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A few years ago, when I was a director in Ernst & Young's Venture Capital Advisory Group, one of my goals was to build relationships with fast growing companies. The firm wanted to expand its share of the accounting pie, and believed one of the best ways to do that was to focus on those companies currently below the radar of the other global audit firms. It is a good strategy; young ventures are desperate for support from service providers be they law, accounting, marketing or public relations. The problem, however, is: how does one decide which ones (of the thousands of small companies starting out) will become big companies - big enough to justify the cost of investing in them now?

Knowing which "horse" to back - is half the battle. As a result, and in an effort to ensure a shared nomenclature, I started to develop a communal taxonomy to help classify the various types of ventures that my team and I encountered on a daily basis. Our goal was simple - identify which companies should be "hunted", and which should be allowed to "roam free". I'd like to share with you now, my taxonomy for referencing ventures. It is a jungle out there after all, and you need to hunt efficiently in order to stay alive.

The Four Types of Business Animals You can Hunt

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For the most part, I classify companies as one of four types: Mice, Dogs, Elephants and Gazelles.

• Mice are small companies that are likely to stay small. Think "Bob's Pizza"- they can serve a great slice of 'za but it is unlikely they will double in size annually.

• Elephants are large companies whose growth is constant, but at a low level. Think Royal Bank. Its revenues grow annually, but it is so large that the growth is negligible over the short term, yet noticeable over the long term. Unfortunately, these companies have a high client acquisition cost.

• Dogs are medium to large companies that are experiencing low or negative growth. Think "AOL". A great company, but its revenue is shrinking. In the venture capital business, I often refer to these companies as kennel capital, i.e., companies that should be put to sleep.

• Gazelles are young companies that are experiencing extreme, massive growth. For those that pitch them early, the CAC is low and carries with it a high return on investment. Think "Facebook".

From a cash flow perspective, all four business animals start at similar points, however, they diverge rather quickly. The green Mouse stays fairly consistent, growing and shrinking its cash flow over time - possibly as a result of seasonal conditions. Never is it losing money, but it's never really hitting it big, either. The yellow Elephant starts in the best cash flow position and grows consistently at a relatively reasonable CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate - a common business term used to represent the annualized growth of the business). Backing an elephant is never a bad idea, it is in fact, the safest bet (no one ever got fired from trying to land an Elephant). Unfortunately, Elephants are hunted by all, and this in turn, drives up the CAC.

Elephants also tend to be more bureaucratic and the sales cycle, too. Landing Elephants can also be extremely long sales cycle (months not weeks). The blue Dog starts with decent enough cash flows, but any effort to win them as clients is wasted, since their growth is negative and these Dogs may soon need to be put to sleep. This results in high CAC for Dogs, and since many of the Dogs your try to do business with won't survive, the average CAC is raised.

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The Gazelles are where it's at from a business development (aka hunting) perspective. Gazelles tend to have the highest CAGR. They're also non-bureaucratic, and are flat in their organizational chart, which contributes to shorter sales cycles and lower CAC.

Two other Animals that roam the landscape

In my travels, I've run across two other types of animals that business development officers need to be wary of. First, there are the Blowfish, named by my good friend Joe Timlin of Growthworks, one of Canada's leading venture capital funds. Joe describes Blowfish as self-aggrandizing entrepreneurs who "inflate" themselves moments before presentations. These entrepreneurs are often witnessed claiming to know software better than Microsoft, search better than Google, and know mobile better than Nokia. Their goal is display a blind faith / confidence, which they hope will be infectious. Unfortunately it seldom is, and often Blowfish undermine their creditability with their posturing.

Giraffes are similar to Blowfish in that they aren't ideal targets for business development. Giraffes are similar looking to Gazelles from the neck down, but from the neck up, a firaffe's head is squarely in the clouds. The company has the potential to run fast like a Gazelle, but it's weighed down by senior management's unrealistic views. Unlike Blowfish, Giraffes tend to do well, but their growth often plateaus due to management's internal limitations. For instance, Giraffes tend to claim that they will hit $50M in revenue within five years. Hearing this is supposedly every potential investors dream come true. But the truth is, very few companies succeed in achieving it.

