Porter’s Preface: Act Big, Behave Small

November 3rd, 2009 by admin

In this next chapter of Bootstrap Business, Act Big, Behave Small, Rich teaches the necessity of acting like a large organization when bootstrapping your start up business.

When Rich leaped from the corporate world into full-time entrepreneurship, he hadn’t intended to land in bed, but there he was, totally immobile and staring down the barrel of months of unadulterated bed rest. Days after quitting his job (and leaving behind his steady paycheck and benefits package), he snapped his Achilles tendon while playing basketball. Instantly, he was bedridden; his only option after the initial intense pain and discouragement was to build a company right from home. His wife and son wired up a computer with Internet access and off he went, starting the business while propped up on pillows.

After a month or two of crafting and building a model that worked while lying in bed, he brought in a partner and then an employee. The two of them would show up for work, check in with Rich— still in bed—and go down into a small office they had created in the basement. If they needed to talk to him, they headed back upstairs and into Rich’s bedroom.

Eventually, Rich healed enough that the big event of the day came to be his hopping downstairs to help coordinate his little group’s efforts. Though far from ideal, the situation worked. Since their company generated mortgage leads, they only needed a computer, the Internet, and a telephone to connect to both the lead generators and the lead buyers. Their leads rose in quantity, and soon they were servicing major mortgage brokers in the United States.

There was one especially tricky aspect in all of this: maintaining a professional image. The entrepreneurs weren’t the only people inhabiting Rich’s “office.” In addition to the two partners, the one employee, and the one wife, there were six children ranging from ages two to seventeen. Dad had to establish a special signal for when he received an important phone call. Even then, he could only forestall the banging piano, children’s laughter, teenage music, and other household noises for so long before they would resume. Rich would much rather have gone to an office away from the distractions and noise, but he had no choice. He didn’t want the business to suffer, but recognized that one major purpose of childhood is the joy of making large amounts of uninhibited noise. He also knew that for the business to come across as competent and professional, he would have to “act big.”

Acting big is different from behaving small. Although Rich’s scenario was extreme—and not ideal—the situation forced Rich into very small quarters and into acting like anything but a guy lying in bed with his employees down in the basement. As soon as he could walk and drive, Rich and his buddies moved into an office, but even then it was still just the three of them. To succeed in the early stages of entrepreneurship, do as Rich did: he kept his behavior frugal but prevented himself and treated his clients as though he were a serious, big-time business. And you know what? He became one!

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