Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu is most famous for the Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, where the 28 best big wave surfers in the world face off to be crowned the champion. The second most famous part is a huge rock that folks love to climb and jump off of into the surf. It is lots of fun, as long as you solve for three things. First, you have to jump in the right season, ideally during the summer calm and not the winter surf swell. You also must jump at the right time with the wave to ensure it is deep enough. Lastly, you must jump with a healthy self-awareness. You can be paralyzed with panic or literally paralyzed by overconfidence copying the locals.
Cliff jumping is optional, but in real life we all must take a leap of faith at some point in our careers. For me, the big jump I'm taking is leaving my job as a partner in a growth strategy consulting firm, where I've been for 18 years, to become a solopreneur. I'm starting a solo think tank and advisory firm on growth strategy where I can more evenly split my time between writing, speaking and thinking about growth strategy, advising companies on how to grow, and spending more time with my family.
As I've discussed my decision with friends and colleagues, it became clear that many people across a variety of industries are considering this exact same thing. Here are some of the insights that I've gleaned that might be helpful if you're considering jumping off the proverbial rock as well.
A Strong Tailwind
First, make sure you jump in the right season. Business and industries can be cyclical or perhaps are going through long term change. Make sure there is a decades-long trend and tailwind behind your decision.
Much of my growth strategy expertise and work has been in the food and beverage industry. People will always eat and drink, but how, where and from whom they buy food and beverage is going through long term disruption. Per Nielsen from 2011 to 2015, the food industry sold in grocery stores grew $35 billion dollars. The 25 largest firms accounted for only 3 percent of growth, with the vast majority being driven by new brands and private label.
Many of my longtime clients are leaving big food to join smaller and more entrepreneurial firms. I can better serve them as a solopreneur than a senior partner in a large consulting firm, so I'm simply following the market.
A Strong Track Record
Second, make sure you jump at the right time when your track record can speak for itself. Don't mistake your title for your track record or substitute your resume for real marketplace results. Pedigree is plentiful, but people who drive real results are rare.
If you're a top performer, there will come an inflection point in your career where your track record starts to outpace your title. When the value you create--be it sales, EBITDA or leaders developed--is exponentially more (say 10x) than you are being paid, then it is a good time to jump.
Consider Steve Hughes, one of the legends in the food and beverage industry. He was the 'brand mama' of Healthy Choice at ConAgra when it grew from nothing to over a billion dollars. He recalls being paid a bonus that was a few hundredths of a percent of the value he created. It set off a chain of events that led him to leave the big company track and become more entrepreneurial. Today, he runs a $300 million private equity firm investing in the best up and coming natural and organic food and beverage brands.
A Strong Temperament
Lastly, make sure you jump with the right self-awareness. Don't just jump because you are running from something. Make sure you are running to something. I started writing about ten years ago and I fell in love with it. I'm looking forward to being able to write more as a solopreneur. For Steve, he really believes in the purpose and mission of the natural and organic food and beverage businesses he's buying. Make sure you have a clear missional mindset, not just a mercenary one.
The most practical thing I can suggest for anyone considering making the leap is to keep an active journal. I've kept a journal for over a decade about my family, work, and personal life. Share pieces of your journal with trusted friends and family and ask for their feedback.
Sharing such personal things can seem scary at first. But when you have clarity on the right tailwind, track record and temperament, jumping off the rock becomes much more fun.