Lemon or Pearl—which is your startup? Fast Growth / Measured Growth

 In Benefit Venture Blog, Insights, Strategy

Lemons ripen early, pearls take longer to mature.

Unlike other fruit trees, lemons will continue to produce new flowers as long as the weather conditions are right. Of the flowers that do turn into fruit, many will also drop from the tree long before they mature. This natural process prevents the tree from bearing more mature fruit than it can handle. Once the flowers bloom, navel oranges take seven to 12 months and Valencia oranges take 12 to 15 months to ripen. Because lemon trees can set and ripen fruit throughout the year, ripe lemons may be on the tree most of the time.

A pearl is built up from thin, thin layers of nacre, the glossy material which the oyster uses to line the inside of his shell. This is a long and slow job, for the material must be extracted from sea water and processed by special cells in the oyster’s body. Sometimes it takes a whole year to add just a few layers to the shell walls and the growing pearl. The pearl forms around a grain of sand, a small worm or some other fragment which has found its way into the oyster’s shell. After five to seven years, the nacre is thicker, making the pearl bigger and more valuable. The process can take up to 20 years.

This serves are a good metaphor for new ventures and their development. We use the term ‘a lemon’ perhaps, because it can leave a bad taste in the mouth, or more probably because it comes from the criminal slang sense of a person who is a loser—given that a sharper person can “suck the juice out of” a lemon.

In startup terms, though the lemon may be a business that can get going quickly, it may run out of steam early. About 50% of small businesses fail in the first four years. A glass half-empty, half-full stat, if ever there was one. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). When we talk about the apocryphal kids lemonade stand in terms of starting a business, perhaps it’s a very apt example, since the kidpreneur’s venture seldom outlasts a week. That’s because it’s a one product business with an ephemeral market and was never designed to last.

Pearls of wisdom in the field of new venture creation are critical to survival. The grit that gets the business off the ground is great, but if the succeeding layers fail to form, the business will add no value. Learning as the business unfolds is vital to success. The ability to live with failure and uncertainty will keep the business on a forward trajectory. Let the pearl, not the lemon be your model.

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