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Growing pains

Dough Tatum’s book No Man’s Land charts a credible course for mid-size companies who are struggling to become big.

Sanjeev Bikhchandani | Print Edition: February 22, 2009

I am not a great fan of pop management books. In the last ten years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the books that I have found to have made a lasting impact. I find that there are far too many that merely regurgitate very old wine and serve it in new bottles. They break no new ground, have little differentiated value to the reader and are often ghost-written for well-known CEOs at the end of their careers.

No Man’s Land is an exception—it clearly makes the cut.

The book is about the challenges faced by small, fast-growing companies that are beyond the startup stage, but aren’t big enough yet to be called mature, stable, ‘good practices’ organisations. It addresses the very important question—what should you be doing when your company is too big to be small and too small to be big?

Publisher: Portfolio (Penguin)
Price: Rs 480
Pages: 243
The fact is, most business writing that focusses on the growth and development of companies usually talks about organisations at either end of the spectrum—start-ups or big companies. Not much is said about those in the middle. These are companies that have proven their business models, are financially viable, trying to grow, and are looking for the right balance between staying entrepreneurial and developing processes that ensure scalability. These firms are also learning to manage a Board and perhaps the expectations of external investors.

Having been part of an organisation that has transitioned from bootstrapping to scaling up and then finally going public, I found a number of issues raised in Tatum’s book that I could identify with. When we were going through this phase in our growth, I did not adequately appreciate that many of the challenges we were facing were fairly common in other companies of a similar size. Frequently, we did not really know the right response to a situation. Most often we learnt by trial and error. The fact that we got it right eventually is testimony to our perseverance, rather than our brilliance.

In a startup, the founder is usually in touch with customers. He leads the sales effort from the front. Customers know him personally and trust him. When the company grows, the founder is now spending more time managing people and the organisation. He cannot serve customers directly. How should the organisation respond to the challenges posed in this situation? What are the kinds of processes and roles that need to be created to fill the void?

A mid-sized company has other problems. Often, a founder discovers that the team that he started a company with cannot help the company scale up. Clearly, the business has grown beyond this team’s capability. How can such a situation be tackled? What kind of talent should the company hire? How should it attract and compensate them? These are some of the many issues in growing companies that this book discusses.

A useful read for everyone in a small growing company that wants to make it to the other side of no man’s land.

—Sanjeev Bikhchandani is Founder and CEO of naukri.com

Bookmarks

Panic! The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
Edited by Michael Lewis Penguin
Pages: 391
Price: Rs 250
Former bond trader and author of Liar’s Poker, Lewis assembles a star cast of writers—himself included —and chronicles five of the costliest debacles in financial history, including the most recent subprime fiasco. A dream collection of business reporting.

The Persistence of Poverty
Charles Karelis Oxford
Pages: 190
Price: Rs 495
Why haven’t poverty rates fallen fast enough in four decades despite massive efforts to reduce them? A former philosophy professor, Karelis uses science, history, fables, philosophical analysis and common observation to challenge conventional explanations upon which social programmes are built.

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