Formerly Mahajan Home Ltd. and Superior Quilting

The Guts & (limited)Glory of Growing a Start-Up

Roberta is the Chief Operating Officer of Industria Innovations. Recently, we were recognized by the Globe and Mail as one of Canada's fastest-growing companies. Roberta shares her thoughts on what it took to get us there, and where we're going from here.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term bittersweet as “being at once bitter and sweet, pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret.”

It’s the perfect word to describe the moment when I first found out that we were named one of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies.

It brought me back to a time when I was about 12 years old competing at the American Guild of Music Competition. I had only been playing classical guitar for a few years, so I didn’t feel quite ready. To make up for that feeling of unpreparedness and inadequacy, I practiced harder and longer than I ever had. Still, I never felt like it was enough. I competed anyway, and after I was done, I gracefully made my way offstage and bawled my eyes out. I made a crucial mistake in the middle of my piece that was undeniably detected by the judges, which made me feel like a complete failure. Fortunately, the AGM association didn’t agree with me, and I was awarded first place. For a long time, I remember feeling like I didn’t deserve to win because first, I messed up, and second, I had no real natural talent. I had to work harder at it than most people I knew, and the trophy seemed to hide the fact that I made mistakes and I wasn’t very good.

As many recovering perfectionists know, if we wait until we are ready or until it’s perfect, the chances of breakthroughs and progress significantly decrease, and the risk of never putting yourself out there becomes greater.

Growing an entrepreneurial company plays out much in the same way. Being recognized as one of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies is like winning a trophy in a way because it tells the world that we are one to watch. It puts us on the map.

But, like all triumphant stories, the glory is in the guts – in the gumption, courage, and tenacity to keep going when anyone else in their right mind would stop.

The challenges of growing a company from a start-up phase are many, not only for founders, but for employees as well. The team can have a shared vision for the company with a common understanding of the path to get there, but what is often overlooked is what we are each willing to sacrifice when times get tough.

For founders, there’s the cash flow problem. For employees there’s the “where do I fit” problem. This constant state of flux is not for everyone. Those who can master reason and passion in appropriate measure thrive, those who value order and certainty – not so much.

At Industria Innovations Inc., learning what works for us in an infinite game. Reflecting on why we are succeeding thus far and how we got here is perhaps an article for another day, because to me, the most important point to highlight is this – we mess up. 

As COO, I spend countless hours reading and learning about how all the great companies got to where they are. I try to teach myself everything I need to know so that I’m ready and prepared to lead the company forward in the “right” way. I do the work. I practice. Yet, I still get it wrong. I congratulate myself for the things I manage to get ahead of, I beat myself up for all the things I should have seen coming, and breathe a sigh of relief when I manage to dodge a bullet.

The unfortunate truth is, there will always be collateral damage on the path to greatness. There have been unimpressed clients, disgruntled and burnt-out employees, money overspent, failed initiatives and flat-out losses. There have been so many times when we didn’t get it right, and still don’t.

We keep going anyway. We show up, even if we feel we are not ready. We let go of the mistake and keep the learning. Great stories, stories of triumph and redemption, are only impactful when they are held in concert with the failures that threatened the possibility of success. We embrace the paradox of bittersweetness so that each level of achievement is celebrated in honour of what was both gained and lost along the way.

We are writing our story with the intention of it being a great one.

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