A Cautionary Tale

A crucial part of running a startup company is developing customers, sometimes much larger customers. This can lead to very lucrative revenue and growth. Also, a common exit option is to be acquired by a larger company. However, I want to offer a cautionary tale from my experience. A large engineering company whose products were lagging began buying large amounts of the newest product technology from our startup in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the large company’s strategy was to not pay their invoices, assuming that our company would become starved for cash, and eventually, the large company might be able to acquire our startup’s technology for a very small price.

Managing The Accelerated Corporate Lifecycle

Anyone starting a new company should understand the concept of the “corporate life cycle”, and use it as a guide for understanding where the company is in that cycle, to understand the risks at each stage, and to recognize the need for action to change course. This graphic shows a typical corporate life cycle and different possible paths as the company matures. Management of the corporate life cycle also dovetails with the concept of a “strategic inflection point,” which I briefly discussed in my Week 5 Report, The Internet of Things. John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco Systems has pointed out that the rapid acceleration in market changes has also accelerated the corporate life cycle, emphasizing the importance of understanding it. Companies abound that were initially very successful and yet eventually closed their doors, or were acquired because the company did not anticipate market changes and the need to adapt to the new situation.

Strategic Focus versus Nimbleness

This week I want to discuss the importance of strategic focus, while still being open to possible opportunities, sometimes called corporate “nimbleness,” which may seem like a contradiction. I am a strong believer in strategic focus, however I have also personally experienced a case where an “openness” to opportunity transformed the enterprise from a pedestrian company into a Silicon Valley legend. Ascend Communications was “focused” on ISDN based video conferencing with a modest and profitable OEM agreement with AT&T. However, AT&T came to Ascend and asked if it could solve a much bigger problem…