Companies doing $50M (Gazelles) do exist; they are just a lot more rare than the Giraffes and Blowfish would have us believe. Take, for example, the top 10 companies on the 2006 Profit 100 list, prepared by Profit Magazine. Of the top ten on that list, only four companies are doing more than $50M in revenue, and of those four, only two are making money.

How to pick a Gazelle

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Imagine getting in on the ground floor of Google, Facebook, Workbrain, Salesforce.com, or even Holey Soles. Each were (and continue to be) global Gazelles. The problem is, it is difficult to weigh the claims of future clients. In the ten years I've been listening to pitches, I've only once heard a company say: "We have a so-so chance at growth". Every company to grace my boardroom is "the greatest company since Google". So how does one tell which are Blowfish, which are Giraffes, and which are Gazelles?

I can share with you some signs I use to spot a potential Gazelle, but I would be mendacious if I claimed that I could always tell the Gazelles from the Giraffes, and in fact, anyone who claims that is lying. If we could spot Gazelles perfectly, we'd be rich and on a beach in the Cayman Islands. What I can share are some tips for spotting a potential Gazelle. In truth, only time will tell which companies go on to become a Facebook and which go on to become a Friendster (never heard of Friendster? That's because it became a Dog long before the market it had first-mover advantage in grew large enough).

Look for the following to spot a Gazelle:

(1) Focus on those in industries with CAGR > 25%. If an industry is growing annually by 25% or more, then even those companies who finish second or third in their niche will do well. After all, a rising tide floats all boats. Backing companies in mature markets is like hunting for Gazelles on barren fields. Companies can't grow exponentially unless their industry grows exponentially.

(2) Look for Scalability. If a company can scale, it means they can produce their products for ever-increasing margins (i.e., the 1000th widget costs less to make than the 10th). Always a necessity if you are looking to sustain double digit growth.

(3) Focus on Sustainable Competitive Advantage. If the company you are reviewing lacks any sort of proprietary intellectual property (i.e., patents), or has no barrier to entry, how will they stop others from flooding the market and eating their lunch? Gazelles continue to grow faster than their competitors by being able to differentiate their offerings to their clients. I argue that the iPod isn't the best mp3 player in the world. It lacks a radio, doesn't handle all file formats, and doesn't allow for upgrading. Yet is the ipod has more than 80%+ of the MP3 player market. Why? Because of its form factor (which has been copied) and because of itunes. itunes creates a barrier to entry for others, and helps sustain Apple's massive growth.

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(4) Look for the 10x rule. Being a little better, a little faster; or a little cheaper isn't enough to turn a startup into a Gazelle. For that to happen, a company has to offer a solution that is 10x faster, 10x better, 10x more secure, 10x cheaper, etc. To sustain double digit growth over the long term, and/or to obtain dominant market position, you will need a 10x solution, a solution that is exponentially better.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are a startup, an angel investor looking to back the best startups, or a service provider looking to serve either, you need to be able to spot high growth companies earlier than others. You need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff - the potential world leaders from those that will become kennel capital.

If you are looking to find the next Google, Facebook, or Workbrain, you need to strap on your pith helmet and start tracking the Gazelles. Doing so will most likely ensure the greatest returns on your efforts, after all, have you ever tried to wrestle an Elephant?

Sean Wise writes on venture capital and entrepreneurship. You can now order his first collection of columns, entitled: Wise Words: Lessons in Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship at Amazon.com or you can find out more at WiseMentorCapital.

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Why managing by metrics doesn't work

A long, long time ago, in a city far away, after transferring from the Facility of Engineering I started to pursue my Master's in Business Administration. One of the similarities between the two disciplines was their use of mathematical modeling to predict future states. In this context, a mathematical model is an abstract model that uses mathematical language to describe the behaviour of a system. In engineering school, we would model the forces acting on a bridge at the design stage to ensure the stability of the bridge once built. In business school, we would model key metrics to allow us to benchmark and plan the business's future state and to ensure we could modify the design for maximum efficency. Mathetical modelling allows leaders to manage by metrics (i.e. set objective trackable discrete goals and then track progress against such). Sometimes this is known as "MBO" or "management by objectives", and just as in engineering, while the models' metrics are important, it is how you utlize such that determines the overall value of the model.

