Like so many businesses out there, Big Bang essentially started in my house. As an independent consultant, I did database development, ISO-9000 training, as well as the odd training work for companies like CompUSA and Binary Research. If my wife came home at night and I was still in my robe, she knew I'd been working that day.
How a business grows from there generally takes one of two paths - small organic growth, or funded rapid growth. I chose the organic path, and it's worked well for me. After eight years in business, Big Bang does a few million a year in sales and has fourteen employees. We have a five acre campus, with a putting green and tee box, sand volleyball court, and a recently added disc golf course. We grill out in the summer for lunch and hang out on the patio after hours with cold beer and drinks. We have actually been profitable every year. I can't begin to explain how much I enjoy what I do and who I work with.
However, I'd be lying if I didn't say I occasionally thought about what Big Bang could have done with venture capital. Would we have become the next Facebook? Not likely at all. But, could we be doing tens or hundreds of millions in sales? Potentially. But at what cost? Would I even still be here? What about the staff? Would they be here too, or would the appeal of cashing out stock options have been too tempting? It's both exciting and daunting to consider.
Regardless of the path taken though - slow and steady, or meteoric - the path to smart business is not dramatically different. And what I mean by that, is be conservative.
When it became time to move from the house to an office, I elected to sublease two offices from a law firm I did business with. Now that obviously didn't leave much room for growth, but remember, adding that first employee was a 100% increase in staffing! That's huge. It gave me the opportunity to learn about business outside the house - about employees, phone and internet bills, liability insurance, etc. The risk was minimal, and I think that's something business owners don't always take into consideration. We're supposed to be these aggressive, passionate, mavericks, when in reality, we're far more conservative than most would ever expect.
As Big Bang and the UIU grew, we moved our offices from the subleased rooms to a 3500 square foot office... in the same building. Nothing crazy, but it accommodated the four of us (another 100% increase!) and gave us room to grow to eight people, and have room for our testing equipment and lab. Here was a bigger jump, but the decision needed to be weighed against our growth. Now, did we still buy our desks from Office Max or Office Depot and have to put them together ourselves? Absolutely. The conference room table and chairs? Scavenged from my father's storage unit because he moved his business. Risky at $5000.00 plus per month for rent? Somewhat, but not much in comparison to the revenue of the company. The greater risk was stagnating the business.
Eventually we moved again, this time to our five acre campus with an office building that could accommodate another 100% increase in staff... which we're quickly approaching. And it was the conservative decision. While admittedly we've put a tremendous amount of money into the property, we didn't have to right away, and our loan payment is less that our former lease. So, while the million dollar loan might seem outrageous and frightening, the day-to-day math proved to be an easy decision. Less money being paid for twice the space and an awesome environment. Wild and crazy appearing from the outside, but actually very conservative. Could we have gone bigger and more expensive? Yes, according to the bank. Should we have? Absolutely not.
Where I'm not conservative though, is with my employees. They are the lifeblood of the company, and while I can nickel and dime on desks and chairs, I refuse too with the employees. We generally pay at the high end of the scale. Our benefits are second to none. Keeping these people, and keeping them happy is what allows Big Bang to thrive, not just survive. Spending a couple hundred extra dollars for a bigger, better monitor, or dual monitors, is a no-brainer. And because we're willing to do that, they're that much more productive, which makes Big Bang more profitable, which leads to the disc golf course in the back yard.