So there I
was, glued to
my television set,
watching the market crash.
Lehman Brothers vanished into
thin air, Congress failed to pass the
$700 billion bailout package, and then the
stock market was on its way to its worst day
ever, plummeting a jaw-dropping 778 points. The
feeling that we were on the edge of Great Depression II
was inescapable. The fear was palpable.
And then I get an e-mail from my editor at SUCCESS asking me
to do a story on four entrepreneurs who have what Jim Collins
and Jerry Porras called, "Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals" for 2009.
Suddenly, I felt much better, remembering that we entrepreneurs
are a different breed of cat. Sure, the Dow Jones might
be tanking, but that does not mean that there still aren’t many
great businesses out there doing just fine, headed by visionary
CEOs with even bigger and bolder plans for next year, thank you
As the business columnist for USATODAY.com and the author
of The Small Business Bible, I speak with entrepreneurs every
day, and what I know is that good ideas are fungible; they can be
shared, spread around and used by many people. If these supersuccessful
entrepreneurs can dream big for next year, so can (and
So let’s take a gander at four entrepreneurs who have Big, Hairy
Audacious Goals for 2009.
THE SWEET SPOT
Daniel Khabie is the CEO of Digitaria, a company he helped
found in 1997 to do nothing less than "reinvent the digital
marketplace." (Yep, like any good entrepreneur, Khabie had Big,
Hairy Goals from the get-go.)
Back then, that meant creating a better desktop experience. But
Khabie was savvy and fortunate enough to pick the right business
at the right time: It wasn’t long after Digitaria’s startup phase
ended that the digital world changed radically, and for the better,
with mobile and Internet options exploding.
If these super-successful entrepreneurs can dream big next year, so can (and should) you.
So these days, Digitaria finds itself in the sweet spot, helping
customers like Adidas Golf, Sony and Bravo TV capitalize on
the multitude of new media options out there, like online social
networking, Web site widgets, video, online marketing and so on.
It should be no surprise that the company has had three straight
years of 100 percent growth and looks to exceed $14 million in
sales this year. Continuing that streak tops Khabie’s Big, Hairy,
Audacious Goal for 2009: to reach $20 million in revenue.
What’s interesting is that he has three subgoals, all designed to
help Digitaria reach that Big Goal:
To expand domestically and internationally
by opening offices in New
York, the Midwest and Asia;
To increase revenue by one-third with
Digitaria’s software business; and
To continue its path of acquiring
traditional media, as it did this year
when it bought an ad agency.
Khabie is a big believer in setting Big
Goals, given that it’s been instrumental
in his company’s growth. One of the most
important earlier goals was to create a
platform and related software that would
allow the company to objectively analyze
its performance. By combining sales data,
customer satisfaction, utilization rates, etc.,
Digitaria can easily analyze the business to
see what works and what doesn’t.
The upshot is that accomplishing smaller
goals becomes the foundation for shooting
for bigger ones.
Khabie is mindful of some other factors,
too. “In a tough economy, the key is to
watch your cash and over-service your
clients,” he says. “We can hit our goals and
succeed only when we help our customers
reach their goals.”
OUT OF THE RUBBLE
For seven years, we’ve all been watching Vincent Parziale work,
but didn’t know it. Parziale is the owner of The Gramercy Group, a
construction, demolition and asbestos-remediation company that’s
poised to do $50 million in business this year.
While his company typically works on about 20 projects a year,
the most famous is the one we have all witnessed: assisting in the
cleanup of Ground Zero at the former World Trade Center.
Considering he started the business less than a decade ago as a
part-time weekend venture, being part of such cant undertaking is no small feat.
In 1999, Parziale sold a small garbage company began The Gramercy Group. Because of a noncompete the new owners, he was looking for a different when he was offered a contract to do some demolition
“I’d always been intrigued by it,” he tells Who doesn’t find watching buildings rhythmically fascinating?) And given that he had an asbestos-remediation
background, he was able to quickly create unique company; one that could offer a one-stopshop
solution to its customers: asbestos removal,
demolition, and soil and site remediation all
in one. A client could hire Gramercy and get
a clean site, ready for building, without all
the hassle of dealing with multiple contractors
and subcontractors. A mini-empire
Becoming a $50 million company was
The Gramercy Group’s previous Big, Hairy,
Audacious Goal. “Big goals have always been
a part of our business,” Parziale says.
It is the individual entrepreneur with a vision and a dream who will see us through.
But having the goal wasn’t enough; the
company got there by taking action, specifically
increasing its bonding and banking capacity. Once
the company did that, it could bid on, and get,
much larger projects like the World Trade Center.
Along the way, the company made sure to focus on the fundamentals:
“We grew as big and as fast as we did because we do great
work, we know our business, we are sticklers about safety, and we
come in on time and on budget,” Parziale says.
His Big Goals for 2009 are no less ambitious. Taking the
changing economy into account, Parziale plans to do what any good
entrepreneur should do when the market changes—namely, he is
going to create additional profit centers.
Think of it this way: An investor would never own just one stock.
That stock may go up, or (as we all know only too well!) it may go
down. Having a broad portfolio helps you spread the risk around.
Well, that’s what additional profit centers do for a business.
