What a long, strange trip it’s been.

August 10th, 2011

CBI Group turns 10 this month. As the song goes, “what a long, strange trip it has been.” 10 was a great movie but I am no Bo Derek. 10 is the number of my favorite soccer player, my son Josh. And 10 is the number of the world’s best soccer player Messi, who Josh happens to idolize. 10 is an interesting number that is typically used in scoring to describe perfection. “The perfect 10” in gymnastics, for example.
Yet anyone that has started a business and decided to become their own boss would note that there is nothing perfect about running a company. It is an imperfect pursuit. It’s great fun and full of challenge, but far, far from perfect. I figured that I would share my reflections, musings and even some advice after having made it to the number 10.
First some interesting statistics about business and their longevity:

    69-70% make it to 2 years.

    49-51% make it to 5 years.

    34% of businesses make it to 10 years.

CBI Group is now a member of the 34% club. Does this make you wonder what happened to the other 66 out of 100 companies? I think I know. Here are 10 musings.

    Musing #1: Running a company is harder than it looks. Lets call it the “Expertise Paradox.” Starting a business requires skills and experiences beyond what most people have that attempt it. And maybe more importantly, few will put the sheer time and effort into their venture to overcome their deficiencies. Frankly most do not even figure out what their weaknesses are and their business simply fails. I am amazed at how much I have had to learn and change to be here today.
    Musing #2: Bigger is not Better. Better is better. Over the years I have changed my perspective on why my business exists. My business serves a need that exists in the marketplace but at times I have pursued growth as if growth were a game. Growth is important, without some growth you stand still — and as trite a statement as it is, your business will die without growth. But growth does not mean you are the best. So, in my tenth year, I pursue a slightly less serious, more fun positioning these days. Let’s have fun and be really good at what we do… and the rest will come.
    Musing #3: It takes just 1 degree difference to differentiate. It doesn’t matter what business. Nor what the competition is doing. It’s small, but 1 degree makes enough impact.
    Musing #4: You know you’re ready when you have run your business through periods of growth and recession. You really want to know if you have a good business? See if it is recession proof. Many of us have learned invaluable lessons in how we run things day-to-day that will make us stronger as the economy continues to improve
    Musing #5: Culture is really important. I have advised too many businesses to count. And sadly, culture is still an afterthought for so many companies. Culture is a company’s personality. Not focusing on the culture of your business is a missed opportunity to express yourself and attract like minded customers, employees, and vendors.
    Musing #6: Everything is temporary. My father reminded me that even after 27 years of being in business, not even his wife lasted working all of those years. When we are in the moment, we think that all of our relationships will last forever. But employees’ life situations are constantly changing. Have an open, honest environment that embraces that. It should be easy for folks to move on if they want.
    Musing #7: Building a sales engine is hard. Most people push sell and build that into their sales function. Try treating prospects they way you want customers to be treated. Solve problems first.
    Musing #8: Plan a sabbatical. I took one at five years for five weeks. The Blackberry did not even make the trip. And my company did fine in the short-term without me. I have great memories of camping all over the US with my family!
    Musing #9: Being an entrepreneur is like running a marathon while reading your smart phone. Silly, right? However making it ten years is a marathon. And don’t you always feel like as you are doing one thing, you are really on a bigger treadmill? While finishing something small like opening the mail or sending a much needed email gives you satisfaction, there is always something much bigger that needs attention. I feel like this all of the time. And I think I like it that way.
    Musing #10: I mentioned this one right in the beginning. Do not pursue perfection. Shoot for organized chaos. I have attempted many times to run a perfect company. And it does not guarantee success. Because something is always in need of a change. It could be strategy, or shift in marketplace conditions or economic information, or shifts in suppliers. The point is that it never stops. Some flaws are sexy. And only the right things need to work for a company to be successful.

Personally I have never believed in celebrating anniversaries. I was always taught that 10 years in business can mean slow moving, stodgy, behind the times, deadwood. I actually believe this and chuckle when marketing collateral brags about 10 years of experience. I am much more interested in today. I always have been.
I wonder if I could get 26 posts to this blog? Why 26 you might ask? That is the number of companies out of 100 that started 15 years ago and are still here today. CBI Group would like to get there too. You can help. Post.

7 Responses to “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Great blog! Congratulations CBI Group

  2. Chuck Says:

    Chris –

    It has been a long trip and a long time. Just stumbled onto this. Congrats on 10 years and I wish you all the best in the next 10!


  3. Martin Says:

    I remember the conversation we had a day prior to opening the business. You are living your dream and helping others reach theirs! Congrats to you and your team!!

  4. Kevin Says:

    Congrats Chris. I’ll be there with you shortly. It’s frightening that 10 years have gone by…..wasn’t it just Y2K yesterday ???

  5. Lucy O'Donnell Says:

    Wow! These musings are incredibly perceptive – they need to be published to an even broader audience! (and your dad always was a wise one – send him my best!)

  6. janeen Says:

    your insight is inspirational chris. thank you for sharing it, for hanging in there and working through the tough times and for taking 5 weeks off! you’ve managed to find some balance in the chaotic times. moderation in all things – including moderation. 🙂

  7. 15 things I learned over 15 years in business! | The CBI Group Says:

    […] if you’re interested, here are my 10 musings from our 10th anniversary in […]

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