“To go faster, add lightness.”
-Lotus Cars Mantra
The late Colin Chapman, forward thinking engineerand founder of Lotus Cars, had a unique philosophy of building racecars. Where titans like Ferrari and Ford were building cars with large engines to win races, Chapman focused on creating a lightweight (but strong) chassis to serve as the foundation from which he fabricated his cars around. He believed going light and strong was more important than outright raw horsepower. And like most forward thinkers, he was laughed at until his cars started winning races against larger, more heavily powered cars.
“Thanks for the history lesson,” you maybe wondering, “but what does this have to do with me?”
Like Chapman, you’re a creative entrepreneur; and like him, you may wish to structure your company with his sports car philosophy in mind. In essence, when starting your company – be a Lotus, lightweight and agile – not a Lincoln. Here are 5 suggestions to keep in mind when beginning your new enterprise:
- Build a Strong Chassis, First.
The core of your team is your company’s chassis; its corporate structure the rivets and glue which it is formed around. This structure will determine how your company will grow as you build it out. It should be as lightweight as possible, meaning, your core team should comprise only those necessary to run the company; ideally, individuals possessing complimentary and non-redundant skills. In addition, your team should share your vision and mission for the company. The chassis is the core of your company as it is the core of a Sportscar – any cracks at this stage in your build process could lead to catastrophic failure down the road.
- “Add Lightness”
Once you are satisfied with your chassis, you can move onto building out the company – as needed. Before bulking up, ask yourself – Does your company need a physical office? Some of the most successful start-ups began in humble locations like garages (Apple, HP), dorm rooms (Facebook, Dell), and even barns (Lotus cars). Does your company need to do everything in-house? Some functions of your company may be outsourced allowing you to keep a firm, light chassis. For example, a young litigation law firm might outsource its e-discovery database housing needs in lieu of adding an IT engineer to handle it in-house.
That’s adding lightness.
Even Lotus Cars outsourced the construction of some of its cars’ engines to other manufacturers, to great success. This allowed the company to focus on its strengths in design and engineering, while still adhering to marketplace standards of high performance.
- Always Perform
Your business will rise or fall on you. Focus on delivering quality service or products. Essentially, do good work. This may seem like common sense, but it would surprise you how many start-ups fail – not due to the viability of the idea, but rather, the poor application and implementation of that idea.
If you’ve built a strong chassis – rely on it. It can be easy to loose sight of the customer when confronted with the challenges of staying in business (marketing, knowing where to spend your limited resources, fighting off competition, defending and filing lawsuits, the IRS, etc.), but know that without a client who loves your performance, you will be out of business and all the points which were distracting you will be moot.
- Run Frequent Diagnostics
Another aspect of performance is proper company upkeep and maintenance. Start-Ups operate in an environment which make Laguna Seca look like the kiddie go-kart track at a mini-golf park.
Even with a strong chassis, you must fine tune and adjust in order to stay on the track. For example, does your core team re-evaluate and review the company mission statement regularly when faced with changing road/market conditions? If your company has grown, managed to get out into the front of the pack – is your current corporate structure appropriate for any new liability exposure?
The point is, once you start your company and experience success, constantly re-asses and adapt to ensure your company can thrive given the various changes it will go through over the course of your journey. If you kept things strong and light, you will find that you can change direction faster, as well as adapt more quickly.
- Race to Win
Don’t start your business wanting to be second best. Even if you’re starting a non-profit, start it as if you want to be the non-profit all others look to. The need to win cannot be separated from a desire for excellence. (insert picture of British award for excellence Lotus received from the Crown) Again, this also seems like common sense, but many young entrepreneurs may lose sight of this. Essentially, don’t be afraid to compete – if you’re starting a bra company, believe that your bras are superior to anything Victoria’s Secret produces. Compete with those in your space as if each one is your largest rival.
For example, if Uber had aggressively raced against Lyft when Lyft entered ‘the track’ in 2009; the ride-share scene might look very different today. Essentially, you can carry yourself with grace while dispatching your rivals on the track. As long as you have a core team you trust, streamlined and light operations, continuous self assessment, and the will to succeed – you’re off to a great start.