The Tortoise and the Hare Model for Successful Small Business Start Ups

My mother used to affectionately refer to me as a turtle because at swim lessons, while the other kids eagerly jumped right into the pool ready to start, I stood near the edge, waiting. I wasn’t afraid of the water. Rather, I was taking time to prepare for the event. Then, when I was good and ready, I jumped right in and swam.

Thus began my relationship with the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” found in the much beloved bedside collection The Fables of Aesop. “The Tortoise and the Hare” is perfect for illustrating sound start up practices.

Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare

Once upon a time, there was a hare who, boasting that he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing tortoise about his slowness. Then one day, the irate tortoise accepted the challenge when the hare boasted that “there was no one in the world who could beat him in a race.”

The next day the race began, and the hare yawned sleepily as the meek tortoise trudged slowly off. When the hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided, half-asleep on his feet, to have breakfast and a quick nap. “Take your time!” he said. “I’ll have forty winks and catch up with you in a minute.”

The sun started to sink below the horizon. The tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was less than a yard away from the finish when the hare awoke with a jolt. Away he dashed! Though he leapt and bounded with great effort and speed toward the finish line, he was too late. The tortoise had beaten him. Tired and in disgrace, he slumped down beside the tortoise who said, with a knowing smile, “Slowly does it every time!”

The Tortoise and the Hare Start Up Model

From the very start of this fable, it seems absurd that the slow, prodigious tortoise would even consider pitting himself against the swift and built-for-speed hare. Though everyone can appreciate the tortoise’s desire to quiet the hare’s bragging and silence his teasing, to the tortoise, the race was never about speed or silencing a bully. It was about following through on his word. It was walking the talk, doing what he said he would do–something the hare never saw coming. The tortoise was all about the long game while the hare was about the short. Both approaches are important for a successful small business start up.

The Tortoise Speaks

Do you have an overall plan for start up success and becoming a leader in your industry?

• Do you have a viable niche market?
• Do you have a purple cow product/service?
• Is your profit margin adequate to support your income goals?
• Do you have cohesive branding that effectively communicates what you do?
• Do you have a business coach or mentor?
• Do you have lots of time?
• Do you have the courage and commitment to see it through?
• Do you have sustained financial recourses?

The Hare Chimes In

Are you able to easily adapt and maneuver within the overall plan?

• Are you computer savvy?
• Do you have a reliable computer with high-speed Internet service?
• Does a reputable Internet company host your domain?
• Do you have the tools and skills to create a web site and edit web pages?
• Do you have a variety of ways to drive visitors to your web site?
• Do you have an Internet merchant account and shopping cart?
• Do you have a list serve or another way to send thousands of emails out to customers/clients?

The Tortoise and the Hare Share Thoughts

Realistically, it takes the winning combination of tortoise and hare characteristics to successfully start up and launch a new small business. It really isn’t a matter of one being better than another, nor is it about choice. It’s a combination of preparation, flexibility, strategy, ability, sustainability and maneuverability in today’s business world that makes the difference between a success start up success and failure.

Moral of the Story

Getting out to an early start may seem like the thing to do, yet, the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare is that slow and steady wins the race. Follow the example of the tortoise: focus on the task, pay close attention to the tried-and-true business start up fundamentals, and see things through. Then follow the example of the hare by being nimble and quick to adapt and maneuver when necessary. Taking the best from both the tortoise and the hare ensures that slow and steady will win the race, while high-octane speed and adaptability will set the pace.