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:
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.
❄️ 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.
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!
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.
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!