Every small growth company has a unique story to tell including lessons learned.
The insights from their story and lessons learned help drive their company forward into the next phase of their journey.
For others who are orchestrating their own growth, these insights can be invaluable to help them in their journey.
Overall, my 4 Stage Growth Model for Small Companies provides a useful conceptual framework in assessing your current position and planning for your next stage.
My blog entitled Achieving the Take-Off Stage in Small Business describes moving from the Growth Stage to Take-Off with some mentoring advice.
It is particularly challenging to move into this Take-Off Stage. So, I felt hearing the story of one who has done it would be beneficial for those pursuing this leap.
One of my clients has been receptive in sharing his company’s story, and he has also become a mentor for young entrepreneurs.
I want to introduce you to Noor Alnahhas.
Our relationship began in January 2017. Noor was one of three principals in a software development company. The other two principals were technically focused while Noor provided the business perspective. He had graduated from the Wolff Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Houston Bauer College of Business.
Silver Fox Advisors CEO Roundtable
While the entity had been operating for a number of years, it had no definitive vision or substantive plans for the future which was quite concerning to Noor.
I suggested that he join my CEO Roundtable where he could get insights on planning from other CEOs of small growing companies.
At the time, each member was utilizing the EOS (Entrepreneur Operating System) framework to explain to other roundtable members their future plans. Noor found the EOS framework from Gino Wickman’s book TRACTION Get A Grip on Your Business most helpful in pulling together his thoughts for the business.
It also became clear that the leadership structure of the company was not going to get them where they needed to go.
Silver Fox Advisors Fox Den
As the plans took shape, my suggestion was for him to participate in a Fox Den where the Silver Fox Advisors provide a review of the business plan and challenges.
Generally, there are four advisors with a moderator to coordinate the session. The plans and issues are provided in advance, so the session provides focused advice.
Noor felt this was extremely helpful because the advisors did not have a built-in bias as do personal friends, investors, and so forth. They were frank and straight forward in their commentary and assessments. Just what he wanted and needed.
I have been an advisor and mentor to Noor for some five years now.
Two main aspects of our discussions have been strategy and leadership. One of my reasons for developing the 4 Stage Growth Model for small companies was to provide a framework for clients like Noor. It has been an integral part of their planning.
Similarly, the Leadership Personal Profile has been a tool to help leaders understand themselves better and where they need to develop further. Noor has been a champion of the profile.
Here are some insights into his profile that will help you understand the nybl story.
Part of Noor’s personal vision is to build companies, chase opportunities, and work with people he enjoys being around.
One of his key values is finding the positive as he believes negativity achieves nothing.
His perspective on life is there is no such thing as luck, just opportunity meeting preparedness. If you fall three times, you just have to get up 4 times so that every failure is a step toward success.
His character statement starts with “I am a fun, friendly, and honest person who will do whatever it takes to deliver on my commitments/promises.
He recognizes that he needs to think more before acting and listen more than talking.
As you can see, Noor is a high achiever. He strategically looks for the solution in every challenge pondering new and out of the box ideas if that solves the challenge. His leadership brand is chief of dreaming stuff up.
Over this period, Noor has relocated to the Middle East and has now become the CEO of the reformulated company named nybl. Here is the nybl story in Noor’s own words.
Noor Telling nybl Story
“Nybl, its structure, strategy and subsequent success are all the result of the lessons learned over many years of doing the wrong thing. But these lessons came much later than the events that brought them about, and I only learned these lessons when I got external, unbiased feedback, mentoring and support – which came from the CEO Roundtable, Mentoring from Lane, and the Fox Den feedback.
The difficulty with achieving moderate success is the complacency it can lead to. The previous enterprise I was a member of had fallen into the moderate success complacency rut. While I was not satisfied, some of my partners were and this was a significant concern for me. This lack of satisfaction drove me to find a source of advice, mentoring and help to get out of the rut, and achieve my personal goals and ambitions.
During my undergraduate studies at the University of Houston, I had the privilege to work with Ralph D’Onofrio, a member of the Silver Fox Advisors, in mentor roundtables setup as part of the Entrepreneurship program in the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. I remembered the valuable lessons I learned from Ralph (which I still use today). I set out searching for a way to find a similar source of help. After finding several very expensive roundtable and communities – I went back to the original source at the Silver Foxes and discovered the CEO roundtables. It was exactly what I was looking for, and best of all, it was free. I sent in my application, and after a few interviews I was placed into a group led by Lane Sloan.