The Sales Funnel: Tracking Furture Revenue

Most businesses use a sales funnel to model and track their future revenue through a sales funnel. A sales funnel is a mathematical model, often in the form of an infographic, which facilitates MBO. It is a chart or table which tracks the status, value and probability of leads and potential sales in the near future. If a deal is worth $10,000 but has only a 50/50 chance of getting done, the funnel might list the worth of the deal in the sales funnel as $5,000. Sales funnels typically play a huge role in evaluating and predicting the future state of any business, as they allow managers to benchmark progress.

For venture backed companies, no board meeting is complete without a review of the sales funnel. In that sense, sales funnels can be a useful tracking device for a company's progress. Despite relying on the sales funnel, most companies don't use the funnel to its fullest potential. Most companies look only at the opportunities that remain, and rarely examine those deals that failed to close to learn what changes could have been made to alter the outcome. By examining why deals don't get done, entrepreneurs can learn as much, if not more, than by examining the reasons why some deals did close. I think the English historian, James Anthony Froude said it best: "…mistakes themselves are often the best teachers of all."

It therefore always astounds me when entrepreneurs doom themselves to repeating errors by not spending enough time examining what doesn't work, at least as much as examining what does. Sales funnels should not only be used to track revenue potential, they should routinely be audited to glean all information possible. After all, why track the metrics and then not leverage the investment it took to do so? Another area where metrics are leveraged but often not fully, is in customer service.

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Customer Service vs. Marketing: ARPU vs. CAC

Another area where modeling is often underutilized is in comparing ARPU vs. CAC. Most companies focus on their ARPU (Average Revenue per User-i.e. how much each new customer is worth) to ensure that it exceeds CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost-i.e. how much it costs you to win over a new customer). This is understandable because if ARPU < CAC, your business is doomed to fail. But they often don't go far enough to fix the issues behind the numbers. Take CDnow Online, a darling of the dot.com boom. CDnow, according to Optimize Magazine, was spending approximately $40 to win a new customer at the height of dot.com mania. However, each customer typically only bought $25 worth of CDs. Thus for each new customer, CDnow Online lost $15 each time it landed a new customer. How much sense does that make? Not a lot, except perhaps as an example to founders of what not to do-that metrics (like ARPU and CAC) are only useful in context and when viewed from a gestalt perspective.

Just as sales funnels can be better leveraged, it makes no sense (at least to me) to focus more on attracting customers than on keeping them. After all, CAC is a sunk cost (i.e. once invested, the money is gone) and as such, founders should try to maximize the return on each customer instead of constantly looking to fill their funnel with new customers. And yet, most companies spend more resources on marketing to potential customers than they do on customer service to keep the clients they have already won. Want proof? Just ask yourself: When was the last time your mobile phone company offered you a new handset, or even a reduced rate, for just being a customer? That's right - never. Most companies, especially the phone companies, save their really good deals and incentives for attracting new customers rather than ensuring that their current customer base is satisfied.

Let's look at an example:

Telco A spends $10,000,000 on acquiring new customers and in that period they successful acquire 10,000 new customers. The company's CAC would be $1000, meaning it cost them $1000 to win a customer. Now, if the average revenue per customer is only $50 a month, to break even on customer acquisition, Telco A needs to keep their customers for at least 20 months to recoup their investment. Thus, based on these facts, I'd suggest the model needs to ensure that you have enough resources to ensure customer service is at a level to keep new customers for a minimum of 20 months (it would actually be much longer, since CAC only covers customer acquiring, not the actual cost of delivering the service).

Even with the above data (leading managers to focus on keeping customers not finding new ones) front and center to most management teams, it amazes me that the majority of companies today continue to focus on attracting customers instead of keeping them. In doing so, these ventures set themselves up for an ever-decreasing return on customer attraction.

Here's a recent example:

My partner switched her cell phone from Telus Mobility to Rogers Wireless recently. In the first month, she had some basic trouble paying her bill online. Now three months later, having spent hours on the phone waiting for customer service to address it, she is so fed up that she plans to switch back. Now Mobile Rogers has lost the income stream Allison would have provided, and they also lost the sunk costs (CAC) they spent getting her to switch. How much sense does that make?

