Yesterday, at lunch with Natasha Thomson, we were talking about some differences between attitudes and abilities at start-up companies versus established giants. That brought me back to another lunchtime conversation I had with Marilyn Pratt two years ago, during a financials conference. Marilyn and I spoke about the difference between big companies and small companies and I made the analogy of weeds and trees.
Start-ups and small companies are like weeds; they grow very fast, pop up from out of nowhere, and can move quickly. Weeds also don’t last very long, drying up and dying as quick as they grow.
A large company is like an oak tree; huge, with very deep roots that provide strength and stability. Although the branches can sway in the breeze, an oak tree doesn’t move.
As generalizations go, this is a good way to describe big and small companies. It should be noted that a large company can be innovative, just as a small company can have roots.
The previous company I worked for was just like that; the company itself was very young, though the technology had been around for 20 years. Many of the customers had ancient versions of the software because it fit their needs. They were unhappy about the bugs and lack of functionality, but wouldn’t upgrade to the newer versions that did fix the bugs and address issues of functionality.
On the other hand, our prospects and new customers EXPECTED the latest and the greatest. As a small company, we needed those legacy customers to keep the boat afloat, but we weren’t going to grow without new products and innovative approaches.
It’s a delicate balance between strengthening your base while expanding your markets. That’s why it’s so important for everyone in the company to understand the strategy. Even though it’s very important to focus on the tasks at hand, everyone has to keep an eye on the horizon, even if it’s just in your peripheral vision. How can you know, otherwise, how what you are doing is helping your company now and helping move toward the future? Know that let’s you make better choices about the what and the how of your current activities.
Companies can be compared to weeds and trees but unlike nature, there is no guarantee that once a tree, always a tree. The only constant is change. Someone I know just had his big company acquired. Fortunately for him, he is on the team that will be combining the new, bigger company’s technology platform. Sometimes even from the branches of the big tree, you find yourself back in the weeds. Understanding the strategy, or changes in strategy, will benefit you and your company.