Sim and I recently saw the movie “The Intern” with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro. It was an enjoyable movie about a girl who’s tech/fashion business took off in the span of 18 months to have 220 employees. That insane growth was fueled by venture capitalist money. She put her heart and soul into the company, and got her hands dirty in every part of the business. Not to mention she was working a lot! This all sounds very familiar to me, and if you happen to be an entrepreneur.
The plot thickened when her investors recommended she hire a CEO. Sim and I thought early on that we may need to do this. I mean we didn’t know much about running a business, let alone running a manufacturing plant. One of our clients, and mentor, hired a great CEO and it took his business to the next level. They went on to break 250 million dollars in sales last year.
And the work load has been intense, to put it lightly. In our second year, sales grew 440%, third year was 770%. That’s pretty steep and a little out of control, especially when you are learning a lot of it as you go. We learned so much by making costly mistakes. Add in working 60, 70, 100 hours weeks, and we found ourselves longing for help! Maybe somebody can take this over for us and we can go on vacation forever…
So Hathaway’s character was struggling with the idea of this. She would be effectively hiring her boss. I found what makes these companies “take off”, is somebody who had a great idea, saw it through, and is in the day to day business. The company is an extension of their life and values. And it works. Now I suppose it’s possible to find a CEO that embodies the core values of the company. But it’s about as possible as finding your soulmate. Business and partners is like a marriage. And that is not an easy thing. I happen to be married to my business partner which has been an adventure in itself, to say the least.
Fast forward 4 years, and we think we found somebody to manage our business. Or rather, that person found us. We tried it out, but after several months, it exploded in our faces. This person, didn’t embody our values, and our employees let us know. Boy did they let us know. We had a mutiny one day! Basically employees were going to walk out because Vintage had changed so much. They didn’t love to come to work anymore, and they didn’t feel appreciated.
But our numbers were shaping up and making more sense. We had projections, budgets, graphs, clear growth, but at what cost? We thought this was what we wanted. But after some heated talks with the employees, realized it wasn’t about the numbers. We love this business because of the people and the connections with them.
During that period when the manager was running things, Sim and I took some time off work. She had been getting increasingly sick for the last 10 years. We believed we figured out why, and she had two surgeries to remove a bone infection in her jaw. When she returned to work, she realized something was wrong with our business. Fortunately, a couple of our guys let us know what was going on, so we could probe deeper.
I think this happens to most businesses that grow. Somebody pours their heart and soul into the company, it thrives, and a numbers person with a fancy resume ends up taking it over and removing the soul from it. I mean how many companies have gone from awesome when they were small, to all about the money, then quality and service takes a backseat. How do you grow large, keep quality and service up, and keep employees happy? Did you know that when a company goes public and has stock, investors demand growth every quarter? And your stock goes up usually only if you exceed your growth estimates? No thank you!
We’re not a large company yet. It’s not my goal to get there anymore. We’re a small Mom and Pop, and I love it. If demand increases, we’ll think about growing some more. But there is something to be said for running a manageable business. So for now, Sim and I are playing the CEO, COO, CFO, Designer, Marketer, and occasional janitor. But we prefer to call ourselves Co-Owners.