Instead of relying on but one way to make a buck, an increased
number of profit centers mean there are several sources for
generating revenue. Starbucks sells coffee in the winter, slushy
Frappucinos in the summer, snacks in between and music year
round. They are all different profi t centers.
So that’?s what Parziale plans on doing in 2009. For example,
instead of simply relying on the tri-state New York area that is
his base, he plans to take his company national. By marketing his
business throughout the country, and specifically to Fortune 500
companies, Parziale figures he can continue his dramatic growth.
Staying in Constant Contact
When you receive a professional, elegant looking e-newsletter,
you likely have Gail Goodman to thank. Goodman is the president
and CEO of Constant Contact, a dot-com company that offers
small businesses a variety of easy and affordable tools allowing
them to stay in, well, constant contact with their own customers
Whether it’s e-mail marketing, online surveys, e-newsletters or
what have you, Constant Contact endeavors to give small-business
people the tools they need to create ongoing and significant
customer relationships. Goodman says the purpose is nothing less
than to make their small-business customers “wildly successful.”
The company has come a long way since its founding nine years
ago when it had no customers and no revenue. Today, it has more
than 200,000 customers and is adding 20,000 more every quarter.
In 2007, Constant Contact completed an IPO, and shares of its
common stock began trading on the NASDAQ (symbol: CTCT).
Given the emphasis on and commitment to small business, it’s no
surprise that Goodman’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for 2009 has
to do with making her customers more successful. “My goal,” she
tells me, “is to not only help our hundreds of thousands of smallbusiness
customers survive in this tough economy, but thrive.”
Goodman knows that by helping her small-business customers
communicate better with their customers, everyone wins. That’s
why she plans to continue to reach them
with what she calls her core message right
now: Your best prospects are your current
customers. If you treat them right, if you stay in
contact with them via e-mail, you will create a
loyal fan base that will help you thrive during
these tough times.
Goodman is taking several significant
steps to implement her vision:
Constant Contact regional directors
are increasing the number of free
seminars they offer;
The company has partnered with
SCORE and various Small Business
Development Centers; and
It’s also using traditional media
(like radio) to reach and increase its
customer base and revenue.
“In rocky economic times, small businesses
have a huge advantage,” Goodman
says, “namely, human touch and
By continually trying to “delight the
customer” and by showing those customers
how to delight their own customers,
Goodman and Constant Contact seem well
poised to meet their 2009 BHAG.
TURNING $149 INTO $35 MILLION
In 1989, Kaizad “Kaiser” Hansotia was traveling through India
when a unique opportunity arose: He was offered the chance to
purchase a historic brand and business, Gurkha Cigars. The Gurkha
legacy dates to the height of the British Empire, when England ruled
India and British soldiers began making their own cigars, named
Gurkhas. Not a bad $149 investment in 1989, not at all.
Although Hansotia bought a great brand name, he knew he
needed a cigar worthy of the lineage, so he began to work with
partners to create a premium cigar and blend. The new Gurkha
cigar was reborn.
Not content with creating what he called “the Rolls-Royce of
Cigars,” Hansotia took his desire to create the world’s best cigar
one step further by creating cigar boxes that would be as prized
as the cigars themselves. And thus, for example, the 2007 limited
Black Dragon collection (only five cases of 100 ultrapremium cigars
offered and sold) came in a camel bone humidor.
Hansotia is a stickler when it comes to his beloved cigars, selling
them in only about 1,000 of the roughly 4,000 tobacco shops in
the country, even though he could probably sell them in every
one if he so desired. The stores he chooses to work with have
been hand-selected, and he takes his relationships with these
customers very seriously.
As such, Hansotia’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal for 2009 is one
that any entrepreneur in this economy could relate to: He plans
to strengthen his relationships with his current customers. He
doesn’t want or need more stores, he doesn’t want more volume.
He wants better distribution and better execution and deeper relationships
with his current customers. “We could double sales in
10 minutes if we wanted to,” he tells me, “but we are committed
to quality and like to build our business and brand slowly, a store
at a time.”
That is how you create a $35 million company from a
In a competitive retail world like that in which Gurkha deals,
this makes a lot of sense. Hansotia says Gurkha is willing to do
whatever is necessary to strengthen its relationships with its cigar
store clientele. “Our stores are our partners,” he says. If that means
building the store a new humidor, so be it. If it means creating a
better display, it’s done. Gurkha representatives personally work
with each store in their network to create optimum visibility.
The result will be a loyal, strong, dedicated customer base that
will stick with him, in good times and bad.
TO THE UNIVERSE, AND BEYOND!
While the goals listed by these entrepreneurs range from the
big to the huge, the good news is that you need not be an uberentrepreneur
to have some big dreams too. Take a look at your
business or career and consider the possibilities. Go for it! Let go,
and dream big. After all, dreaming big and daring to do the unexpected
is what got you where you are today, right?
That’s the spirit!
Of course, there’s no doubt that 2009 looks to be a challenging
economic climate for anyone in business but, even
it is heartening to remember that macro-trends
just that. It’s the individual entrepreneur with a
vision and a dream who will see us through. Walt
Disney started Disney Studios after failing in one
business, a bankruptcy and in the middle of the
Great Depression. Microsoft was started during
The bottom line is that dreaming big is part of
this gig called entrepreneurship.