If you've been wanting an excuse to try out a MOOC (that's a massive open online course), "Grow to Greatness" may be your answer.

The University of Virginia's Darden School of Business is making its first entry into large-group online instruction this month, with a course on managing the risks of getting bigger. It will be taught by Edward Hess, whose "Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses" was one of last year's best business books.

The course draws on Hess's study of 54 high-growth private businesses with revenues ranging from $5 million to $350 million.

Growth Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Driven by the grow-or-die mindset, Hess says entrepreneurs too often spend themselves into trouble. Hess's course will emphasize managing cash flow, and switching the focus from simply growing to improving and thoughtfully scaling.

Successful entrepreneurs use what Hess calls the "gas pedal approach," which he describes as "letting up on the growth pedal to give their people, processes, and controls time to catch up."

Growth requires increased delegation. Hess explains how founders make the psychic and practical shift from being doers to managers to managers of managers.

Upgrading never ends. In the companies he studied, Hess identified inflection points at 10, 25, 50, and 100 employees as times when things stop running smoothly. "Successful entrepreneurs and their employees are open to learning and adapting in an incremental, iterative, and experimental fashion," says Hess.

Risks expand along with the business. Hess will talk about growth-induced stresses on everything from culture to quality to financial controls. "I call it 'what can go wrong' thinking, and entrepreneurs can't indulge in too much of it," he says. 

Online Course Details

The free course runs in two parts. The first begins January 28 and addresses strategy, process, and operations. It continues for five weeks, with a workload estimated at four to six hours a week. The second part, scheduled sometime in April, focuses on employees and leadership.

Darden reports that by the beginning of this month enrollment had already topped 60,000 people. Click here for more information or to enroll.