Building A Great Company Is More Like Farming Than Driving A Bus

When thinking about building a great company— think about farming. That's how it is to build an awesome and creative company.

April 26th, 2017   |    By: Jonas Gyalokay    |    Tags: Culture, Product, Launch, Success

Building A Great Company Is More Like Farming Than Driving A Bus

A little more than a year ago I read Brian Halligan’s great post about his scale-up leadership lessons over 9 years as HubSpot’s CEO. It’s an awesome read and I recommend everyone to go check it out. In it I was introduced to The Bus Analogy (which assumably originates from Jim Collins’ Good to Great). And as Brian writes, it goes something like this:

A leader has 3 responsibilities that are akin to a bus. First, the leader must have a clear set of directions in mind on where the bus is headed. Second, the leader must have the right people on the bus who are excited about the direction and work well together. Third, the leader must have enough gas (cash) in the tank to get to their destination.

I have used the 🚌 analogy ever since to stay focused on the most important things as Airtame’s CEO and Co-founder.

But! While this is a pretty good way to make sure that you spend 95% of your energy on either direction, people or financing (as you should!) I have lately felt that there was something missing. Key elements are left out or underemphasised:

  1. It undermines the importance of the environment that needs to be in place to create a creative, bold and happy work culture. Picturing yourself riding a bus all day is a dreadful analogy for thinking about developing a great work environment and building a great company.
  2. The analogy also implies that the driver decides on the direction. That the driver is the best suited to decide on which way to pursue and thus that the driver has full control of where the bus is going. Not the people riding the bus. That’s a big mistake. If anything, the bus should be a Flintstone edition, where each person on the bus affects speed and direction.
  3. It lacks the fact that building a great company is not only about the people on the bus. It’s also about creating long-lasting relationships with other vehicles and gas stations. Or put in another way: suppliers, partners, investors and especially customers.

I recently saw Sustainable on Netflix (worth a watch!). It’s a documentary about a visionary, passionate and caring farmer. And how he has created a self-sustaining, organic and creative farming plant, which supplies some of the best restaurants in the world. In it, the farmer repeatedly states the importance of creating the best environment for things to grow. How critical it is to invest in customer relationships. And how much they focus on always staying relevant to their customers. Ding ding ding!!

I realised that I had found my new ‘build a great company’ analogy. And when thinking more about it, there’s so many aspects about farming that spearheads how it is to build an awesome and creative company.

Create the right conditions for things to grow 🌱

  1. Choose a good location for your farm. Things such as physical space and the quality of the local environment are important. As well as distance to talent, customers and suppliers.
  2. Invest in the soil. Or you will not grow shit. It’s the foundation for everything to be build on.
    We have learned the hard way what it means to build up technical debt and how long time it takes to refactor the foundation of your product. So make sure your foundation is stable enough to build your business on.
  3. Let great people take the lead. Get amazing and passionate people on board and give them freedom to grow (pun intended!) and experiment.
  4. Water and invest in what you grow each day. There’s no shortcut to grow things much faster. You can’t drown your crops with water on day one and then think you can come back a half year later and collect your reward. It takes discipline every single day to grow something great. This applies directly to the business world as well. You need to invest in your coworkers, your customers and your products daily or they will wither.
  5. Weed it out! Don’t go around and say “There are no weeds, there are no weeds, there are no weeds!”. You need to actively look for the weed and pull it out of the ground immediately. If you let it sit there, it will only get worse.
    In business you need to be conscious about not having assholes on your team poisoning the rest of the team. You need to be mindful about not building up technical debt. And you need to be aware of implementing bureaucratic policies that limits freedom and creativity.

Be aware of the four seasons ❄️ 🌱 ☀️ 🍁

❄️ The winter season is pretty shitty. Most farmers just want to get that over with. But you have to accept that it’s here and that it typically starts out this way. In other words, you have to deal with it and prepare for better days to come — planting the seeds.

🌱 The spring season is when most things start to sprout. It’s the season most farmers enjoy the most. It’s amazing to start to see your seeds grow, after what feels like a long and cold winter. Better times are ahead 🚀.

☀️ The summer season is where you have things under control. You can follow the growth of your crops and plants in awe while preparing for the bigger harvest in the fall.

🍁 The fall season is where you harvest most of your crops. After the countless hours of hard work you finally collect your reward. Don’t stay too complacent though, because the winter season will come next. As in, it will come. No matter how great the harvest has been. So don’t dwell on your harvest for too long, or the winter season will catch you off guard.

It’s not necessarily a linear and foreseeable cycle in the business world though. There you can go directly from spring to winter. Sometimes the winter season will take up the entire year or more. Still other times you might think that you will spend the rest of your days in the fall season, reaping your rewards (👋 Nokia, 👋 Blockbuster). But one thing is for sure, you can never harvest and reap any benefits without planting the seeds first.

Invest in all stakeholders and sell what you grow 💰

No man is an island and no company can get along just on its own. Your need to create long-lasting relationships with your suppliers, partners, investors and especially with your customers. You are part of an ecosystem more than you are a single bus on the road. You depend on your suppliers to provide you with great seeds. You depend on partners to reach a broader audience. You (maybe) depend on investors to get started (seed money anyone?), keep growing and expanding. And you most definitely depend on your customers to exist at all. If nobody consumes and/or use what you have produced, then you have produced waste.

By the way, I think, too few in the farming industry genuinely care about what they produce, as long as it is profitable. Please, don’t fall into that trap. Focus on delivering long-term value to your customers over short-term profits!

Plant new seeds to stay relevant 👉

Great farmers continuously think about which seeds to plant next to stay relevant. They experiment with a multitude of different seeds, new combinations and in different conditions. As should you! You need to grow, to grow. And by maintaining a close connection with your customers, you can get them to taste a new crop before committing many acres to produce it at scale.

But be aware! Sometimes your customers can tell you pretty specifically what they want. But other times you need to invent it, let them taste it, and only then will they know that this is the next big thing.

Conclusion

An insanely great farming plant focus on creating a flourishing environment for things to grow. A place where ideas can arise from everywhere. Where experiments are encouraged. Where challenges can be discovered and fixed. Where you can harvest together after countless hours of hard work. Where you can stand together in the winter season to keep warm. Where everybody help grow something important. Where you care deeply about your customers. And where you can make a real difference in people’s lives. And that’s how you build a great and sustainable company as well!


About the Author

Jonas Gyalokay

Jonas Gyalokay is the CEO and Co-founder of Airtame, the most user-friendly wireless streaming solution for schools and businesses. Follow him on Twitter: @JonasGyalokay

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