10 Ways to Keep the Startup Spirit Alive and Grow Business

They say that small business is the heart of the American economy, especially startups as exemplified by Facebook, Apple and even Google.

But what about those under the radar companies who once were startups and now have increased revenues and profits by 10% or more for ten consecutive years while growing bigger?

Photo Jason JenningsThat’s the subject of Jason Jennings’ Think Big Act Small – – How America’s Best-Performing Companies Keep The Startup Spirit Alive. Jennings also wrote the new The Reinventors and the successful Less Is More and Hit The Ground Running.

The nine companies featured in his book include Cabela’s, Dot Foods, Koch industries, Medline Industries, O’Reilly Automotive, PETCO, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-In and Strayer Education. Jennings has learned that their success is based on these building blocks, intrinsic within but not exclusive, to each organization. These leader quotes punctuate these lessons:

  1. Down to earth – – Each leader has the seven attributes: stewardship, transparency, accessibility, low-key demeanor, work ethic, stand for something and no superficial distinctions. Jennings found none of them to be celebrity CEOs. In fact, they were just the opposite — very humble people leading and managing equally humble enterprises.
  2. Keep your hands dirty – “Sometimes, I’ll put together a small team of programmers and we’ll code a rudimentary version of 1.0 of a new product idea.”  Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute.
  3. Make short-term goals and long-term horizons – “We’re not capital constrained and could grow faster, but our long-term vision for expansion is irrelevant if we lose focus of doing things right every day,” Cliff Hudson, CEO of Sonic Drive-In.
  4. Let go — “If something isn’t working, fix it, and if it can’t be fixed, then get rid of it.” Dennis Highby, CEO of Cabela’s.
  5. Have everyone think and act like the owner – “In a market economy, the decision-making ability naturally flows to people who create value and away from those who don’t, and thereby suffer losses.” Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries.
  6. Invent new businesses – “Our company wouldn’t be here today if we’d only stayed in our original business.” Pat Tracy, CEO of Dot Foods.
  7. Create win-win solutions – “We go in, show our customers how we’ll achieve their target savings on a line-by-line basis, agree to a penalty if we don’t and share any additional savings with them.” Charlie Mills, CEO of Medline Industries.
  8. Play your own game – “I tell our buyers not to buy it if Wal-Mart has it, or we’ll end up looking stupid.” Brian Devine, chairman of PETCO.
  9. Build communities – “Never underestimate the challenge of execution because that’s where a lot of organizations that seem to have everything on their side fall short.” Robert Silberman, chairman and CEO of Strayer Education.
  10. Grow future leaders – “Our future leaders are homegrown with experience and knowledge of the operation, a heavy dose of common sense, and a strong commitment to our culture.” David O’Reilly, chairman and former CEO of O’Reilly Automotive.

So, no matter how big or small you are, I know you will learn from Jennings and these bigger companies that have grown big by keeping their startup spirit alive.


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