Jaakko Heikonen: Complacency is the number one pitfall for entrepreneurs

If a company fails to grow, it will inevitably fall behind the competition in product development and expertise. Avoid resting on your laurels, even if things are going well right now.

Growing a company is hard work and can even be frightening. For this reason, many Finnish entrepreneurs are satisfied when their firm has become medium-sized and the station wagon in the drive has been upgraded to a luxury crossover. Taking the next step is terrifying and it can be hard to make sense of the growth scenarios whirling around in your head.

It is an illusion to believe that staying put is a genuine alternative to growing. In reality, this will lead to stagnation, since growth and development are the only paths to success in today's markets. Competition is global, even if your firm is based in the Finnish 'outback'.

While there is no denying that conquering new markets is difficult, it is also a great adventure. The world has an unimaginable number of opportunities and growth is the only way of grasping them. You should also remember that investing in growth enables a company to maintain its expertise, or at best get ahead of the competition. The world will rid you of any illusions that your own company's products and services are good enough as they are. If your firm stands still, you can bet that someone will snap it up in the end.

Growth and development need to be continuous – the odd, random project will get you nowhere. Your next project should be on the drawing board as the previous one ends. Luckily, you don't have to do everything alone. Partners and funders will come on board if you have a credible and effective plan. The partners of my company, Pemamek, include Tekes, whose funding we have used to develop new technologies.

One of the indispensable keys to success lies in continuously wondering how you might have done things better. That doesn't mean that you're not allowed to reward yourself with a coffee and cake and a pat on the back every now and again. On the other hand, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels. When you've wiped away the cake crumbs, you need to think about what lessons you can take away for the next project.

At Pemamek too, our mission is to exceed our customers' expectations every time. This is the best way to ensure that they will stick with us. It is also a kind of 'life insurance' for our company: continuous development is necessary for survival.

Jaakko Heikonen
CEO, Pemamek Oy Ltd

Originally published as part of the Kasvun lasikatot (Glass ceiling for growth) blog series of the Finnish business daily, Kauppalehti.

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