The roundtable had a group of CEOs from diverse industries and business types, but it was quickly clear that we all faced similar challenges. I learned from everyone’s experiences and challenges. I shared my challenges, thoughts and ideas and I got incredible feedback, suggestions, advice, and thoughts shared from the CEOs in my roundtable. While the CEO Roundtable provided an immense value, I realized that I needed more one-on-one mentorship. This is where journey with Lane begins.
Lane’s approach on mentoring me was strategic in and of itself. First, we identified my personal strengths and weaknesses, which helped us both understand where I was and what I needed to do to improve. He then helped me map out my personal purpose so we could both understand my personal drivers and motivators. From there we worked together to define where the company was currently in the 4-stage growth model, and where we wanted to go. And finally, he combined all of these to develop a complete strategy. Short term, long term, personal and business. It’s been an incredible adventure. I learned things about myself I never knew. But most importantly this entire process was the jet fuel to our nybl Rocketship.
I’ll go into the values and importance of each of the steps Lane took, but I must point out the most important one of all: being a guiding north star. Building a sustainable, profitable and scalable business is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s stressful, all-consuming, and at times downright demotivating. It takes a ridiculous level of commitment and belief in your concept to battle through all of that. The problem is sometimes, you might just have a bad idea. This is what I believe is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur: you must believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that the impossible task you are setting out to accomplish is achievable even when no one also has been able to achieve it. So, at what point do you give up if it’s not working? Or, how do you know to continue your perseverance at the most difficult times? How do you know if your idea is actually a good one? You need someone like Lane. A trustworthy, experienced, mentor, advisor, friend to tell you, without any agenda or bias, if your idea sucks and it’s time to throw in the towel or if what you have is really something and you should keep fighting for.
People will be happy to share their opinions. Why “you’re crazy” and “you should just get a job” because that’s the only world they know. Or, how it’s irresponsible to “put all your eggs in one basket”. Your true friends and family may be supportive even when they shouldn’t be because they believe that’s how they should help, by being your support system. With Lane as my mentor, I didn’t worry about intent, agenda or bias. When I was doing something wrong, he would point it out. When I chased shiny objects that were diverting my attention from the vision, he told me to focus. When things were going great, he cheered me on. But, most important of all: when it was difficult, stressful, and reaching a point where I could easily give up, he would explain where he saw opportunity. He didn’t tell me what to do, or why to do it. He allowed me to peer through his lenses, see my journey from his perspective and realize, that if what I was doing didn’t make sense, he would have told me. That is the most valuable insight I got from Lane. It allowed me to hustle and work harder. To believe, even when everything seemed impossible, and to get through the most difficult times. Throughout the rest of this article you will come to see the incredible mentorship, advice, and value Lane’s coaching provided, but there is no doubt that being a guiding north star is one of the greatest values of all . So, find your Lane Sloan. It will change your life.
Our adventure began with identifying my strengths and weaknesses as an individual, and as a leader in my organization. The interesting part was the reasoning behind this exercise. Contrary to the usual approach, it was not to “work on my weaknesses”. Lane had a great approach: if you improve your weaknesses, and don’t build on your strengths, you end up being average. Instead, focus on your strengths to turn them into superpowers and compliment your weaknesses with those who have them as strengths. That creates 2 superstars instead of one average individual. Based on the outcome of my Strengthsfinder test, we devised a plan on how to augment my weaknesses using my team and build on my strengths. This was the first step, and it allowed us both to know where I should and should not spend my time. This exercise also taught me one of the most valuable lessons – when and what to delegate to my colleagues, who were better than me at their strengths, my weaknesses.
The second step of the process was my personal purpose. This was life changing for me. Prior to defining my personal purpose, I constantly faced internal battles of work / life balance and making decisions related to the mix of business and personal. As an entrepreneur, that line is very blurry. But, after being brutally honest with Lane and myself during the Personal Purpose exercise, everything became crystal clear. I had, without even knowing, created a prioritization hierarchy for everything in my life by simply defining what I wanted to achieve – my personal purpose – in all aspects of my life. Now, this may sound daunting, but the exercise is very well thought out and takes approximately 2 hours with a great coach taking you through it. These 2 hours were the best I ever invested in myself. Understanding my personal purpose also created goals, targets, and milestones for my personal life. I always had a business plan, timelines and milestones for work, but never applied the same level of thought and planning into my personal life. Defining personal purpose makes every decision, whether personal or business, a simple decision. It either fits and delivers on your personal purpose or doesn’t. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!
