size is not right. I get the perspective that many, many people believe that bigger is better, yet frankly I’m not convinced. No man-related joke here, but sometimes bigger is not better.
Here’s my answer to the question: I want to grow without “growing”.
What that means to me are things like this:
I never want to get so big that we take work for the sake of work.
I want all of Rubicon-ites to have a real joy and passion for what we do. The people who are here have to really love and really get strategy at the deepest level. I want our customers to get a group of people who like this strategy stuff enough to keep doing it for a while. We’re not just looking for the next gig or looking to land a gig at one of our clients.
I love the idea that when a client needs us again, we can effectively have enough context so we can add more value. We need to price and build the business so we’re around for round II of the market expansion plans.
I want us to keep advancing what we can offer. But not about “more”. Rather than doing more, I want to keep finding ways so we keep adding loads of value (and offload stupid costs).
I want to leverage the best of talent, every where.
I want our customer depth of relationship as well as base to keep growing.
Certainly, I want our revenues to keep growing. Because our value-add is growing.
I always want our customer satisfaction to stay high and if possible, grow!
I want us to create the right impact at the company, division, industry and perhaps even the personal level — such that they achieve the transformation they were seeking towards their goal.
I’ve intentionally set up our business so our headcount doesn’t need to grow linearly with our key business deliverables. We’ve been finding key parties that can help us scale without losing quality. We’ve been streamlining all the places in the business so we don’t waste our time and ask clients to pay for it. We make things clearer, simple, and thus we eliminate headaches on all sides. I want that to continue.
Our partnerships are growing. I wish I could announce a few but it always takes longer than I’d like. By setting up partnerships, I’m making sure to vet the right solutions and then do good handoffs to people who can really deliver with their model the highest value. There’s a firm out there than can create scalable readiness inside a firm by training and advising them to have one framework on how product management is done. That firm is one I want to highly recommend and leverage.
We could hire “business development” people to focus on the revenue side, or we could simply continue to deliver unbelievably strong strategy and ask our base of clients to refer us to people like them. I don’t want to spend in marketing or sales. I want to focus on doing great work and creating advocates. Passionate customers who really get the value we created for them will get us where we need to be. Create delighted customers and this will yield to great value over time, not just a quarterly or annual blip. And I would recommend that — if you are building a business — you realize you are going to make a series of choices about what is “enough” and what makes you “successful”. My advice: It’s important to distinguish the point of value-add and then to stay true to it.
Let’s be real about the tension all this creates. Do we need more people today? Absolutely. We could use another person or two right now, with a couple new capacities I’d like to see on our core team. But it’s okay to be stretched. At this point, you’re on the edge. And, the edge is where you are forced to be creative. It’s where your decisions are sharper and more informed. You make calls because you have to, not because they are convenient. “We can’t do this right now because that is more important.” Being at the limit forces you to think about value and we think that’s a great place to be.
It would be a little flippant to say I want to be the best in the category. And at one level it’s true. But it doesn’t capture the essence of we’re seeking.
This is the kind of growth I want: The kind that builds and maintains great value in the world. Value not just in money but in relationships, in the quality of ideas — the things that people remember for years and years. Enduring value kind of growth.
Hope your New Year is off to a great start.

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