Getting to the
Ever since I started writing about business, I've had the idea of leading
a very special, very high-priced retreat for entrepreneurs.
My goal was not financial. By the time I became a business writer,
I no longer needed money and could have readily come up with
many easier ways to make the $300,000 that such a retreat could
What inspired me was an ego challenge: All around me, self-proclaimed
business experts were charging $1,000 to $5,000 for
seminars, and they were getting plenty of eager people to pay up.
Most of these guys were one-trick ponies-zero-down real estate
gurus, direct-marketing experts, or motivational speakers. Few of
them had my depth or breadth of experience. If they could get
away with charging $5,000, I reasoned, I should be able to charge
So that's what I did. I spoke to MaryEllen Tribby, the superstar who
runs the business advisory business EarlytoRise.com (ETR), and she
agreed to do it. Three months later, she had everything set up and 30
The only thing left was to come up with a seminar schedule that
would justify an investment of four days and $10,000 by each attendee.
"Pride comes before the fall." That saying haunted me as I pondered
the question: What could I do for those 30 people that would be worth
so much of their time and money?
It wasn't going to be easy. Although they had all achieved a great deal
in their lives, each had a different sort of business. Some were beginning
new businesses. Many were growing modest-sized companies. And
some had well-established $10 million to $25 million enterprises.
To make matters more challenging, their businesses ranged from
professional services to publishing to manufacturing ... even to restaurants!
To make this retreat work for everyone in the time allotted, I
had to come up with a format and an agenda that would identify their
similarities as well as their differences.
I thought a lot about it for several days, but couldn't come up with
an answer. I called in two of ETR's most powerful thinkers, senior
writer Charlie Byrne and contributing business management expert
Richard Schefren (both superstars in their domains), and asked them
what they thought. The specific question I posed was:
What is it that all entrepreneurs and/or businesspeople-regardless
of what kind of industry they are in-want for themselves and their
Charlie was the first to reply.
"It seems to me," he said, "that novices want to know how to start
up businesses from scratch."
"And people who are already in business, (like me)," Richard added,
"want to know how they can take their businesses to the next level."
Both answers sounded right-exactly right.
"So that's what we are going to do," I said. "We'll develop a program
so that everybody who comes-beginners, intermediates, or even experienced
entrepreneurs-will leave the seminar with a blueprint for
getting to that next level."
THE FOUR STAGES OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
If you look at how businesses develop over time, either from your
own experience or by looking at industry statistics for entrepreneurial
ventures, you will see that there are basically four stages of growth.
1. The first stage is starting out-taking your business from an idea
to actively running and generating reasonable cash flow. For the
purposes of simplicity, I delimited it by annual revenues: from
zero to $1 million.
2. The second stage is the fast-growth stage-taking your business from
the $1 million level (at which there is usually little or no profit)
to a level where it is making about $1 million to $2 million a
year in profits. Expressed in terms of revenues, I identified that
stage as $1 million to $10 million.
3. The third stage is the adolescent stage-taking your business over the
$10 million threshold (which is difficult for most entrepreneurs)
to a substantially solid business where profits can be in the $2
million to $5 million range. The revenue parameters of this stage
are from $10 million to $50 million.
4. The fourth stage is the maturing stage-taking your business from
revenues of $50 million to $100 million or $200 million or even
The theory that Charlie, Richard, and I developed, and that I
presented to attendees at the beginning of the retreat, was that every
entrepreneurial business has these four stages, and that each stage has
its own unique characteristics in the form of problems, challenges, and
I liked that theory-the simplicity of it. But what, I wondered,
were those problems, challenges, and opportunities?
I spent several weeks thinking about it and came up with lots of
ideas. Some of those ideas I knew were good and true. Others were
true in certain cases or for certain industries but not for others. I
was looking for a unifying theory of business growth-the problems,
challenges, and opportunities that are common to every business.
It was difficult to find a unifying theory because of some fundamental
differences between certain sorts of businesses-professional firms,
franchises, nonprofits, and others. Another problem was that I have
had no experience growing large companies-companies larger than
$300 million-so I couldn't pretend to be able to create a theory that
would be applicable to them.
But if I limited my scope to entrepreneurial businesses-businesses
that create their own products, do their own marketing, and determine
their own destinies-then it could work. I could come up with a list of
problems, challenges, and opportunities that are common to all such
The first task was to characterize the stages of business development.
I kept it simple by limiting the number of stages to four. In
human development, there are four stages of growth: infancy, childhood,
adolescence, and maturity. Thus, I labeled the four stages of
business growth accordingly.
When it came time to identify the common problems, challenges,
and opportunities, I also came to the conclusion that less is more.
In fact, I thought it would be great if I could identify one and only
one characteristic for each category-the most important problem,
challenge, and opportunity at each stage of development.
To test my new theory, I asked Jason Holland, my research assistant,
to assemble the annual revenue and profit figures for the last six start-up
companies I worked with. I wanted to see how fast each had grown
every year, and how long it had taken them to reach certain revenue
targets-$1 million, $5 million, $10 million, and so on. Perhaps that
would help me identify any common characteristics.
In fact, it did. What I discovered from looking at Jason's charts and
remembering the individual histories of those start-ups was that the
problems, challenges, and opportunities that each faced were more or
less the same at each level of growth.
