Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Businesses should Become Profitable Before they Become Big

Great article concerning the pit falls of creative accounting. Groupon reported earnings of $80M when they actually lost $114M.

Groupon Doomed by Too Much of a Good Thing

Clayton Christensen would agree with the intuition that Groupon displays but ignores: businesses should become profitable before they become big. The best way to manage a fledgling business is for managers to be impatient for profit but patient for growth. Such a strategy limits an early venture's funding in order to force the business to develop a profitable business model and then invests heavily in growth once such a model is identified — Christensen terms such investments "good money" for incubating growth businesses and extols the strategy for three reasons.

  • First, when a business is impatient for profit, managers are forced to validate their assumptions and demonstrate that customers are fundamentally willing to pay an acceptable price for the company's offering.
  • Secondly, expecting a business to be profitable quickly forces it to keep its fixed costs low. Because a business's cost structure determines which customers it finds profitable, keeping these fixed costs low preserves strategic options for the company when it is choosing which customers to target.
  • Finally, reaching profitability quickly ensures that when outside financing dries up, the venture can succeed on its own.

We are so all consumed by winning that we lose sight of what score keeping is about. It’s about showing position and progress. It is not about the score, but what the score tells us. If things are not going as well as we would like or if we know according to the Sigmoid Curve that they will get worse before they get better, wouldn’t we want to know exactly what our position is? Wouldn’t we want to know as factually as possible the levers that we can push and pull to make things better?

I talk with many small businesses that I know will never achieve the level of success they should because of the way they keep score. In some cases it not just the way they keep score, they haven’t developed the skill to know what the score is telling them. They are too busy trying to look successful by redefining success.

Don’t fit the score keeping to your desired results…. Drive the desired result with better score keeping…

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