THE entrepreneurial journey from start-up through growth and onwards to exit is a real roller-coaster ride; thrilling and terrifying in equal measure.
There's a model that explains the journey: the Transition Curve. American entrepreneur Cameron Herold says there are five stages in the cycle, beginning with "uninformed optimism" with the entrepreneur at the top of the roller-coaster filled with adrenalin, excitement and nervous energy.
"Informed pessimism" follows, just as the roller-coaster tips over the topmost curve; the entrepreneur will be more knowledgeable by now, but that brings with it fear, nervousness and frustration. At this point, some may want to get off. And quickly.
The third stage is the "crisis of meaning"; the entrepreneur is beyond scared and is hurtling downwards. At this point there are two options: the entrepreneur can hit the bottom of the curve and "crash and burn" or enter an upward swing called "informed optimism". Calm and armed with the necessary information to succeed at this point, it is clearly the goal of all ambitious entrepreneurs.
The timescale of this transition curve will depend on the individual entrepreneur. But could it be short-circuited? Learning from the experiences of others could be the quickest route to success.
Hilary Roberts launched her recruitment firm, HR Consultancy, in 1994. It is now one of the country's leading independent recruitment agencies with a turnover in excess of 8 million. But in 2006 managing director Roberts was unhappy. Managing 73 staff left her little time to do what she enjoyed most – the creative challenges of working with clients. She had reached "informed pessimism", was emotionally exhausted and wanted to step back. She put some key people in senior positions to run the business and did just that.
Five months later, the firm was in trouble. Roberts had delegated, but failed to put in place the necessary controls. "I just wanted to go and be excited again," she said. "But I never got to that stage. I needed to be right back in the business again and solve the problems."
It was the most difficult part of her career – eight months of "torture" followed before her business was back on track. Roberts is now enjoying the fifth element of the cycle: "informed optimism".
She is now trying again, looking for a managing director and implementing checks and balances to avoid a similar mistake. She thinks that support and guidance could have helped her avoid the pitfalls.
Her experiences are echoed by those of moviecom.tv founder Gillian O'Neil. O'Neil is now on her third business but has no formal business qualifications. She knew nothing about the systems and processes to build a scalable business and her first two attempts suffered as a result; the first failed (at crash and burn phase) and the second was radically transformed to survive and grow. It is now enjoying "informed optimism".
She says had she been given more knowledge about strategy, business structure and financial controls the couple could have short-circuited their route to success.
Both women attended a recent seminar run by Norma Corlette, founder of The Learning Game (TLG). Corlette has set up a new business focusing on sharing her own experiences – good and bad (TLG failed last summer) – and those of others to help entrepreneurs avoid making the same mistakes.
Corlette is focusing on entrepreneurs in five key areas: those looking to be investment-ready; those anticipating a growth spurt; those whose company has plateaued; those whose market has shrunk; and those running one business while wanting to launch another without taking their eye off the ball.
Corlette, the CEO of Sulis Enterprises, has experienced all of these, and can share lessons at each phase of the transition curve. According to Corlette, almost all entrepreneurs have a great idea but no experience. "There's a need to rip up the traditional training rule book and grasp this opportunity. We've got to secure employment and we've got to make sure businesses in the 1m to 8m bracket are given the practical tools and support they need to survive, thrive and grow.
"I don't want others to make the same mistakes I did. What we do is about helping entrepreneurs make the right decisions for themselves and their businesses, and help them take a shorter route to success through learning by experience."
If being an entrepreneur were easy everyone would be doing it. Many people give up at their darkest hour, just before the new dawn as their business begins that upward climb. These three women have promised to share the light of their toughest experiences so dawn comes early for other entrepreneurs.
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