A good friend, client, and TEC member, Tim Radtke, is the CEO/Founder of TSR Solutions in Milwaukee, WI. Tim has an excellent technology company and data center that helps companies create and sustain their critical technology infrastructure. The tagline for TSR is “Technology on Purpose.” Tim often jokes it should be “Technology on Purpose, Business by Accident.” Although Tim is kidding, he’s also spot on.
I am writing this from Scottsdale, AZ. I just met an interesting guy named Michael Levenberg, owner of American Buffalo Leather Furniture. He related a fascinating story on how his business came into existence.
Michael’s family operated a buffalo ranch in Colorado, but was economically compelled to literally thin their herd in the early 2000’s. (“Thinning the herd” is not a bad idea for any business, by the way.) Typically, the buffalo ranchers would butcher or sell off excess animals, and the resulting hides would end up in a landfill.
The Levenberg family had an interest in sustainability, and decided to use the whole animal. They started a meat business selling grass-fed buffalo meat; instead of disposing of the hides in a landfill, they had them tanned.
Still, what to do with the hides? The Levenbergs had guest cabins in Colorado with awesome Western furniture, so they contacted their furniture maker and asked him to make some chairs, sofas, and other pieces using the Buffalo hides — mostly custom for their guests. In the mid-2000’s, they opened a store in Scottsdale which has now developed a significant following. In fact, business is so good, they closed up the ranching part of their enterprise and are now entirely focused on growing the buffalo leather furniture business. Michael can tell you about every artisan whose pieces are displayed in his store because of the personal relationship he has built with each person while shepherding his family’s business strategy.
So what’s the point?
The point is many, many businesses start from an idea, but end up expanding in a totally different direction than originally intended. Often startup or early stage companies operate with a purely opportunistic business strategy. I once asked a business friend if he had a vertical category on which he focused. His response? “Whoever calls with money in hand.” So a strategy of “opportunity” can work for small companies and get them to a certain size — usually about $1-$2 million in revenue. And that’s pretty good.
If you get your business to $2 million in sales, you are in the upper 2% of all businesses in the United States. BUT, in the words of Jim Morrison, if you want to “break on through to the other side” and grow to $5 million, $10 million, $50 million or more, you are going to need to do a lot more than wait for whoever calls with money in hand. You’ll need to have a plan.
If you have never done a real business plan, strategic plan, or operating plan, here are a few pieces of reading homework to you get started:
- Go to the Harvard Business Review (hbr.com) and download Jim Collins’ excellent HBR whitepaper called Building Your Company’s Vision. It’s really the basis for all of the following books.
- Read either Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish or Scaling Up by Harnish.
- Read The Four Obsessions of and Extraordinary Leader by Patrick Lencioni and Lencioni’s The Advantage.
Once you have read these books and articles several times, you can decide if you are ready to move your organization to the next level. If not, it’s no problem. You will still be in the upper 2% of businesses in the U.S. you continue to execute well on your “opportunity” strategy. But if you really want to move your company forward, then you will need to work on your plan, your team, and your infrastructure.
It can be a lot of fun running a “Business by Accident.” But you can leave a lasting footprint if you create a “Business with a Purpose.”