The feeling that we were on the edge of Great Depression II was inescapable. The fear was palpable.
And then I get an e-mail from my editor at SUCCESS asking me to do a story on four entrepreneurs who have what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called, “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” for 2009. Suddenly, I felt much better, remembering that we entrepreneurs are a different breed of cat. Sure, the Dow Jones might be tanking, but that does not mean that there still aren’t many great businesses out there doing just fine, headed by visionary CEOs with even bigger and bolder plans for next year, thank you very much.
As the business columnist for USATODAY.com and the author of The Small Business Bible, I speak with entrepreneurs every day, and what I know is that good ideas are fungible; they can be shared, spread around and used by many people. If these supersuccessful entrepreneurs can dream big for next year, so can (and should) you.
So let’s take a gander at four entrepreneurs who have Big, Hairy Audacious Goals for 2009.
THE SWEET SPOT
Daniel Khabie is the CEO of Digitaria, a company he helped found in 1997 to do nothing less than “reinvent the digital marketplace.” (Yep, like any good entrepreneur, Khabie had Big, Hairy Goals from the get-go.)
Back then, that meant creating a better desktop experience. But Khabie was savvy and fortunate enough to pick the right business at the right time: It wasn’t long after Digitaria’s startup phase ended that the digital world changed radically, and for the better, with mobile and Internet options exploding.
So these days, Digitaria finds itself in the sweet spot, helping customers like Adidas Golf, Sony and Bravo TV capitalize on the multitude of new media options out there, like online social networking, Web site widgets, video, online marketing and so on.
It should be no surprise that the company has had three straight years of 100 percent growth and looks to exceed $14 million in sales this year. Continuing that streak tops Khabie’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for 2009: to reach $20 million in revenue.
What’s interesting is that he has three subgoals, all designed to help Digitaria reach that Big Goal:
- To expand domestically and internationally by opening offices in New York, the Midwest and Asia;
- To increase revenue by one-third with Digitaria’s software business; and
- To continue its path of acquiring traditional media, as it did this year when it bought an ad agency.
Khabie is a big believer in setting Big Goals, given that it’s been instrumental in his company’s growth. One of the most important earlier goals was to create a platform and related software that would allow the company to objectively analyze its performance. By combining sales data, customer satisfaction, utilization rates, etc., Digitaria can easily analyze the business to see what works and what doesn’t.
The upshot is that accomplishing smaller goals becomes the foundation for shooting for bigger ones.
Khabie is mindful of some other factors, too. “In a tough economy, the key is to watch your cash and over-service your clients,” he says. “We can hit our goals and succeed only when we help our customers reach their goals.”
OUT OF THE RUBBLE
For seven years, we’ve all been watching Vincent Parziale work, but didn’t know it. Parziale is the owner of The Gramercy Group, a construction, demolition and asbestos-remediation company that’s poised to do $50 million in business this year.
While his company typically works on about 20 projects a year, the most famous is the one we have all witnessed: assisting in the cleanup of Ground Zero at the former World Trade Center.
Considering he started the business less than a decade ago as a part-time weekend venture, being part of such cant undertaking is no small feat.
In 1999, Parziale sold a small garbage company began The Gramercy Group. Because of a noncompete the new owners, he was looking for a different when he was offered a contract to do some demolition
“I’d always been intrigued by it,” he tells Who doesn’t find watching buildings rhythmically fascinating?) And given that he had an asbestos-remediation background, he was able to quickly create unique company; one that could offer a one-stopshop solution to its customers: asbestos removal, demolition, and soil and site remediation all in one. A client could hire Gramercy and get a clean site, ready for building, without all the hassle of dealing with multiple contractors and subcontractors. A mini-empire was born.
Becoming a $50 million company was The Gramercy Group’s previous Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. “Big goals have always been a part of our business,” Parziale says.
But having the goal wasn’t enough; the company got there by taking action, specifically increasing its bonding and banking capacity. Once the company did that, it could bid on, and get, much larger projects like the World Trade Center.
Along the way, the company made sure to focus on the fundamentals: “We grew as big and as fast as we did because we do great work, we know our business, we are sticklers about safety, and we come in on time and on budget,” Parziale says.
His Big Goals for 2009 are no less ambitious. Taking the changing economy into account, Parziale plans to do what any good entrepreneur should do when the market changes—namely, he is going to create additional profit centers.
Think of it this way: An investor would never own just one stock. That stock may go up, or (as we all know only too well!) it may go down. Having a broad portfolio helps you spread the risk around.
Well, that’s what additional profit centers do for a business. Instead of relying on but one way to make a buck, an increased number of profit centers mean there are several sources for generating revenue. Starbucks sells coffee in the winter, slushy Frappucinos in the summer, snacks in between and music year round. They are all different profi t centers.
