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(Andre Van Vugt - Giant Vision)
(Andre Van Vugt - Giant Vision)

Exit: John Warrillow

Keep it real, dream in Technicolor Add to ...

It's said that intelligence can be defined as the ability to have two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still function.

If that's true, Robert Barnard must be a genius.

Mr. Barnard is CEO of Decode, a Toronto-based boutique consultancy that helps large organizations understand and engage the youth, young adult and young family markets. He started the business 15 years ago and he has been growing it steadily since.

Mr. Barnard and his team recently decided to open a UK office. His goals for it illustrate an entrepreneur living modestly and, at the same time, maintaining a big vision: "Year one for us in the UK is all about three things: getting the core team of three or four set up in London, meeting as many 'useful' people as we can and breaking even. By year five, I see London as a full 10-person office working on truly influential projects that engage young people as consumers, employees and citizens. By then, it will be a part of a three- to four-office global network."

Intelligent entrepreneurs operate with one foot firmly planted in reality. They live within their means, guard their equity with their life and finance the bulk of their growth out of cash flow. At the same time, the intelligent entrepreneur needs one foot in dreamland. To attract a buyer, you need to communicate what your business can achieve should the buyer choose to apply his or her considerable resources to it. You need to sell the vision of how big an opportunity you're sitting on if the right company came along to help you exploit it.

I asked Mr. Barnard why he chose to open an office in the UK in the depths of the country's worst recession in a generation. "I think entering the market in a down economy really helps the cost side of the sheet. Great people are a bit cheaper, and business service companies who specialize in startups are looking for business. Hotwire and 'hot desks' make life easier than when we started Decode 15 years ago. It certainly helps that the Canadian operations are doing very well, even in a tough economy, so we decided to fund from cash flow versus going outside for investment."

Plod along with both feet in reality, and potential buyers will label your company "a lifestyle business" and pass on the opportunity to invest. Plant both feet in dreamland, and pesky things like payroll will become a challenge. Intelligent owners run their business in reality while dreaming in Technicolor.

Special to the Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is an entrepreneur, author and speaker who has started and exited four companies. He most recently transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which he sold to the Corporate Executive Board in 2008. He is the author of Drilling for Gold (Wiley, New York 2002), and in 2008 he was recognized by BtoB Magazine's "Who's Who" list as one of America's most influential business-to-business marketers. Mr. Warrillow is currently working on his next book, Built To Sell: Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell , due for release on Feb. 1, 2010.

This is a corrected version of the story. The name of Mr. Barnard's consultancy, Decode, was misspelled in a previous version.

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Follow on Twitter: @JohnWarrillow


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