What do all of the most dynamic 21st Century entrepreneurial companies have in common? They:
1. Pursue Global Markets
2. Place Corporate Culture Above All Else
3. Embrace the Black Swan Both Within and Without
1. Pursue Global Markets. If you don’t have a business that can scale globally, then either don’t bother or just content yourself with staying small.
Try these statistics on for size, from 1999 to today Asia’s share of the world’s Initial Public Offerings grew from 12% to 66%.
In that same time frame, United States IPO volume declined 75% in real terms and now accounts for less than 11% of the global total. 7 Companies in China have raised more than $1 billion in an IPO this year. In the U.S. so far, no company has raised more than $700 million and it is somewhat of a sad commentary that the biggest U.S. IPO by far this year will be the government ward General Motors.
And with their capital and confidence, China and India are stretching their wings. Since 2005, they have been the two leading investors in Africa, investing $31 billion and $16 billion on the continent, respectively.
Why? Well, McKinsey estimates that consumer spending in Africa will double, to $1.8 trillion, by 2020, equivalent to bringing a whole new market the size of Brazil online.
China. India. Brazil. Africa. This is where the growth action is, and while the first reaction of Americans is to feel as if we’re being left out of the game, the RIGHT reaction should be WOW. These are fantastic new markets for U.S. goods and services, especially services, and they are expanding in aggregate at a rate that even 10% U.S. domestic GNP growth couldn’t touch.
Action Point: Core to every strategic session for any company of ambition should include these simple questions:
• What is your China strategy? Your India strategy?
• How easy / possible is it for global customers to buy your product – to purchase your service?
• How can they find you? How do you market to them?
• How / must your business model evolve to leverage these new opportunities?
2. Place Culture Above All Else. Modern business, shaped by technology, is increasingly diverging to two nodes – on the one hand to great size quickly (see Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, et al.) and on the other hand, to corporations of one, to the so-called Free Agent Nation.
The tools of collaboration and connectivity –mobile always-on Internet, cloud productivity applications like Google Apps, Basecamp, Salesforce and Skype – are so good that the natural devolution is to a BREAKUP of the corporate form and to everyone working for themselves, by themselves.
Now except for the very fortunate few (see Google et al. above), almost everyone else is left with the challenge of how to get to scale and once there how to maintain it.
This is HARD. In a world where ideas and technologies and business models and even intellectual property (sad but true) can be copied and undercut worldwide at the speed of a mouse click, what can any company really hold onto?
The answer is corporate culture. There is no one size fits all answer as to what the “right” corporate culture is. Successful cultures are as disparate as General Electric’s famously formulaic one, to Zappos’, Virgin’s, and Mind Valley’s irreverent, almost carefree approaches.
But a few constants remain. A strong results and metrics-focused approach. A vigilant commitment to ethics and integrity. And an environment that encourages and demands learning and constant improvement of people and processes.
The great thing is that via the Internet we CAN copy the principles of the best of them – Zappos’ and Mind Valley’s and scores of others are online for all to see. While the principles of course are NOT the culture itself (wouldn’t it be nice if it was that easy?) they ARE signposts as to what is possible.
3. Embrace the Black Swan Both Within and Without. At the core of modern entrepreneurship is the sometimes seemingly mystical precepts of The Black Swan.
The concept of The Black Swan was popularized by the great Lebanese thinker and writer Nicholas Taleb in his bestseller of the same name. He describes it best:
"What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."
Taleb continues, "I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives."
Bringing it to October 2010, who would have thunk it that a) the fastest growing company in the world is built on the simple premise of 140-character messaging b) that a computer company left for dead 8 short years ago would now have the dominant position in music and telecommunications and c) that one of the greatest angel investments of the past 10 years would be for a prepaid debit card business?
The answer: Nobody. And more importantly, the phenomenons of Twitter, of Apple. and of Green Dot CANNOT be retroactively analyzed for guidance as to what the next new thing will be.
What to do with this? Two ideas:
a) Bet on the Unexpected. Check your ego firmly at the door when evaluating business models. Accept that you (and everyone) for that matter KNOWS NOTHING about what the future will hold other than the fact that we don't know what the future will hold.
That is philosophy - here is money-making: The big outlier events - the 10 to 1 shots and beyond - are UNDER-PRICED in the marketplace. Bet on them.
2) Allow Serendipity To Do Its Work. Startups intuitively get the idea of creating new business models as part of their mission. But this lightness disappears quickly.
The Black Swan teaches us that what we have done to date, what has worked to date, is probably NOT what we will be doing, what will be working in the future.
And where does The Black Swan point us to find the wisdom as to what to do? Well, as much from outside the formal strategic planning process as from within.
As Taleb says, from conferences, from parties. From chance encounters. From being open to ideas, people and things outside of the normal box.
Incorporate these Black Swan elements into a dynamic corporate culture, cultivate and ACT upon the global view, and let the magic happen.
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