The past few years have seen a huge shift in the business landscape. First was the pandemic, which forced every one of us to recognize and adapt a new way of work. Second is the huge surge in the number of successful startups, especially across Africa. This shows the number of challenges that entrepreneurs are solving across the business landscape, much more, it shows the amount of needs the established businesses weren’t covered before now. However, these unicorns will have some risks to deal with as time goes by – sustainable growth and stability.
Early-stage growth is quite normal for any startup that is meeting customer needs. This will get the funding rounds in and set such a startup on its path to becoming a company. Yes, being a startup is one stage in the company lifecycle and it can be quite exciting. The next phase however is the transition from that to a value-generating company. If you look at any large organisation in this age, most are faced with quite steady or even declining growth in the initial ideas they launched with. They have had to innovate continuously to stay relevant. Banking in Nigeria for example used to be a deposit game. Now it has evolved into different types of products.
What then do businesses need to ensure sustainable growth and stability? The important factor in this journey is to understand the capacity of your growth opportunities. If you have an addressable market of one million customers and you are currently serving 95% of the same market, it will be unrealistic to set a growth target of 20% without changing anything in your operations. At this point, most organisations must innovate to either increase the addressable market or improve the number of offerings to the same market. This is key. A lot of times, I have been in consultation with clients, and I hear them ask how they can grow a product they have been selling for more than a decade. My first question to them is always if the consumers need more than they consumed last year. In most cases, the people around the table can already tell where I am going with the conversation.
The ability to identify when any product or company is at capacity is one that most serial entrepreneurs have that separates them from the rest. This allows them room to think ahead of the curve and innovate the next phase of growth.
There are also a few things to keep your eye on while striving for sustainable growth and stability:
- Focus on people: it doesn’t matter if you are the next unicorn or only a small business, people will always give you wings if you carry them along and treat them with respect along your journey. There is a limit to what you alone can do. With the right people, you become invincible.
- Growth is about collaboration: Still in the vein of focusing on and leveraging the power of people, is the power of collaboration. The now popular saying that “collaboration is the new competition” couldn’t be any truer. Growth in itself is an expression of successful partnerships and collaboration. No one can grow alone. Imagine if you say I want to grow by 10x in the coming year. It also means that your vendors will have to develop the capacity to produce or supply 10x what they did the year prior. Your customers would have to grow by 10x, either by creating more partnerships or adding new products to existing lines. Your staff would also have to grow. The growth intention is one that is centered around partnerships and any business leader that is focused only on his/her organisation would only end up losing both their growth intentions and his partners eventually. So my advice to leaders would be to look at growth from a 360-degree view. Everyone in the circle wants to grow and one must consistently find a balance that eventually benefits you and your organisation.
- Reward is important: everyone has dreams. When you understand this and reward people properly, you would have solved a major problem very early in your journey. When you cannot afford someone and you want to bring them in, be sure they understand what you can offer and how that might not change in the near term. If they accept, treat them with respect but only the same way you would treat others.
- Understand that processes may not come at the same time or speed that growth is coming. As you grow and acquire experience, you will develop processes. I have seen this become an issue with a lot of smaller companies. There is an automatic assumption that the larger companies have it all figured out but this is not the case. In fact, most companies are constantly spending thousands and millions of dollars on consultation with process experts. In the early days of your business, focus on getting your product to the market, you are never going to stop worrying about processes. It is a lifelong problem. The more there are problems to solve, the more processes you will need.
- Create a thriving environment: Just like with plants, a thriving and enabling environment is critical for growth. As a leader, I have learned over time to be deliberate about maintaining a healthy work environment. Since the pandemic in 2020, everyone has been having a hard time, empathy in the workplace is critical. Sometimes, ask an employee or member of your team to close early or take the team out for a break if you feel they’re getting burnt out or just get a meeting-free day going.
Everyone in the team has to contribute to creating a great work environment. If you leave it to the leader alone, he may miss many details. If you leave it to the team, they may feel left behind and overworked.
Understanding the capacity of your product will go a long way in helping you develop benchmarks for your product and understand when to innovate or improve your offerings.
Azeez Amida is a business executive and growthpreneur with 2 decades of experience, Amida helps career professionals, entrepreneurs and corporate brands to improve their processes and grow exponentially. He is currently the CEO of Pan African Towers. Connect with him on social media, @azeezamida