So that’?s what Parziale plans on doing in 2009. For example, instead of simply relying on the tri-state New York area that is his base, he plans to take his company national. By marketing his business throughout the country, and specifically to Fortune 500 companies, Parziale figures he can continue his dramatic growth.
Staying in Constant Contact
When you receive a professional, elegant looking e-newsletter, you likely have Gail Goodman to thank. Goodman is the president and CEO of Constant Contact, a dot-com company that offers small businesses a variety of easy and affordable tools allowing them to stay in, well, constant contact with their own customers and clients.
Whether it’s e-mail marketing, online surveys, e-newsletters or what have you, Constant Contact endeavors to give small-business people the tools they need to create ongoing and significant customer relationships. Goodman says the purpose is nothing less than to make their small-business customers “wildly successful.”
The company has come a long way since its founding nine years ago when it had no customers and no revenue. Today, it has more than 200,000 customers and is adding 20,000 more every quarter. In 2007, Constant Contact completed an IPO, and shares of its common stock began trading on the NASDAQ (symbol: CTCT).
Given the emphasis on and commitment to small business, it’s no surprise that Goodman’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for 2009 has to do with making her customers more successful. “My goal,” she tells me, “is to not only help our hundreds of thousands of smallbusiness customers survive in this tough economy, but thrive.”
Goodman knows that by helping her small-business customers communicate better with their customers, everyone wins. That’s why she plans to continue to reach them with what she calls her core message right now: Your best prospects are your current customers. If you treat them right, if you stay in contact with them via e-mail, you will create a loyal fan base that will help you thrive during these tough times.
Goodman is taking several significant steps to implement her vision:
- Constant Contact regional directors are increasing the number of free seminars they offer;
- The company has partnered with SCORE and various Small Business Development Centers; and
- It’s also using traditional media (like radio) to reach and increase its customer base and revenue.
“In rocky economic times, small businesses have a huge advantage,” Goodman says, “namely, human touch and better relationships.”
By continually trying to “delight the customer” and by showing those customers how to delight their own customers, Goodman and Constant Contact seem well poised to meet their 2009 BHAG.
TURNING $149 INTO $35 MILLION
In 1989, Kaizad “Kaiser” Hansotia was traveling through India when a unique opportunity arose: He was offered the chance to purchase a historic brand and business, Gurkha Cigars. The Gurkha legacy dates to the height of the British Empire, when England ruled India and British soldiers began making their own cigars, named Gurkhas. Not a bad $149 investment in 1989, not at all.
Although Hansotia bought a great brand name, he knew he needed a cigar worthy of the lineage, so he began to work with partners to create a premium cigar and blend. The new Gurkha cigar was reborn.
Not content with creating what he called “the Rolls-Royce of Cigars,” Hansotia took his desire to create the world’s best cigar one step further by creating cigar boxes that would be as prized as the cigars themselves. And thus, for example, the 2007 limited Black Dragon collection (only five cases of 100 ultrapremium cigars offered and sold) came in a camel bone humidor.
Hansotia is a stickler when it comes to his beloved cigars, selling them in only about 1,000 of the roughly 4,000 tobacco shops in the country, even though he could probably sell them in every one if he so desired. The stores he chooses to work with have been hand-selected, and he takes his relationships with these customers very seriously.
As such, Hansotia’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for 2009 is one that any entrepreneur in this economy could relate to: He plans to strengthen his relationships with his current customers. He doesn’t want or need more stores, he doesn’t want more volume. He wants better distribution and better execution and deeper relationships with his current customers. “We could double sales in 10 minutes if we wanted to,” he tells me, “but we are committed to quality and like to build our business and brand slowly, a store at a time.”
That is how you create a $35 million company from a $149 investment.
In a competitive retail world like that in which Gurkha deals, this makes a lot of sense. Hansotia says Gurkha is willing to do whatever is necessary to strengthen its relationships with its cigar store clientele. “Our stores are our partners,” he says. If that means building the store a new humidor, so be it. If it means creating a better display, it’s done. Gurkha representatives personally work with each store in their network to create optimum visibility.
The result will be a loyal, strong, dedicated customer base that will stick with him, in good times and bad.
TO THE UNIVERSE, AND BEYOND!
While the goals listed by these entrepreneurs range from the big to the huge, the good news is that you need not be an uberentrepreneur to have some big dreams too. Take a look at your business or career and consider the possibilities. Go for it! Let go, and dream big. After all, dreaming big and daring to do the unexpected is what got you where you are today, right?
That’s the spirit!
Of course, there’s no doubt that 2009 looks to be a challenging economic climate for anyone in business but, even it is heartening to remember that macro-trends just that. It’s the individual entrepreneur with a vision and a dream who will see us through. Walt Disney started Disney Studios after failing in one business, a bankruptcy and in the middle of the Great Depression. Microsoft was started during recession.
The bottom line is that dreaming big is part of this gig called entrepreneurship.