5 Strategies To Evolve Your Inner Entrepreneur

Forget "up-or-out." This is how you take your career "up and on."

By Lisa Calhoun

You’ve been warned at some point in your career that not everyone has the skills to go the distance with a fast-growing firm. Not even CEOs and founders are immune from this type of criticism. They often get the eyeball from the board when there’s a blip in their business. They find themselves “up or out,” the victims of the “Peter principle,” or told “the company outgrew them.”

But talent doesn’t have to “time out.”

There are ways you can change “up or out” into “onward and upward.” Some leaders—corporate executives and entrepreneurs alike—enjoy enviable track records as change agents in hyper-growth industries.

Here are some of their time-tested strategies for not doing better than just keeping up—for, in fact, setting the pace:

1. Be the boogeyman.

Boland Jones founded PGI in Atlanta in 1991. Since then, he’s taken it from a startup to IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Just recently, Siris Capital Group agreed to buy their common stock in a billion dollar transaction. His secret to evolving his inner entrepreneur? “I try to create the Boogeyman outside our business, inside our business.” He recommends constant reinvention by “bastardizing your current business” before someone else does.

“Complacency is in all of us. It’s not that you’re losing your edge—it’s just more comfortable. That’s why the risk and change agents are going to eat you alive.” If you aren’t ready for them, that is.

2. Challenge the status quo.

The moment you find yourself getting too comfortable with the status quo is the moment you start to lose your edge. “We look for the areas where the rest of our competitors are comfortable and then go after it full force,” says James Kilkelly, CEO of Apto Solutions, a company that recycles and repurposes used IT equipment like ATMs, tablets, and mobile phones for some of the largest banks, data centers, and hardware companies in the world.

Kilkelly founded Apto in 2001. Today, it has 6 US locations and several distribution locations overseas. “Every other vendor in our space is cool with clunky enterprise online reporting portals for their clients. We aren’t, so we’re developing ITAD management software solutions that are unlike anything else in the industry.”

3. Simplify the big picture.

Patrick Durham founded medication management leader Curant Health to change the game for patients and reduce healthcare costs. His company has appeared for three consecutive years on the Inc. 500|5000 list, ranking #4 for fastest growing large healthcare companies this year.

To keep the big picture of the patients’ well-being at the top of his mind, he defines value simply: outcomes divided by costs. Applicable across every facet of the healthcare industry, this equation boils up every decision point into one metric with just two factors.

“Everything we do, we do with the sole intention of improving outcomes and lives for the chronically ill patients we serve,” Patrick says. “By keeping the patient at the center of every conversation and using a simple equation to measure value, we keep our entire chronic care management team focused on providing and realizing value for all of our stakeholders.”

4. Listen.

Constantly evolving an entrepreneurial career can mean going back and forth between corporate and startup. David Trice sold his first company to Oracle. He worked there as vice president of product management for Fusion CRM. For most entrepreneurs, that would be story enough.

But David couldn’t stop hearing how companies were frustrated with CRM. He left Oracle to launch EngageCX. “No one has created a B2C CRM before. But if you listen, you’ll hear that’s what the market is crying out for.” Consumer-facing businesses agree—EngageCX, the world’s first B2C CRM, counts VetAura, Rock/Creek, RootsRated and Schiffman’s Jewelers among its first clients.

5. Act on your insights.

Feeding your inner entrepreneur can also mean knowing when you have to solve your own problem. When the cloud and software as a service (SaaS) markets took off, Jeff Laue realized the traditional IT sales strategies he knew from his experience at Siemens and Sun Microsystems wouldn’t work.

“It was clear to me that the cloud was going to disrupt everything,” said Laue. It was 2004. He launched N3, a sales execution company that focuses on techniques that work for cloud-based infrastructures. Today, Jeff says N3 fields the largest global cloud sales force that he’s aware of, with 700 team members. N3’s clients represent a who’s-who list of enterprise software, including HP, Hitachi, SAP, and Microsoft.

Onward and upward

Whether you are giving performance reviews or getting them, keep in mind that you don’t have to grow complacent with your status quo. Whether you’ve been in charge for 2 years or for 20, these strategies keep you evolving onward and upward, no matter how fast paced growth is in your industry.

This article first appeared at Inc.com

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