Is your business in the “ivy league”?


variegated ivy leaves
'Hedera' of reference?

I was recently reminded of something my old gardener told me about ivy. I had been surprised at how slow some lovely variegated ivy that had been planted by my fence was coming on, and his words were as follows:

With ivy, the first year it is put in, it does nothing, it just sulks at having been put in a new place. The second year is starts to spread out horizontally along the ground by the bottom of the fence, and in the third year it starts to grow upward, like a curtain.

Wise words, from someone who knew his onions. And his ivy. It seems to me that this is a great analogy for many new businesses. Entrepreneurs obviously look for a rapid return on capital employed. They want their profits and the cash back to invest in the next thing. But nature takes its course with some businesses just like it does with the ivy, and you cannot rush it.

The first year, you have set up costs, people are getting used to each other in a new team with a new product, new identity. This is like the ivy “sulking” – just establishing a new root system and adapting to the chemistry of the soil and the direction of the light.

The second year you start to see sales pick up but the prices are not that good yet and also the volumes don’t allow the contribution to cover fixed costs. You get growth but you don’t get the profit. It is like the ivy growing along the ground by the bottom of the fence. It is obviously going somewhere, but you aren’t getting the effect of it yet.

The third year you reach a certain critical mass, you break even you start to nudge into profit, your cash flows turn the corner and you start paying back your seed finance. This is like the ivy making its curtain up the fence.

If the ivy survives at all, it will certainly produce the coverage in time. The same with these new businesses. They simply need to be nurtured and for nature to be allowed to take its course. If the soil is right, the light is there, and the water, the plant healthy, then it will do what it is programmed to do in its own time. Micro-managing it will not help. Restructuring the team which is only starting to gel will not help. it will be like transplanting the ivy at the end of the second year for failing to raise – it will only go through its sulking and creeping years all over again in the new position.

Your thoughts welcome, go ahead:

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