Once we had defined my own strengths and weaknesses, and my personal purposes we now moved on to the business.
The process for the business was similar. We began with an audit like approach – defining where the business sat in the 4-stage growth model. If you’re not familiar with it, the 4 Stage Growth Model, as it is defined by Lane, categorizes businesses based on their growth stages, and helps in building a strategy to move from one stage to the next. It is important to identify where you stand, in order to identify where your focus needs to be now, and where it should be in the future. The Four stages are Development, Growth, Take-off and Expansion. Through this analysis we identified that nybl was at a critical point: moving out of the growth stage, and into the take-off stage. But, we were still acting like a company in the growth stage. Our organization was not ready for take-off. We did not have the proper processes, systems, organizational strategy, and internal leadership that take-off requires. As a leader, I had to take responsibility for the position we were in. Most of it stemmed from my lack of developing my internal team into leaders of their own. This is, by far, the most important quality of a leader – to build their team into independent leaders capable of carrying the mission and vision forward on their own with guidance.
“if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”
- Lewis Carroll
Before working on our short-term strategy, we first mapped out the long-term strategy. Once that was complete, we knew where we were going, and could devise the short-term strategies that would take us from one milestone to the next – our path to success.
This began in January of 2020. The original 7, as I like to call us (the 6 co-founders and our founding investor) sat down for 5 days to decide where we wanted to go. We emerged with a vision. A company built to transform data into intelligence, and a long-term strategy to be a camel, not a unicorn. A sustainable, profitable company that will be much, much larger than a unicorn, and not mythical! To become the largest technology innovator in the Middle East generating human, technological, and economical value in the Middle East and exporting them to the rest of the world. That was our plan for nybl.
Now it was time to get to work.
Now that we had this Big Hairy Audacious Goal in mind, we set out to map the path to get us there, one milestone at a time. The first milestone was to prepare our company for the take-off that was we were on the verge of. This was a gargantuan task in and of itself. It meant hours of discussions, planning, strategizing, re-planning, re-strategizing and more discussions. We worked on everything, beginning with the organization. We mapped out the current team, their strengths, and weaknesses and where they could become superstars of their own. We identified the gaps, and weaknesses that no one had strengths to fill, and set out a plan on how to build a world changing organization.
Every hour of conversation with Lane turned into tens of hours of work with the team. Lane and I met on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week when the progress permitted. The company began to take on a life of its own. Mind you, this process began during COVID, right when we all got locked down. At a time when we had no clue how we were going to even make payroll at the end of the month. But, having a clear vision of where we were going and what we wanted to achieve gave us the energy and motivation to power through the most difficult times. It enabled us to take one rejection after another from investors (we were not ready for them at the time). We took every rejection as a learning opportunity: how could we have done better? Where did our messaging fail? What did we do wrong? How can we improve in the next round? We learned. We improved. Most importantly, we continued to build the foundations for expansion.
We emerged from lockdown with an incredible plan. One that paved the way to the company we are today. In the past 12 months, we’ve grown from an 8 person “start-up” to a truly global scale-up with 40+ people all over the world working with more cohesion than organizations running for years. This was not luck. It was preparedness meeting opportunity. It was the hard work put in to focus on the foundations to enable sustainable growth. Most importantly it was thanks to the invaluable coaching from Lane Sloan, the support from our initial investors and my incredible co-founders. We owe everything to this group of people. An incredible handful of people who believed in our vision and supported us every step of the way. Shriprakash, Ayman, Rawan, Rashad, Mohammed, Essam, Saleh, Karim, my Father Nasser Alnahhas and of course Hugo. Of course, my co-founders and the entire nybl team – thank you all!
Our Growth stage organization had become a take-off organization. Individual members were now leaders. Each with their own path, milestones, and responsibilities as part of the rocket ship we called nybl, barreling through space. As the saying goes, we were here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and we were all out of bubble gum J
2021 was our transformational year. We began the year with a major theme: getting our house in order. This meant organizational, structural, legal, financial, and most important of all, people. All part of the 4-stage growth model, to be ready for expansion.
