How We Are Taking a Lean Startup Approach to our Grown-up Business

A lean startup methodology enables entrepreneurs to efficiently build a company by searching for product and/or market fit rather than blindly trying to execute.  I find it helps mature companies too — and thought the perspectives of Stanford Professor Steve Blank, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ben Horowitz and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman might resonate with bankers, fintech companies and other small business CEOs that are thinking about how to adapt their businesses to new challenges and opportunities. 

Paying It Forward

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

As someone who long aspired to build and run a company, I take great pride in leading a profitable, privately-held, twenty-person-strong small business.  In the past, I have written about my “people > products > performance” approach to leading the Bank Director team.  So when Ben Horowitz (co-founder and Partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz) shares on his blog, “it’s not about how smart you are or how well you know your business; it’s about how that translates to the team’s performance and output,” I find myself nodding in total agreement.

Look, I am so very proud of our team’s accomplishments… but I am even more excited to adapt the lean startup methodology to scale our business.  The approach we are taking builds on the wisdom and experience of others. So for anyone responsible for growing their business, allow me to recommend two “must reads:”

For me, we are “all-in” in terms of taking a lean startup approach to expanding our business without compromising our reputation for going narrow & deep, providing a “Four Seasons” level of experience at our events and delivering outstanding ideas and insights to a hugely influential audience.  In addition, we are supremely mindful to do as Sam Altman says.  That is, create something that a small number of people love rather than a product that a large number of people simply like.

H1: The Core Business

Admittedly, I am hesitant to call our approach to growing Bank Director a bootstrapping effort since the brand, relationships and revenue being generated enable us certain luxuries that many start-ups simply do not have.  Nonetheless, let me show you how we adapted the Horizon 1 (H1) and Horizon 3 (H3) framework depicted above to our business.

What began in 1991 as a traditional publishing company now operates as a privately-held media enterprise delivering original content to CEOs, executives and board members of financial services companies via digital platforms, exclusive conferences and award-winning publications.  Below is a visual example of our transformation vis-a-vis three magazine covers.  As you can see, we have matured in style while expanding our frequency (from quarterly to monthly) as we expanded our distribution channels.

Going narrow and deep works for us since we generate our revenue from the annual conferences & events we host (e.g. our 800+ person Acquire or Be Acquired conference), publications and research we publish and education & training services we provide.

H3: Where the Wild Ideas Live

With three consecutive years of top line growth (and healthy bottom line results to boot), we are in the wonderful position to grow in some pretty cool ways.  But doing so will take more than simple process improvements and expense control.  As we have a strong business foundation in place, I did have to restructure my management team’s individual roles and responsibilities to better suit our H1/H3 setup.  I did so because as Steve Blank points out, “Horizon 3 is where companies put their crazy entrepreneurs… these innovators want to create new and potentially disruptive business models.” As fun as living/working in H3 sounds, let me emphasize how much I rely on the H1 team to “defend, extend and increase” our core business.

Is it working?  Well, we will formally announce a new venture, FinXTech, on March 1, 2016 at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in New York City.  This is the first — and surely not last — project to emerge from our H3 world.  But time will ultimately tell.

We are a collection of creative men and women and I am very optimistic about our future.  Realizing that we want to continuously push to grow and innovate led me to appreciate “the need to execute (to the) core business model while innovating in parallel.”  So today’s post isn’t an attempt to make me look smart; rather, my attempt to acknowledge the inspiration of others and share what’s working for us.

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