Lessons learned after taking a big risk to launch a new firm in an up-and-coming sector.
"I know we can do it better.” Simple words, but words that launched our environmental consulting firm. In the early ‘90s, the environmental business was very new, and it was a bit like the gold rush during the mid-1800s. Two of our founders practiced at a nationwide consulting firm and became tired of the bureaucracy and wasteful culture. So, three geologists in their 20s and early 30s decided to form our firm in the early winter of 1993. The first consideration was, would we have any business?
We performed calculations on a dinner napkin in an early exercise of workload forecasting. Once we were confident that we could develop a revenue stream, the real fun began. The early days were an absolute blur of stationary, workspace, telephones, insurance, accounting software, and on and on. We worked 12-hour plus days selling and doing the work and performed back office planning and functions in the remaining waking hours.
Success came quickly because we founded our firm on the golden rule’s simple, true, and timeless principle. It meant treating our clients, staff, subs, vendors, and everyone as we would want to be treated in every interaction. My father, who had built a successful service company of his own, took note of our passion and work ethic and loaned us $150,000 to get started. We were able to pay him back, but as we quickly grew into an Inc. 500 company, we needed additional capital to fund that growth. Thank goodness our prayers paid off and some great advisors introduced some young scientists with no business background to high finance. This capital provided the resources to cash flow the operation and build it into what it is today. So, what did we learn, do right, and get wrong?
- Belief and passion. From day one, we knew we could build a consulting firm that put our clients and staff first, and our passion for the business drove us relentlessly through all of the challenges we encountered, and there were a lot of them!
- Learning to be flexible. We quickly discovered that many assumptions we made about business were wrong, and without being open-minded and the drive to do it right, we would have failed.
- Patience is a virtue. As we reminisce about the early days, we were confronted with many opportunities, hurdles, and crossroads. There were a number of them that if we had chosen incorrectly, we would have lost everything. We learned to exercise patience, pray, and seek counsel at every crossroads.
- Don’t get too comfortable. It is easy to become trapped in successes, but founding a firm is an adventure and journey. Trust me, the next storm is right around the corner, and if you are not vigilant and prepared, it can wreak havoc and create undue stress.
- Leaders eat last. I have heard this phrase, it is a truth, and you will be tested. As a founder/leader, you will need to make many sacrifices to ensure the success of your team and firm: Be prepared to make them.
In our next installment, “Welcome to the Show,” we will share some of our early successes, failures, and significant challenges, how we navigated through them, and what we learned. I bet many of you will be able to relate to them.
Todd Perry, P.G., is a principal and senior geologist at PPM Consultants, Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.