Book Review: From Concept to Scale
From Concept to Scale is a collaborative production out of Praxis Labs. The book information reads:
From Concept to Scale tackles the inevitable challenges every entrepreneur faces when bringing something new into the world. Starting with a Gospel-minded approach to organizational development, the authors examine the opportunities and common pitfalls leaders encounter in the areas of product development, financing, organizational culture, board development, partnerships, time management, and more
In this book, authors Steve Graves, Dave Blanchard, and Josh Kwan have constructed a guide to lead entrepreneurs through practical steps – to go from an idea to a fully operational, sustaining, entity – in what they call a “Field Guide for Entrepreneurs”. A comprehensive and very practical guide this presents less like a book of rules and more like a ‘painter’s palette’, with suggested tools and techniques from which to draw from. While being accessible for the beginner, there is at times an assumption of readers previous experience. While terms are defined as they are introduced, a comprehensive glossary of terms and phrases would also have been helpful.
I found their step-by-step approach, with ‘learn by doing’ practical exercises, to be a great aide in reinforcing the ideas presented. There was a thorough run-through of issues to consider at each stage of organizational development, and each concept was illustrated by the Q&As and case studies that were integrated throughout. The first-hand experiences of mentors and practitioners brought to life what it is to go ‘From Concept to Scale’.
The authors first frame the discussion by introducing six key elements of any developing business or organization. These six elements are the stakes on which everything else hangs: Language & Offering, Model & Structure, and People & Path. In this opening section they also introduce four mindsets for the practitioner to have throughout their organizational development: Embodying the Gospel, Seeking Empathy, Prototyping Everything, and Multiplying Impact. These six elements and four mindsets crop up throughout the development process, so this was a helpful introduction to lay the foundations for the rest of the book.
The authors move on to guide readers through four stages of business/organizational development: Concept, Launch, Prove and Scale. The following is a summary of selected principles I drew from each one:
The writers emphasize the importance of developing language in the concept stage. Refining and communicating clear statements and getting feedback is vital. With an emphasis on being a listener and learner who is humble and empathetic to the needs of others, the concept will be shaped as a community effort. Building the best team and ‘learning your team’ at this stage, is key to implementing the idea well in the launch stage. Do some prototype projects to test out and develop these relationships. The entrepreneur is encouraged to share and test the vision with many people, but cautioned here to carefully consider with whom it is helpful to share the whole vision. Most people are more comfortable with a realistic bite-size picture of the concept. The authors advise keeping the big vision casting within the circle of people who are already on-board to build the project. It is therefore helpful to develop two versions of the concept for communications purposes.
This is also the stage where the entrepreneur maps their goals, and business model – it is important to understand the goals of the business before building its structure. They also consider funding, deciding on how much capital is needed, where it will come from, and how it is spent. To move from concept to launch focus on: goals and deadlines (helping move things forward), sequence (doing right things in right order), and iterating often (keeping path to market flexible).
At this stage, it is worth assessing what risks you are financially, relationally, and personally willing to take. It is also a good place to recognize a needed balance of planning with faith. The authors state, “Completely trusting in Jesus and following a common sense strategy needs to coexist in our lives. As the Arab proverb says, trust in God but tie up your camel.” They go on, “You might tend to pray as if the entire outcome depends completely upon Him, yet work as if it depends entirely upon you. At some point you need to get a good nights rest and see what God has in store for tomorrow.” The planning and risk ultimately needs to rest upon God, not solely your ability to muster up a good thing, or even on good discipline.
This is the time to make decisions, and press ahead with those – where foggy ideas become tangible. “Timing the launch; many people launch too soon because they are impatient. Some miss the opportunity and launch too late. How do you avoid these two? Create specific markers and deadlines. Example: If I raise or don’t raise this amount of money by this date… If I presell or don’t presell this number of units by this date…”
This is also the stage to focus on the two-way relationship of funding, to invite people to become a, “Co-creator of something that advances the common good… Cast vision about advancing the kingdom, and then articulate how the investor can effectively do it through your ministry.”
