Growth is really, really, really hard.

Published on
February 9, 2015
Chris Taylor
"Ideas are only valuable when applied."
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When I first launched Actionable Books (back then as, I had (a) a burning passion for reforming what we learned at work and how we learned it, and (b) two very clear business objectives: whatever we sold needed to be derivative based (meaning we could sell it over and over again) and the nature of the work should allow me to do it from anywhere, without impeding growth.

As has continued to grow over the years, it’s certainly morphed and “pivoted,” but those two business objectives have never changed. And along the way, and through the hundreds of books I’ve consumed, a few have stuck with me as reference guides on how to build such a business. Small Giants taught me that scale for scale’s sake is hollow, and to get clear on what I really want. The Lean Startup taught me how to think like a scientist (and enjoy doing it). Built to Sell showed me the power of clearly defined offerings in the service business space.

Respective authors Bo Burlingham, Eric Ries and John Warrillow have all risen above the noise for me. Their messages have saved me literally tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars and helped me keep my focus (and likely my sanity) as we’ve scaled over the years. So it’s exciting for me when any of these gentlemen produce new books. John Warrillow’s latest – The Automatic Customer – hits all the same notes that made Built to Sell powerful for me; its lessons are authentic, timely and instantly practical. Definitely worth a read.

What I realize as I read more books about the mechanics of scaling a business is that there comes a time for every entrepreneur when they need to think long and hard about what they want their business to grow into. Getting through the early struggle of finding your market, securing initial customers and, candidly, keeping the lights in the process, can be so all consuming that it’s easy to lose sight of where you’re really headed.

Oh sure, it’s easy (and fun) to sit back after a long week and contemplate what life will be like when you’re on the other side (aka, turning a consistent profit), but those visualization moments are almost certainly seen through rose colored glasses. The impact, the legacy (and yes, the money) are all the easy parts to imagine. The work required to get there, and the new reality once you are there, is something I don’t know that one can fully appreciate until they’re in it. We’re significantly more evolved as a company than we were two years ago, but we’re still nowhere near the 40-50 person organization that we’ll need to become to reach the levels we have set for ourselves over the next four years. And while adding titles and salaries to a spreadsheet is one thing (and an important first step!), it doesn’t take into account what that will actually be like. The process, the structures, the systems and the time required to make that all run smoothly.

I had a conversation this morning with a potential investor who reminded me what it takes to grow (and asked me point-blank if that was what I really wanted). He reminded me that it’s really, really, really hard. And not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most entrepreneurs. If you like the “innovate on a dime, make things up as you go along” sort of approach (the approach that makes sense in the early days of a company), you may find the actual “growing” part (building systems, structures, policies, etc.) to be limiting. Painfully so, potentially.

So if you are committed to growth beyond the “one person at the top, running the show” stage of the business (and it’s ok if you’re not!), you need to get clear on what it’s going to take and, most importantly I believe, why you want to grow it.


For me, it’s the realization that Actionable’s mission is more than a lifestyle business. For Actionable to truly live up to it’s purpose – helping teams of people find and achieve purpose in their work – it needs to grow. It needs sophistication, systems and infrastructure. It feels as though the business has taken on a life of it’s own and, like the parent of a gifted child who’s calling is to go to Juilliard, I’m committed to finding the internal fortitude (and cash!) to support its growth and development. And candidly, despite “systems and structure” being outside of my normal skill set, I’m excited to grow in service of supporting this beautiful entity. It’s a weird thing; one that I’m not sure everyone would understand. Like the investor telling me what it really takes to scale up (and the fact that I can’t fully appreciate it until I’m in it), I believe the same is true for your business finding it’s purpose. It’s hard to explain until it happens. But, hopefully, you’ll recognize it when it does.