How to build a startup that lasts

Inspired by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s research of “visionary companies” that endured over 50 years, in the book Built to Last.

This is what I’ve learned;

Companies that lasted, succeeded at that not because of focusing on maximizing profits, growth or shareholder wealth, but by having a deep commitment to a set of core values that provided them, the company, with a sense of purpose – clarity and understanding on the role they played in society and how they created value for others. 

Their organizational values served as conscience to provide guidance not only on what to pursue but also what not to do.

In essence, they put mission before profits. 

NB: Being mission driven doesn’t mean you’re less of a business (or you lack business acumen), or you are not making money. 

Here are my takes on what it will take to make your startup last – to survive beyond the notorious first 3 years:

  1. The ability to execute beyond honeymoon.

To stay in business, startups (their managers) must not be seduced by one trick ponies – one big contract. Do not camp after first win. Moments pass. Life continues. You need to have the ability to keep them honeymoon moments coming. Waiting for the next tender is not the right foundation to build the future of your business on.

2. Moving from thee founder to employee. 

Most people when asked why they opted for entrepreneurship they say “I wanted to be my own boss” – they want to call the shots.

It’s nice to call the shots. However, if you’re too married to the title of CEO/Founder on your business card and you still say MY and not our, you’ll drive your startup to the valley -not Silicon Valley but the valley of death.

As a founder you have a vision, and you will need a team to work on that vision. If you are to unleash productivity from your team, you’ll need to involve them. Make them feel at home. They need to belong. They must know the vision is OURS and not yours.

Invest in them. And build a team of effective leaders. 

3. Endurance and Resilience

The economic climate keeps changing, the market is ever changing and the human in the leader and team is prone to giving up. 

Do not listen to the Instagram entrepreneurs that sell entrepreneurship like it’s a microwave that would make you R100 within 3 minutes – try 3 years!

Building a (lasting) business is hard, no need to romanticize it. It will take an emotional toll on, and you WILL feel like throwing it all away or opting for quick fixes like going against your values.

For your business to last, it depends on your ability to endure the hurdles and navigate the detours. You need a strong spirit to keep at it. 

4. Clear, sustainable and profitable business model

You don’t stay in business by chance – you must earn your economic right to exist.

What value are creating – what’s the solution your solving – what’s the pain you’re relieving?

Is your value/solution sustainable?

Is your business model able to generate enough money to cover all the expenses of creating and delivering that value, and leave you with considerable profits?

NB : The why – the value you’re bring into the ecosystem, is what will keep you in business. 

I hope this will help you as the founding member/company owner, to really think and make decisions on whether you’re willing to pay the price to keep your business in business. It’s all on you.