What Sort of Business Are You Driving?
by Mike Harris
Is your business model fit for the race track or more at home dawdling on the A47, asks FEBE’s Mike Harris…
According to research described in the book Firms of Endearment (Sisodia, Wolfe & Sheth), businesses with a purpose beyond money actually make more cash than businesses that focus solely on the bottom line. Just look at Google, whose purpose is to organise the world’s information, or Apple, whose purpose is to make advanced technology usable by mere mortals. The leaders of these companies see business as a vehicle to get something done. In fact, almost every business has some sort of purpose beyond money, although some financial services businesses are an exception to this rule, but we won’t dwell on them as they don’t interest FEBE at all.
So, if almost all businesses are a vehicle to get something done, it’s important to design the vehicle so it’s fit for purpose. When we design a business vehicle we must consider how our products benefit our target customers and how well our processes, people and systems work to communicate and deliver a consistent and desirable brand experience that does what it says on the tin. And, of course, we must ensure that the basic economics work.
Many entrepreneurs give far too little attention to the design of their vehicle. When I look at their business designs, what comes to mind is a clapped-out Reliant Robin with “Trotters Independent Trading” written on the side. It’s slow, lacks power and reliability, it’s no fun to drive or travel in, and customers don’t want to be associated with it. I know these businesses will fail.
Then there are the businesses that remind me of a Ford Fiesta – perfectly serviceable but they don’t stand out from the crowd and the driving and travelling experience is ordinary. These businesses deliver ordinary results.
Then, just occasionally, I come across a business like a Mini that’s been tuned for performance and styled by the John Cooper works. These businesses get results fast, are fun to drive and customers love them. They can grow spectacularly and if the driver is up for it, can become global success stories.
To make that leap you have to produce a truly iconic design – one that not only stands out, but which is also a symbol of excellence to which others aspire. With our vehicle analogy we should think of businesses that feel like a Ferrari or an Aston Martin – they give an extraordinary driving experience, they outpace everything else on the road while remaining nimble and, of course, they are highly desirable to travel in.
Finally, we should mention the fate of all successful businesses – when they get really big they become a juggernaut: immensely powerful and able to crush anything in their path but not easy to change direction. The best large companies manage to create a fleet of Ferraris and Astons to travel alongside their juggernaut, thus getting the best of both worlds. (Google and Apple again, and the masters of the fleet – Virgin).
For most entrepreneurs, dealing with the challenge of driving a juggernaut is not something they worry about. However it’s no more of an effort to design a John Cooper Mini than it is to design to Fiesta or live with a Robin, so entrepreneurs who don’t worry about that are missing a big opportunity!