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How to take on big companies and win

big dog vs little dogThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 25-April-2013 issue

Overnight singing phenomenon Paul Potts stole the hearts of millions of people around the globe. The soft-spoken mobile phone salesman came from humble origins in Bristol, England, the son of a working-class bus-driver father and supermarket-cashier mother.  From the age of six Potts had been bullied in school for being poor, which had eroded his self-confidence.  A serious bicycle accident in 2003 and subsequent financial troubles motivated him to enter the debut series of Britain’s Got Talent. Despite not having sung in four years, when he started singing on that stage in 2007, he blew the judges and audience away with his surprisingly incredible voice. With his breath-taking performance of “Nessun dorma”, Potts went on to win Britain’s Got Talent and receive worldwide acclaim, with his debut album One Chance topping sales charts in nine countries.

There is something captivating about underdogs like Paul Potts. When we see the longshot win against the odds, it makes us believe that nothing is impossible and we really can achieve our biggest dreams. This is true both in our personal lives and the business world. There are many examples of small companies taking on the industry giants and winning: Apple vs. Microsoft and IBM, Virgin’s Richard Branson, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher and Fedex’s Fred Smith. Locally we’re seeing it in the cell phone industry with Cell C versus MTN and Vodacom.

Yes, it is possible for minor players to take on big companies and come out on top. How they do it? Here are some of the strategies that work: Continue reading

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Is rapid growth bad for your business?

rapid growth graph tech bizThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 28-Feb-2013 issue

In 1999, the Webvan Group promised to transform the grocery shopping industry. Thanks to an über-successful IPO and other sources such as venture capitalists, it raised a staggering $1.2bn in start-up capital, rivalling big players like Amazon.com. Fast forward to 2001, when Webvan went bankrupt, barely 18 months later. The cause? It ran out of money.

How is this possible?

When investors inject capital into a business, they want a return on their money. And the expectation is that rapid growth will usually fuel this return. Americans even have an expression for fast-growing firms: “gazelles” are publicly traded companies that have grown at least 20% for each of the previous four years, kicking off with US$ 1m or more in sales.

But sometimes, growing too quickly can actually be bad for business. Continue reading