Want proof? Let's drill into their actual numbers. Looking at Rogers Wireless' 2006 Annual Statements:

• ARPU is $807.48/year (67.29/month *12)

• CAC was $399

So each customer Rogers Wireless wins is worth $67.27 in revenue a month, but it costs them $399 to win a new customer. Therefore, based on these numbers, it takes approximately 6 months on average for Rogers to recoup their investment. So wouldn't it be better for Rogers to work on keeping their current customers happy rather than focusing on attracting new ones? This conclusion isn't rocket science. In fact, even Rogers' management confirms that they are aware of this by stating in their report to shareholders: "Focus on Customer Retention ….a need for increased focus on customer satisfaction, the promotion of new data and voice services and features and customer retention." Notwithstanding, my experiences, show Rogers' reality continues to deviate from the strategy. See for yourself: Call up Rogers Wireless' 1-800 number twice. During the first call, try to speak to a live customer service agent regarding a problem with your service. During the second call, try to speak to a sales agent about switching to Rogers. Track the time it takes for you to actually speak to a "real live operator". See if you wait way longer to talk to an operator in the queue for customer service than in the queue for sales.

In my mind at least, this proves that some companies continue to care more for new sales, than they do for current customers. Now this, admittedly, is an unscientific observational experiment, and needs to be taken with a grain of sale. There are many factors that might cause the aforementioned differential in service time. Further, I'm sure Rogers' Wireless management can provide many sound reasons why they focus on more on new customers than on current customers, but to me, they don't hold water. Why spend all that money (CAC) to attract new customers, only to fail to keep them happy. It is no wonder that the telcos push so hard to lock in customers on long service contracts. After all, once they do that, they can spot servicing their customer base and focus on growing it.

Why putting more into customer service is smarter than spending more on marketing

A truism of life at any start-up venture is that there are never enough resources (particularly money) to go round. This scarcity causes management to limit their spending to certain areas. In my experience, the area most focused on by startups is new sales marketing, the idea being that the more customers you can land, the more progress you can make. While that is partially true, I feel it is often short sighted to put marketing before customer service. After all, a long standing client may often do more for the bottom line than an ever changing lineup of new customers. Furthermore, your current customer base has a right to expect their loyalty to be appreciated and serviced, while your future customers do not.

Even better, the cost of customer satisfaction often pales in comparison to CAC. Ask yourself how much money and time your Airline spent to attract you as a customer. Now compare that to how they treat you, once you are a customer. This amazes me. Especially since treating customers well should be a no-brainer. After all, how much more does it cost to smile at your customers? Take Larry Solar from the Solar System in Toronto. Larry runs a mobile concierge service (a combo of limo driver and personal concierge). Larry goes the extra mile for his customers. When you book him to take you to the Toronto airport, he does just that, but also provides water or coffee for that trip (and sometimes cookies). Now that costs him at least $3-5 dollars per visitor (depending on what they drink), but it also shows that Larry takes care of his customers (we expect all limos to be on time, but we don't expect them to provide refreshments). In doing so, he differentiates himself from the competition and retains the loyalty of his customers. Larry knows that attracting new clients is hard, so he's sure to keep the ones he gets .

The Bottom Line

Learning from Larry, ask yourself: What have you done / what can you do to keep the customers who have moved through your sales funnel from slipping away one customer at a time? After all, what is the point of having a full sales funnel if you have a hole in the bucket?

Sean Wise is the Globe and Mail's monthly columnist on Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship. You can now order his first collection of columns, entitled: Wise Words: Lessons in Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship at Amazon.com or you can find out more at WiseMentorCapital.

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I started my life as an Entrepreneur at the ripe old age of 13. Since that time, I've without a doubt read hundreds of books on entrepreneurship, venture capital, angel investing, innovation and business leadership. Often I'm asked to recommend some of the best to those looking to get a jump on their entrepreneurial education. So without further ado, here's my list:

• The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

• How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

• Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

• The Monk who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma

• Getting Things Done by David Allan

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

This is the book I wish I wrote. Kawasaki, bestselling author on more than a half dozen business books, outlines the what, the why and most of all the how of starting a new venture. This book covers topics including but not limited to:

• The Art of Raising Capital

• The Art of Pitching

• The Art of Bootstrapping

• The Art of Recruiting

• The Art of Being a Mensch

The former Chief Evangelist for Apple and founder of ultra successful seed fund, Silicon Valley's Garage Ventures, has taken the blogosphere by storm these last few years, expanding his early works and leveraging his network to share insights. Kawasaki is often controversial, and sometimes arrogant, but his lessons are almost always extremely valuable. For those reasons, Kawasaki is a must read for all founders and funders.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This was actually the first business book I read. The book has been a bestseller since the 1930s, and is still valuable even if some of the examples are slightly dated.

