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It Can Be Fatal Not to Be Fast

The beverage industry is moving faster these days, and for start-up entrepreneurs it’s not getting easier. Distribution is consolidating and in some cases choices are closing up.  Even with social media, the costs of launching brands aren’t getting cheaper. The choices for your go-to -market strategies are getting more complex.

Every beverage entrepreneur seems to inevitably talk about missteps he or she took early in any brand’s development – and so, for that matter, do all other business leaders. The lessons learned or outright mistakes fall into the same general buckets – mis-hires, a failure to focus, over-spending, too much or too little capital.  There will always be mistakes – you just don’t want any fatal ones.

The lesson I keep coming back to is the importance of speed, and making sure that urgency (with discipline and planning) is woven into a company’s culture from day one.

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson points out several times how Apple just simply moved much faster than its competitors under Jobs’ leadership. It was ingrained in Apple’s culture. You expect that in a way from a cool tech company. But it’s true of most great companies.

When our company negotiated the sale of a distributorship to Warren Buffett in 2010, I was surprised (but in hindsight shouldn’t have been) with how fast he negotiated each stage of the transaction. He always responded to every email of mine within an hour or two. This fits with one of his key principles:  “Make decisions fast. I’m wired to make fast decisions. I process things very fast and I don’t mind being wrong occasionally. I find that if I spend 10 hours thinking about something, I’m usually in the same place I was after 10 seconds.”

For beverage companies, acting fast in this more complicated cycle doesn’t mean spending far ahead of revenues or going national in your first year. But it does mean building your business with speed – constantly defining where you’re headed, trusting your gut after 10 seconds, and not being afraid to be wrong occasionally.