At this stage consider new ways to communicate your story in bigger ways to a bigger audience. Talk about what the journey is and what is the moral of the story. What is driving you as the entrepreneur? Be honest. Don’t oversell. Developing relationships and establishing trust is premier. Don’t tell the story for the sake of getting noticed, storytelling is a way of communicating the truth.
The authors alert the reader, “The prove stage can wear you down, its like training for a marathon…The prove stage can crush you and make you want to quit.” The thrill of launch can be an energizing mountain top experience with a splashy mass appeal and attention, but, the book warns, “Don’t get sucked in by the hype… Momentum indicates recent progress and gives hope of future performance, but it does not guarantee anything.”
This is a time filled with “significant paybacks… Your personal convictions are backed by data, not just passion.” In this stage you will be testing all of the things that you have put in place for yourself within each of the six main elements.
This chapter walks through, point by point, which things are helpful to define, and then prove. This process will help develop the entrepreneur identify what is needed to confidently step into the Scale stage – and produce the facts and figures needed to bring others along with you. Here you will be assessing whether what you are offering is helpful, whether your approach is productive and sustainable, whether your communication is complete, and if you are a fit for the market you are entering. With this information, you can make adjustments as needed before scaling – or determine if killing the concept is better.
Additional areas to consider at the Prove stage are ways to measure organizational social impact and assess what kind of organizational culture you are developing. Is what you are creating really Gospel-minded? At this point there may be helpful actions to go through before moving to the Scale stage, such as a strategy map, or developing an accountability board, or transitioning a pre-existing board. “You’re likely ready to scale when you’ve met the metrics you set out to prove.”
Should you scale your organization? This section first tackles that crucial question. “How do we keep in proper tension the bonfire of ambition and the peace of quiet excellence? We can begin by taking a moment for reflection, self-examination, and prayer.” While it may be a most glorious path to expand around the globe, consider closely if that is the best fit for the goals of your business or organization.
The book uses the metaphor of a train to talk about organizational scaling, and asks, is the train ready to leave the station? Does it have maps, capable conductor and engineers, correct engine fuel and spare parts? Do the elements, the train, track, and team-work in unity to safely transit the contents of the train? Its important to sort out these details before the train leaves the station, when things are smaller scale and mistakes are less disastrous. Don’t let those outside the train determine whether the train should leave if it is not fully prepared.
When considering the path to scale, it is advisable to continue to prototype and test. Invest in small ways to discover the best path forward. Take the time to pause to become aware of current operations, and determine what new systems need to be put in place to bolster key areas that need strengthening. Be willing to adapt the offerings for new markets, and run prototypes to assess this.
There are two organizational models for scale: vertical integration and replication; and four structures: franchise, acquisition, partnerships and open source. Become aware of which of these best suits your culture, values, goals, offerings etc.
Maintain a strong story by maintaining a sharp and defined language. At this stage the leader is likely not the one communicating the story, so equip others with understanding, and have systems and materials in place. Be consistent and simple with your message across all platforms. The story will be a constant reminder of the direction of the business/organization for people inside and outside.
Assess the transition of your own role at this stage and see that God’s plans for the business trump your plans. Another consideration in this transition is personal well being, and the balance of relationships and other priorities with work. Construct clear personal boundaries so that your life does not slowly get eaten up by your work, and so that you have the energy to thrive.
The book closes with a couple thoughts to consider, firstly “Most learning will come on the job.” Come to terms with the fact that learning as you go is normal. And then an encouragement, “To manage for a healthy lifestyle and for a healthy enterprise.” There is a reminder that although the book hopes to serve as guide, it is most important to keep you eyes upon Jesus to be the supreme guide in all things.
Poppy Jasper serves as the Assistant Editor and writer for the BAM website and has a passion for storytelling and missions.