Carnegie extols the virtues of putting yourself in the shoes of others before speaking or taking action. He also shares: why smiling is still the best (and most cost effective) form of customer service; the secret for getting any job (a secret I've successfully used many times); and how to increase employee satisfaction without increasing costs. My favorite lesson - and one I work at each and every day: Don't Criticize, Condemn or Complain.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

If Carnegie's tome helps to minimize conflict, William's and Ury's treatise on negotiation theory sets out a process which, if followed, ensure efficient negotiation and effective conflict mitigation. This great book was required reading while I was in law school and helped bring terms like BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement - i.e. what is the next best case if you fail to resolve the matter) and WATNA (Worse Alternative to Negotiated Agreement - i.e. what is the biggest downside of not resolving the matter) to the forefront. Together, these terms help to clarify the boundaries of any disputed outcome. Whether you are going to ask for a raise or acquire a company, this is your requisite prior reading.

The Monk who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma

I was attracted to Sharma's work by our similar backgrounds. Both of us are Toronto based, washed-up lawyers, who have both found rejuvenation in writing. However, that's where the similarities end. Sharma has been a bestseller in more than 42 countries and sold more than 10 million copies of his first book, The Monk who Sold his Ferrari . Me? Not so many. On the plus side, I do have better hair than Robin, but that's about it.

As for the book, it's a classic parable, helping readers to discover the true meaning of life (and it does). In this "always on", "24/7" world we live in, with ever blurring lines between work and life, this book is more relevant than ever. If you are searching for your purpose, looking to refocus, or just wondering "is there something more", I'd highly recommend this story.

Getting Things Done by David Allan

Do you have hundreds of emails waiting for your reply? A to-do list that gets bigger everyday? More meetings than there are hours in the day? Then Getting Things Done (or GTD as David Allan devotees refer to it) is what you NEED to read. Yes, NEED to Read. Sited as "the premiere text" for managing time in the modern world, this book outlines how to set and follow through on your priorities. Allan's book has spawned a cult-like following amongst tech entrepreneurs the world over, some even going so far as to create free software to take Allan's GTD to the next level.

Recently, I had the chance to have a "fireside chat" with David during one of Silicon Valley's "Under the Radar" events. If I wasn't convinced before of the value of Allan's program, one need only look to the legions of devotees that swarmed him after the interview, clamoring for autographs and pictures. David Allan has become the rockstar of organization, and rightfully so. Some readers claim double or triple increases in their efficiency and huge decreases in work -related anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed by your INBOX, take a break and read this book.

The Bottom Line:

A few months ago, I shared with readers Jiu-Jitsu Master Sensei Helio Gracie's secret to martial arts and life - always keep learning. If that makes sense to you - then grab one, two or all of the above texts, turn off your blackberry and improve your entrepreneurial life by reading a chapter a day.

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Lessons from the Green Lantern-With wisdom and willpower, anything is possible

In today's rapidly changing business environment, inspiration comes from all sorts of interesting places. A quick preview of the shelves of the local business bookstore confirms this with titles including:

  • Aslett's Everything I Needed to Know About Business I Learned in the Barnyard;
  • Axelrod's Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Monopoly;
  • Robert's Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation;
  • Bing's Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the Real Art of War

And my favourite, of course:

  • Brody's Everything I Needed to Know about Business I Learned from a Canadian

So, jumping on the bandwagon, let me present to you, true believer, for the first time ever: Everything I know about Business I learned from the Green Lantern.

Who is the Green Lantern?

In 1960, during the dawn of the silver age of comics, DC Comics Editor Julius Swartz set out to revise and update one of his childhood favorites, a superhero named the Green Lantern. In doing so, Swartz helped usher in the second age of superheroes.

The Green Lantern is one of 7,200 space patrolmen, a member of the fabled Green Lantern Corps. Each patrolman guards their particular sector of space against evil and injustice. Each answers only to the all knowing race of blue skinned aliens dubbed the Guardians of the Universe. Each Lantern is armed only with their quick wit, courage, and an omnipotent weapon of justice called quite sensibly a "power ring".

