My favorite saying from Africa is, “If you want to go quickly – go alone. If you want to go far – go together.” (There’s also a saying of Africa that goes like this, “If you can only visit (2) Continents in your lifetime – visit Africa Twice!)
Africa’s been on my mind lately as my wife heads back for her 7th trip there in the past 20 years. She’s an OR nurse who volunteers with Operation Smile, and has had some of the most exciting adventures of her life there. The Silverback you see in the picture posted with this article was taken by her in Rwanda last year. What a majestic creature, approximately 400 pounds, gentle and unassuming.
As much as I’d like to continue this as a travel log, I’ve found there are valuable business lessons here.
“If you want to go quickly – go alone.” Businesses and or individuals that live by these words certainly amass their share of success. That said, they also accumulate their share of failures. Fleet afoot, outpacing the competition, first to market, etc are goals many hold high on their daily to-do lists. Operating under these constraints is certainly prone to exposing the unintended consequences of “how can I do that?” Many have seen the commercial with the owner or sole-proprietor answering the phone repeatedly stating, “I can do that,” several times in succession only to finally come to the realization that he can’t possibly fulfill what he’s promised and almost in a panic, exclaims – HOW CAN I DO THAT?
Going it alone, as I’ve found isn’t the best strategy. Years ago when I started my first company, Entirety, Inc – a stock brokerage firm, I was operating on a limited fixed budget. My capital was tied up in equipment, supplies, a security bond and advertising. I had convinced myself that I was up to the task of accounting, accounts receivable/payable, customer service, prospecting, writing formal proposals, banking, IT issues, equipment repairs, etc. I had many “hats” that consumed my day and it became apparent the only thing I didn’t have time for was the business of managing my client’s money. Nor did I find time to work “in the business” as the majority of the day was spent working “on the business” What I soon found out was that the Federal regulators in the Securities Industry (SEC, NASD, State Regulators) had plenty of people to come and “visit my company” and perform their audits, inspections and investigations into every aspect of my business. That’s when I almost lost everything. My version of an accounting system and theirs did not match up. I was informed that if my annual report was not in “GAAP” compliance (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) within 5 days, my firm would be closed down by the SEC. The auditor asked me, “How much formal accounting had I accomplished in college?” My answer was, “none.” He was not impressed, shook his head and told me I’d better e a quick study. I wasn’t that quick a study, but the $4,500 payment to an accounting firm and 4 days did solve the problem. From that day forward my organization chart began to grow. Together, we were able to build upon the business vision statement I’d crafted prior to beginning that business. Together we were able to go far, 10 years later, we sold the firm for a multiple that far exceeded our expectations and that of the SEC examiner who truly thought he’d be shutting the firm down.
I know from firsthand experience, that “If you want to go far – go together!”