The Lure Of The Inverse Pyramid

“We’re going to do TEN deals this year!…”

Man, did that feel good — if a bit terrifying — to say out loud. There I was, back in 2014, talking to a far more seasoned investor at his gorgeous offices and I was hoping he’d be impressed, give me a high-five, and slap me on the back for being such a go-getter.

We were just getting started in earnest, but we wanted to go big (or go home — as the Vegas-inclined amongst you may be thinking). My partner and I had big targets, big goals, big dreams, big everything. I wanted to do something impressive. “Wow, ten deals in one year!” I could already hear my future admirers saying. “You’re amaaaaaaazing.

But that’s not what I got from this investor. What he said, instead, deflated me to the core…

Now, I didn’t feel quite that down, but it was a hard truth-bomb to swallow at the time when this kindly and unindulgent-of-my-over-enthusiasm investor told me all those years ago in that steady, knowing voice of his: “That’s nice. But sometimes it’s better to grow slow so you can grow fast.”

Grow slow, to grow fast…

Grow slow to grow fast?…

Grow slow to…

No, no, no. And NO! What was this guy talking about? Was he crazy? Did he listen to our plan? Did he realize how committed we were? Did he know who he was talking to? Who the hell did he think he was, telling us to grow slow?

I’d show him!

[Spoiler alert: I didn’t.]

Because guess how many deals we ended up doing in 2014? A grand total of 1.5 (which kept us plenty busy, by the way).

And it was only with hindsight at the end of that year that I appreciated the wisdom of his words (he’s a fellow Patel, so maybe that’s where he gets his smarts from!). And I find myself coming back to those words again and again and again because you can never hear — or read — good advice enough: grow slow, to grow fast.

I get it. I’ve clearly been there too. When we have an idea or are just getting started on something, it’s sexy and exciting to make bold statements (make the world’s information searchable, make Mars habitable, eliminate polio…). It inspires us to shoot beyond the stars. It attracts people to our vision. It may even get us written about in newspapers and magazines.

But what bold statements don’t do is come true on their own.

And so many beginners can get so desperate to rush to the top that they forget about the grunt work required to create the foundation at the bottom. They sacrifice long-term growth for short-term success. They build wings of wax to fly to the sun.

But the bottom is where it all begins. The foundation is literally and figuratively what the business is built on, so should be the one thing we don’t try to rush, don’t try to skip over, and don’t try to do too quickly. Or as my dad always says: “Don’t try to build an inverse pyramid.”

It’s not easy. Many of us (or at least some of us) want to be able to brag — even if just to ourselves — about how much we have accomplished in a small period of time. Many of us (or at least some of us) want to impress our peers with how much we have achieved so soon after getting started. Many of us (or at least some of us) want to stretch ourselves far out of our comfort zones to build our businesses. But many of us (or at least some of us) can also become so desperate to get there that we become hasty.

And the difference between speed and haste is all the difference in the world.

Can you do ten deals in one year? Of course. And I know many investors who did twice that number in less time. But you know what else? Many of those same investors then spent the next FEW YEARS cleaning up the mess, offloading bad investments, going bankrupt, or trying to keep life-threatening, stress-induced illnesses at bay.

That could have been us.

But instead, 2014 was a slow and foundational year. And the solid foundation we laid that year then allowed us to scale and grow much faster over the next four years. THAT’s what growing slow to grow fast means. Forgetting about our pride, the imaginary headlines, the smug dinner party conversations we could have been having, and just getting used to the tedium and time it takes to build a solid business.

And who really cares if takes 5 months, 5 years, or 5 decades for us to get to where we want to go? As long as we are making progress, the timescale shouldn’t matter. We have to remember that our deadlines and targets are so often arbitrary. And we have to remember to be extra vigilant so that we don’t get to the top arbitrarily, too.

The thing we have to remember most of all is that standing on top of an inverse pyramid is not really a success. Not really a success at all.

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About Me
Rupal Patel logo
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Rupal is a born-and-bred New Yorker now living near London. Her high-octane career as a CIA officer turned serial entrepreneur has taken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones to corporate boardrooms and international stages.

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