This ring, powered by the wearer's willpower, can manifest its owner's imagination. With it, the bearer of the ring, (often called "a Ringslinger") can fly, turn invisible and/or immaterial, be telepathic, translate languages, shoot force beams, transmute matter, and can even create hard light holograms in any shape or form (think giant green boxing gloves, shovels and teddy bears). Truth be told, the ring can pretty much do anything, subject to three limitations:

  1. The ring has difficulty affecting anything colored yellow (n.b. this is due to an impurity in the central power battery that was later overcome);
  2. The ring can only hold a limited amount of energy (and thus typically needs to be recharged, at a "power battery", every 24 hours); and
  3. It is only as strong as the possessor's willpower.

It is this last point that truly defines a Green Lantern. To join the Green Lantern Corps, one need only be fearless and possess an incredibly strong will. Personal backgrounds are irrelevant. In fact, the Corps themselves are an interstellar mosaic made up of an almost infinitely assorted menagerie of sentient beings, making it a bastion of diversification.

Why does he matter?

For me, the Green Lantern has always shown that with wisdom (knowing what needs to be done) and willpower (the dedication one needs to do what is needed) altering reality is possible.

This isn't just a comic book fantasy - athletes around the world have testified to the power of visualization. Michael Jordan saw the shot before he took it. Wayne Gretzky saw the winning goal before it left his stick. Carl Lewis imagined breaking the 100m world record before he crossed the finish line. These athletes claim that by visualizing the outcome they desire and willing it to be, they are actually able to increase the probability of that outcome occurring proving the power of visualization.

In her 2006 bestseller, The Secret, Rhonda Byrne dubbed this theory "the Law of Attraction." Well, this theory is not a revolutionary one - the idea that positive thoughts introduced into reality can lead to positive outcomes dates back thousands of years. In fact, Buddha stated, "What you have become is the result of what you have thought." It can be found in beliefs as ancient as Hinduism. More contemporary thinkers believe that this may be more than a simple theory and can actually be traced back to the scientific principles that underlie Quantum Physics. Evidence lacking aside, there is some merit in visualizing your desired outcome prior to pursuing it. After all, if you can't believe it, how can be ready to receive it?

The other aspect of the Green Lantern that always fascinated me was the fact that each member of the Corps had to be fearless. As a child, I thought that meant our heroes were "without fear," almost as if nothing caused them anxiety or trepidation. But more recently, the stories of these Emerald Warriors have shown, at least to me, that when it comes to being fearless, one needs to seek a deeper meaning. This is best described by paraphrasing Ambrose Redmoon:

To be fearless is not to be without fear; it is to understand fear, to know fear, and to continue on in spite of and in the face of what you fear. What can you learn from the Green Lantern?

Lesson 1: Be Fearless

Everyone fears something. Some fears, like agoraphobia (the fear of being unable to escape a situation) are seemingly irrational and may be the result of childhood trauma or insecure attachment. These sorts of fears are better left to the therapist. Instead, I want to deal with the other type of fear - the fear that prevents you from pursuing tasks you know you should. For example: speaking up at a meeting, asking for a raise, or agreeing to lead your team.

Let me be clear on this, in my mind at least, there is nothing wrong with being afraid, but there is something wrong with letting that fear prevent you from pursuing what you know is right. Fear has its place (ex. it is appropriate to be afraid of putting you head in a lions' mouth), but you have to decide how much control over your actions you want that fear to hold over you.

Use the example of Green Lantern to know your fear and to overcome your fear by undertaking the following exercise.

  • What is it that you want to do?
  • What do you fear that prevents you from doing it?
  • Where does that fear come from?
  • How else, other than facing it head on, can you overcome it?

Lesson 2: Wisdom + Willpower = Results

Everyone wants a better life, world, and/or job. Few know how to get what they desire. The Green Lantern teaches us that to shape your reality, you need two things:

  • Wisdom - knowing what you need to do
  • Willpower - having the courage to do what is needed

Let's say you want to lose weight:

Step 1: Understand how one loses weight, i.e. you lose weight when the calories you burn exceed the calories you intake. Understand that you thus have to either lower your calorie intake (i.e. cut out sweets) or increase the calories your burn, (i.e. exercise more.)

