20 Mile March
As part of the readings for the Great Company course based on Jim Collins’ books, I read about the 20 Mile March. It is discussed in “Great By Choice.” The basic concept, in the words of Jim Collins, is this: “Companies that thrive in a turbulent world self-impose rigorous performance marks to hit with relentless consistency—like walking across a gigantic continent by marching at least twenty miles a day, every day, regardless of conditions. The march imposes order amidst disorder, discipline amidst chaos, and consistency amidst uncertainty. For most organizations, a one-year 20 Mile March cycle works well, although it could be shorter or longer. But whatever the cycle, the 20 Mile March requires both short-term focus (you have to hit the march this cycle) and long-term building (you have to hit the march every subsequent cycle for years to decades). As such, it’s a rarified form of disciplined action that correlates strongly with achieving breakthrough performance and sustaining flywheel momentum.”
As I read it, I realised that this gave a name and put into words what my philosophy has been at Netcore for a long time! Netcore’s high margin business (email and marketing automation) has demonstrated exactly this growth over a decade.
Except for one year where we were flat, we have maintained the 20 Mile March discipline – under three CEOs. Even during the past year disrupted by the impact of the pandemic, we have grown 30% over the previous year. It is this discipline which is the hallmark of proficorns.
For a proficorn, there is no growth capital other than the profits made from the business. So, if one has to expand, one has to generate profits which can then be reinvested for future growth. In the early years, Netcore’s SMS business delivered the profits which we reinvested into the email business. As the email business grew, it delivered the profits which enabled us to invest in marketing automation, international expansion and tuck-in tech acquisitions to add personalisation and product experience to our martech suite.
Building a business to operate with this discipline over long periods of time is not easy. It has meant that we have had to stay from bet-it-all acquisitions which could have gone either way. It has meant that we have had to sequence our international expansion – learning in SE Asia, and then foraying into US, and now Europe.
All of this was made possible by the fanatic discipline of the 20 Mile March. Day after day, month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year. And it all compounds over a decade into the great growth chart you see.