The time it took to get from zero to $1 million in revenues was
different for each company, ranging from one year to five, as shown
in Figure 1.1. Yet there was one very revealing common aspect of this
initial stage of growth. Once the business figured out how to sell its
product profitably, getting to $1 million in revenues was done within
a single year. The companies that took three and four and five years
to hit $1 million were all struggling with the same problem-making
that first profitable sale. But the moment they figured it out (indicated
by having reached the $1 million revenue mark), they were up and
I could see from Jason's chart that once a business hit the $1 million
revenue mark, it took, on average, only five years to hit the next level
of $10 million in sales. And when I thought about how each of these
companies achieved that next level of growth, I could see that there
were two factors that mattered most: speed and innovation.
There were four companies in that group of six with revenues in
excess of $10 million, as shown in Figure 1.2. Each of them experienced
a year or two when problems escalated and profits dipped. To
repair those problems and bring the company back to profitability, they
had to implement systems and procedures that were lacking because of
all the growth they had experienced.
Two of the companies reached revenues that surpassed $50 million.
How they-and every other company I've worked with that has hit or
exceeded $100 million-got bigger was surprisingly easy to answer.
I was excited about what we had discovered. I felt like we had
come up with a unifying theory of entrepreneurial business growth.
We tightened up the charts and presented them on the first night of
Showing the graphic evidence of these growth stages evoked a
pretty strong reaction from our attendees.
"I definitely can relate to your theory," one told me. "I have been
stuck at the $1 million level for five years now, and can't seem to break
out of it."
Another said, "My business is old and profitable. It did over $20
million last year, and I don't really need more money. But I would
like to see it grow to $100 million in the next five or 10 years-not
for me but to have something big enough to distribute to my 10
Over the next four days, we made numerous references to this unifying
theory-that at each of the four stages of entrepreneurial growth,
you will face certain distinct problems, challenges, and opportunities,
and that these problems, challenges, and opportunities depend less on
what business you are in than on the size of your business.
Other issues matter as well, but if you know what to expect at each
stage of the game and prepare yourself for those common problems,
challenges, and opportunities, it will be much easier to reach the next
PROBLEMS, CHALLENGES, AND OPPORTUNITIES
I have made some improvements in my unifying theory since the re-treat.
Here is my updated idea about the four stages of entrepreneurial
growth and the most important problem, challenge, and opportunity
that presents itself at each stage:
Stage One: Infancy-zero to $1 million in revenue
Main Problem: You don't really know what you are doing.
Main Challenge: Making the first profitable sale.
Main Opportunity: Achieving a minimum critical mass of customers.
Stage Two: Childhood-$1 million to $10 million in revenue
Main Problem: You are only breaking even or may even be losing
Main Challenge: Creating many additional, profitable products
Main Opportunity: Increasing cash flow and becoming profitable.
Stage Three: Adolescence-$10 million to $50 million in
Main Problem: Your systems are strained, and customers are noticing.
Main Challenge: Turning the chaos into order.
Main Opportunity: Learning how to establish useful protocols and
manage processes and procedures.
Stage Four: Adulthood-$50 million to $100 million in
revenue and beyond
Main Problem: Sales slow down and may even stall.
Main Challenge: Becoming entrepreneurial again.
Main Opportunity: Getting the business to run itself.
Of the 30 people who attended the retreat, about six were just
starting out (although several of them had completed successful careers
and were beginning anew). Most were in one of the early stages of
growth, and three were already closing in on $25 million in revenues.
WHAT SHOULD YOU WANT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Despite their differences, the retreat attendees all wanted the same
thing: to get to the next level.
And guess what? At the end of our experience together, all of
them said they knew exactly what they needed to do to achieve their
I was enormously gratified by their comments, hugely proud of
their transformations, and immensely excited about the ideas I had
gotten from them. About a third of the group said they had gotten
their money's worth from the retreat "after the second day." The rest,
on the final afternoon, cited specific actions they were going to take
(or, in some cases, had already taken) to achieve their goals. In all,
the experience was worth a great deal more than $10,000 to each and
every one of them.
In the chapters that follow, you will have access to all of the ideas we
talked about at that retreat, and many more that we didn't have time
to discuss during our four days of brainstorming. If you read this book
actively and positively (thinking hard about how these ideas could work
for you and your business, and not discarding any of them because you
might have heard them before or because they just don't seem, at first
glance, to be relevant to your situation), you will be able to:
Identify where your business is now and what specific problems,
challenges, and opportunities lie ahead.
Determine a path to get your business to the next level, and then
chart the next path to reach the following level.
Continue to grow your business into the millions and tens of
millions and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Be in charge of all this growth and profit from it.
Become a primary beneficiary of multiple multimillion-dollar
Surround yourself with helpful, work-loving people.
Reduce the time you spend working.
Swap the job you have now for the very best job in the world!
In this book, I am going to give you every concept, strategy, technique,
and skill you need to make your transformation. What you have
to give is simply your good faith and time. Good faith and time are
what every one of the 30 businesspeople gave when they came to the
retreat, and those investments were enough to create for each of them
a very practical plan of action that will take their businesses to the next
level. It worked for them. It should work for you.
Actually, they gave something else that you haven't given: $10,000.
When you put these recommendations into action and are happy with
the results, I hope you'll write to me and tell me all about it. Including
a check for $10,000 will be optional.
Excerpted from "Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat" by Michael Masterson. Copyright © 0 by Michael Masterson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.