However, knowing what you need to do to lose weight isn't enough; you need to then have the determination, the dedication, and the willpower to follow through. Thus you need:

Step 2: Have the willpower to follow through, each and everyday, exercising regularly and monitoring your calories throughout. Have the courage to stick to your plan, even though it is hard.

So as you can see, knowing what to do is not enough, you need to have the willpower to pursue your plan and the dedication to keep at it. This is true if what you want is a promotion, a capital infusion to grow you business or to lose your beer belly.

Lesson 3: Remember to Recharge your Battery

The Green Lantern shows us that even the most powerful tool in the universe has its limits. The same is true with our most powerful personal tool, our brain. No matter who you are, or what you do, everyone needs downtime.

For some this can be a simple nap, while for others it can be a weekend at the cottage. Regardless of what it is for you, you need to schedule regular breaks from you duties, or you risk running out of power when you need it most.

Seems like a simple lesson, yes? Yet, many high performing executives routinely suffer from burnout, the epitome of running out of energy.

Among the high-performing CEOs I've had the pleasure to work with, this issue is a real one. Notwithstanding, there really is no excuse for it. After all, what is the point of winning the battle while losing the war? Yet, time and time again, I find these business superstars exhausted. When I discuss the need for balance with them, almost to a man, they come back with the same reasoning: "I'm too busy to rest" or "there is way too much to get done." My simple, yet effective response to this has always been: "Isn't that like saying 'I'm too busy driving to get gas?'"

Lesson 4: Strength through Diversity

Years ago, the Guardians of the Universe (and Editor Julius Swartz in the '60s) espoused a fundamental truth in the universe: through diversity comes strength. Both utilized this fact to make the Green Lantern Corps the strongest force of good in the universe by filling its ranks with beings from all walks of life (and origins). Over the years, the GL Corps' 7200 members have included: a talking squirrel, a living robot, a being made of plant life, and even a sentient planet.

While managers of earth-bound teams may not have the ability to hire such (but who wouldn't want a planet on their team?), they do have the ability to stack their teams from all walks of life and backgrounds and by doing so, will add incredible variety and inspire creativity.

Lesson 5: Everyone has a Boss

Bob Dylan said it best: You're gonna have to serve somebody. All Green Lanterns report to blue-hued immortals known only as the Guardians of the Universe, so even while the individual patrolmen have nigh autonomy, in the end they each have a boss to report to.

The same is true in business. CEOs report to the Board of Directors, Entrepreneurs report to their clients, etc. One needs to therefore understand one's boss before undertaking their mission. So every hero (business or super) needs to know four things:

  1. Who is their true boss?
  2. What is their bosses' end goal?
  3. How do they affect that goal?
  4. What do they need to do to further that goal?

Try keeping these points in mind, or risk exposing yourself to the wrath of your "true boss".

Green Lantern of the Real World

To me, Richard Branson is the Green Lantern of our world. Here is a man, who through the sheer force of his will created an empire. He dropped out of school at an early age and began shaping his world through business. First through the magazine "Student," then through Virgin Records followed by Virgin Atlantic; his creations now include more than 200 companies operating under the Virgin Brand.

On the question of Fearlessness, he is equally qualified having traversed both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in a hot air balloon. Trips which almost cost him his life on several occasions, yet he did not stop until he finished what he started.

On the issue of willpower, William Whitehorn, a senior Virgin executive (currently President of Virgin Galactic, Branson's latest venture whose goal is to make space travel commercial) said it best about Branson: "When the chips are really down, his determination grows exponentially."

The Bottom Line:

Today, business lessons can be found in many sources, each imbuing its own sense of wisdom and teachings. But if you want to be a hero (super or business), I recommend looking to my childhood favourite, the Green Lantern. I hope that in doing so, you glean the following lessons:

  • Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the decision to pursue something more important than fear
  • Wisdom + Willpower = Results
  • Always make time to Recharge your power source
  • Be open to Diversity
  • Know your Boss

Doing so may not necessarily make you look good in tights, but it should help in your annual review, even if you bosses aren't tiny blue aliens.

Sean Wise is the Globe's monthly entrepreneurship and venture capital columnist. You can read more of Sean's teachings in his new book, Wise Words: Lessons in Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital , available now at www.Amazon.com

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