published on Monday, October 1, 2007 in The Miami Herald
Book advises on company growth spurts.
Success can be a problem for growing businesses, the author of 'No Man's Land' asserts, and he suggests how to avoid the pitfalls of being too big to be small.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
No Man's Land: What to Do When Your Company Is Too Big to Be Small but Too Small to Be Big. Doug Tatum. Portfolio. 256 pages.
According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, the rate of attrition among new companies is a startling 90 percent.
Only one out of ten startups survive? Many, of course, die because they are unsuccessful in their offerings or fail to get paid by customers, but according to a new book by Atlanta-based consultant Doug Tatum, quite a few of them perish because of their success. The problem, he says, is that they are too big to be small and too small to be big, and fail to get past the treacherous territory he calls ``no man's land.''
The opportunities that are presented to the stakeholders can make or break them personally but also present critical decisions that challenge the management's vision and mission for their company.
Tatum has devised an interesting and insightful set of tools for such an occasion and also demonstrates that he understands the personal toll such an opportunity takes. He writes: ``Perhaps you're leading a rapid-growth company. You're convinced of your firm's potential, yet, more than ever, you're confused. Although business was once booming, now momentum is slowing. New customers seem eager to buy what you're selling, yet you just can't get the people in your organization to support you as you make the commitments required to meet customer needs. Some of your key employees are exhausted and seem unhappy. The old rules no longer seem to work. You feel like the business is too big to be small and too small to be big. And you don't know what to do to make things better.
``Leading an emerging growth firm can be a trying experience, but the troubles entrepreneurs encounter are not fundamentally of their own making. Rather, they stem from external causes relating to the specific challenges of the No Man's Land transition. Just as teenagers pass through a period of pain and awkwardness to reach the relative stability of adulthood, so must rapidly growing firms tackle a series of difficult and potentially fatal challenges with which entrepreneurs themselves are unfamiliar.''
In addition to providing numerous case studies to illustrate his points, Tatum calls upon his own experience as founder of an executive consultant firm that grew rapidly in a fairly short time. He identifies four standards, which he calls ''The Four Ms'': Market, Management, Model and Money, then adds a fifth, Momentum. Nothing very earthshaking on the surface, of course, but he examines each element and how it applies to the business, its current challenge and what lies ahead. For example, will securing the financing necessary to handle more business require the founders to relinquish control of the company? How does that fit with their plans, personally and professionally? How will the employees feel about working for someone else?
This is definitely not a general-interest business book, and many readers might be envious of the problems resulting from too much success, rapid growth and seemingly endless opportunities. But Tatum is an interesting writer, and if one is starting a new venture, it's never a bad idea to be armed with the knowledge to handle most any circumstance. It's also wise to recall that what King Midas wished for seemed like a very good thing -- at first.
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