We began this transformation with our people culture. It is my belief that every single company in the world is a people company. Regardless of the product or service a company delivers, it is the people of that company that manufacture the product or deliver the service. Together with our newly appointed Chief People Officer (Reem Osman, our savior) we built an organization destined for success. We made it our goal to be the best place in the world to work. If our people loved working at nybl, their output would be stupendous. And it is!
We brought on a CFO (Shoutout to Hans and Kristian from Finstrat Management). Through their fractional accounting & finance service we built a financial structure fit for multinationals. We had solid financial metrics, we planned, we budgeted, we forecasted, we analyzed and repeated. Over, and over until we had it right.
We built our team out with the structure for expansion, and a focus on culture. Software developers, data scientists, industry experts, product champions. This focus on our people enabled us to develop world changing technology, and this technology yielded incredible products. These products brought business and as a result we signed multiple long-term, global contracts during 2021 to set the stage to move nybl from take-off to expansion in one year. And what an incredible year it has been.
We entered 2021 with 14 people. As I write this today, we enter 2022 40 strong and growing. Our biggest competitors are now our partners, and our journey is just beginning. 2022 marks the year we shift from take-off to expansion.
And we’re not going to just expand, we’re going to explode. We explode with an arsenal of tools including our culture, technology, strategy, and a vision and a mission. Lane and I continue our sessions on a regular basis. Each time, analyzing our strategy, making pivots and adjustments where necessary, and working on each step towards our giant goal.
Our milestone for the year is to become a Billion-dollar company (yes, with a B). Not through valuation from investors, but by sheer volume of business, technology, and innovation. It is our first critical milestone in our journey to becoming a camel. It’s an incredibly challenging milestone. One that is exciting, motivating, and fun! So much fun, I sometimes forget it’s work.
Peter Drucker says “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I’d like to add my own twist to his quote: great culture combined with great strategy eats whatever it wants. That is the essence, the secret sauce to nybl. Incredible culture, with incredible strategy. I wish I could say we thought of that all on our own. But we owe our success to our team, our investors and to every person and organization that supported us along the way.
To The Dubai Future Foundation, and The Dubai Future Accelerators: Thank you for believing in a handful of people with nothing more than a vision.
To Smart Dubai Government, Dubai Health Authority and ADNOC: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves when no one else would give us the time of day.
To our investors and board of advisors: Without your unwavering support we could not have survived the difficult times. Thank you for your belief in a vision and mission greater than all of us.
To the nybl team: Without each and every one of you Rockstars, none of this would be possible.
To the original 7, my ride or die co-founders: This is the result of your dedication and belief. Our Journey is just beginning, and the dream is becoming a reality.
To my Mother, My Father, my Wife, and my beautiful Daughters: I love you. Thank you for the support and for being my light during the darkest of days.
And of course, to Lane Sloan: Thank you for taking on a scrappy entrepreneur who wouldn’t give up and imparting the most valuable of your assets: your time, and your knowledge. You are a gift, a treasure.”
When I asked Noor to write the nybl story, I was interested to see what he would say. This is not really a typical case analysis with detailed financials and particular steps along the way. It is all about his learning and feelings that led nybl to fulfilling the Take-off Stage.
You feel the energy and passion that Noor has in the business. It for sure has been a challenge. Today, as Noor said he does not see this as a job or work rather instead an exhilarating fun experience that he looks forward to every day.
Results make a difference: the huge revenue growth, investors coming to him, unsolicited people wanting to join the company, next generation culture, inspired employees, an incredible hiring system, leaders emerging at every level, an adaptive growing organization, a well-structured financial system, linked operational processes, reputation growing faster than marketing and so on. All this contained in the strategy and forward plans. The key elements in taking off.
Noor’s incredibly lofty goal of becoming a billion-dollar company may appear unrealistic to you, but Noor believes it. He has done the research on similar companies in the artificial intelligence space and their position. Reaching take off requires lofty goals so I am careful not to dampen his enthusiasm. He is willing to put the aspiration in print!
Finally, you may feel Noor is taking an early victory lap by thanking everyone who has been a part of nybl reaching Take-off. This is only one stage in the nybl journey ahead. Yet, it is crucial one. For Noor, the present position is a relief in many respects seeing the company take off and his thanks to the many contributors is genuine. He has been overly kind to me.
Throughout this blog, you should get a reasonable picture of Noor. Foremost, he is an incredible learner and listener. Second, Noor does not accept defeat. His leadership growth has been extremely fun to watch. And I believe leadership is the key to achieving the Take-off Stage.