October 22, 2009

If this madness all ended tomorrow, I would do…almost nothing

If this madness all ended tomorrow, I would do…almost nothing

(This post originally appeared on FindYourNerve on October 21)

I don’t know what you call the last 12 months of global macroeconomic meltdown.  I’ve taken to calling it the Great Repression.  In part because it’s somewhere in between a Recession and a Depression, in part because it’s certainly repressed the wants and needs of startups and growth companies the world over.  And it makes for good cocktail party chatter.

Someone asked me a question the other day, which started off with “Now that the recession is over…”  I can’t even remember the end of the question.  I got lost in the framing of it, mostly because I’m not convinced it’s over yet.  Fine, fine, Bernanke says it’s over.  But he couldn’t possibly have used more caveats or more cautious language to couch his statement.  I haven’t seem great signs of a recovery, in any case.  But the question got me thinking.  What would I do if the recession really was over, or if I knew that, say, tomorrow, the heavens would open up and swallow our inflation fears, deflation fears, and collective global deficits whole?

You know what?  I wouldn’t do a thing.  That’s not entirely true.  I’d probably sleep better that night.  But I wouldn’t do a lot of other things out of the gate.  This last year has tested nerves.  My nerve as a CEO, my Board’s nerve, and the collective nerve of our organization.  And we’ve pulled off a great year.  We will still grow close to 50%, we greatly expanded our operating margins and are generating nice cash flow, and we preserved all jobs, salaries, and core benefits (all five of our objectives that I laid out 12 months ago when the &*%$ started to hit the fan). 

So, why wouldn’t I do anything different if I knew the world would be a different place tomorrow?  Because holding our nerve this past year has changed a lot of things about our organization for the better, and I don’t want to see us reverse course on those things just because we can.  Here’s one example, one of many we have – when we cut our travel budget by 50% this year, everyone on the team looked at us like we were crazy and said there was no way we’d be able to make budget.  Guess what – we BEAT the slashed budget by almost a third, without complaint!  Why should we triple it going forward to get back to where we were? 

Anyway, other companies can lose their nerve when they aren’t forced to have it.  As for me and Return Path, while we will certainly move some things back to normal over time as the world improves, it won’t be a wholesale reversion to yesteryear.

4 responses to “If this madness all ended tomorrow, I would do…almost nothing”

  1. maricela says:

    I'm still thinking about this post and finally decided to thank you for sharing this. been reading your posts for a while. This one is the most valuable one. which I could have more details on it. I have seen so many enterprises eager to miss this oppty for true reinvention it was a great relief to learn of one that actually leveraged it.

  2. Matt Blumberg says:

    Thanks, Maricela – I’m glad you found this useful!  Let me know what more details you’d like.

  3. Craig says:

    This post is indicative of how so many businesses have used the last year to focus on their core objectives and increase productivity. One reason employment will be such a lagging indicator of a recovery is this increased productivity has lead to less people doing more within their organizations.
    Hopefully this will lead to a rise in entrepreneurship as individuals will seize opportunities in the marketplace. Larger organizations will be slower to react to an improving economy. The barrier to entry in many businesses has never been lower and technology has never been better at getting people started.
    Great post Matt. I look forward to more posts on this topic and your CEO viewpoint moving forward.

  4. Thanks, Craig.  We sort of look at the last year as a time where we lowered the water level of expense.  We are going to be able to leverage that success into more hiring this year off a stronger base, for sure.