|October 17, 2011
from the desk of Chuck Violand...
Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—
Today I begin a two part series that started as a brief tribute to someone who, in my opinion, is one of the great entrepreneurs of ALL time, not just of OUR time, Steven Jobs.
As would only be fitting for a piece being written for someone like Steve, it quickly morphed beyond my original intent and might now be viewed as a few poignant words of wisdom for all of us to follow.
"STAY HUNGRY, STAY FOOLISH", Part I
by Chuck Violand...
It’s unfortunate that it often takes someone’s passing for us to truly appreciate how the contributions they made influenced our lives. I think that’s the case with the recent passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers.
I’m not a “Mac guy”; I do my work on a trusty PC. But one cannot ignore the profound impact Steve had on the daily lives of all of us. In my opinion his genius touched the lives of people the world over every bit as much as business titans like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford.
In 2005 Steve gave the commencement address to the graduating class of Stanford University. He concluded his comments by quoting from the back page of the final issue of “The Whole Earth Catalog”, a publication many of my Baby Boomer readers will remember. The quote from the back cover, and the advice he was giving the graduates in attendance, was to “stay hungry, stay foolish”. I’m not sure there’s a better piece of advice I could offer small business owners, Stanford graduates or not.
When we first launch our business, or when our business is young, it’s easy to stay hungry. After all, we’re starving! First we’re starving for our share of attention in the market. Once we have that we’re starving for business from prospective customers. When we turn prospects into clients we’re starving to find good employees to serve them. And the entire time all this is going on our business is typically starving for cash. So it’s safe to say entrepreneurs have the “stay hungry” thing down pat. Interestingly enough, it’s when we’re no longer starving, or simply when we stop being as hungry, that our companies get into trouble. It’s the old “nothing recedes like success” thing.
This lesson was brought home to me many years ago in a previous business I owned. I lost a large and highly prized customer, one I’d worked with for years, because I had stopped being hungry. Although shocked when he fired me and replaced me with another company who “seemed hungrier”, upon reflection I realized I had indeed become complacent.
It can happen to the best of us. Our company moves beyond survival mode and starts to succeed. We have a loyal customer following, we’re delivering reasonably consistent quality, and we might even have a few extra bucks in the bank. We no longer hear the wolf tapping on our door so we become comfortable, complacent, or worse yet—arrogant about our success. Rather than working to become even better, or building more capacity to serve more customers, we unintentionally reduce customer demand by becoming less hungry. We don’t show the same enthusiasm for keeping our customers’ business as we did when we were trying to gain it.
Most businesses are started by people who can’t afford to fail. As a result we work endless hours, pinch countless pennies, and perform whatever distasteful task needs doing in order to succeed. In other words we’re hungry. And the hungrier we stay the more uncomfortable we will be with being comfortable.
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