Circles of Success — Expand Your Constituencies

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were best buddies from childhood in the town of Merrick, New York, USA. After finishing college, Jerry found himself at a loose end, unable to gain admission to medical school. Ben, meanwhile, was already a high school dropout.

In 1977, the two completed a correspondence course on ice-cream making from Pennsylvania State University’s creamery. A year later, with $12,000, the two friends became business partners and opened an ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Naturally, in was called Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. In 1979, they marked their anniversary by holding the first-ever free cone day, and event that is now an international annual celebration at every Ben & Jerry’s store.

Cohen suffered from a rare condition in which he could neither smell nor taste what he was eating, and had to rely on “mouth feel” and texture to provide variety in his diet. The trademark chunks Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is famous for were put there to satisfy Cohen’s hard-to-please palate.

Ben and Jerry’s, a passionate company that started in a corner of a small town is now an international giant. But its earliest successes happened in the local neighbourhood of a garage in Burlington.

Another legendary garage story is that of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, a geek and a nerd who decided they would make a friendly little computer called Apple. Their passion for creating an elegant, easily understood user interface led to a giant, innovative, game-changing corporation which till recently had the highest market capitalisation of any company on earth, over a trillion dollars.

Circles of Success

There’s a valuable lesson to be learnt from the stories above, and from innumerable others like them — success requires passion but it is also built from small beginnings. You cannot become successful on a national or planetary scale if you do not achieve success at a local scale first.

Your first success will be humble and limited to your community and those who know you, including neighbours and friends. Think of it as the first circle of success. As word spreads of your passion and your quality, that circle will grow to include the city, the state, the country and the continent in expanding circles of success. Somewhere in there you will find a tipping point, a moment in which you will reach take-off speed. Your success graph will climb faster and faster, becoming steeper and steeper.

Growth and success come as you gradually reach out to new constituencies, starting from local and growing much larger. For example, if your dream is to become a chess grandmaster, your success will not happen overnight. To become an international level chess player, first, you must learn the game by yourself as a rank amateur. Through practice, you will sharpen your skills and your reputation will grow. You will one day become the local champion at the school or college level. In the next step, you will reach for championship in the city, state or country level. Success comes in growing circles of every-increasing constituencies.

Facebook: local to global

One of the finest examples of this the giant social networking platform, Facebook.

A “face book” was a student directory featuring photos and personal information. In 2003, Harvard had only a paper version of its facebook along with a few private online directories. A student, Mark Zuckerberg, thought he could cengtralise Harvard’s facebook on a website, named as FaceMash when he founded it in 2003. Facemash attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg and some friends launched “TheFacebook”.

Initially, membership was limited to Harvard University students but within a month, more than half the undergraduates had registered. In March 2004, Facebook expanded to Columbia, Stanford and Yale, and then to all Ivy League colleges, Boston University, New York University, MIT and Washington before successively invading most other universities in the United States and Canada.

Investors began pumping money Into Facebook. In 2005, a high-school version was launched. In 2006, when Facebook went public, it was valued at $240 million.

Facebook is an outstanding example of achieving success at a small scale before growing constituencies in expanding circles until no part of the planet is left uncovered.

For 99% of people reading this book, success if life will begin with a single, well-defined goal such as being a doctor or chartered accountant or lawyer. In other words, your first circle of success will be you yourself. You will be your own constituency of one.

Always, always, the first step will be to invest in yourself and build professional skills. When you set up practice, whether it is medical, financial or legal, you will be in the middle of your first circle, reaching out to your first constituency, the local one.

Sometimes geography isn’t everything

In today’s online, networked world, some professions are notable exceptions to the principle of gradually expanding circles of success. Good examples of these are people who do not provide services to others but are known for their individual creative or artistic skills, such as artists, painters, architects and authors.

The success of JK Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter books, did not come in slowly growing circles. It was literally an overnight triumph with the publication of the very first book in the series.

A more illustrative example of pole-vaulting to exponential success on the back of digital media is Jeff Bezos, owner of the world’s largest online retail store and recognised as one of the world’s wealthiest men. But when he set up shop in 1995, it was no more than a small online bookstore with three employees, headquartered in Bezos’ garage. A bell would ring each time there was a sale. Soon the bell was ringing so frequently that it was just turned off. In one month, people from all 50 states of the United States and over 40 countries around the world had bought books from Amazon.

With its huge success in selling books, Amazon expanded its scope to include music, videos, video games, toys, consumer electronics, home-improvement items, clothing, household goods and web services in addition to other items. It also expanded its territory to countries around the world by acquiring online book stores and other businesses in some countries. The founder was a big thinker but he started small within the constituency of book lovers before he reached for the stars.

Because his business was entirely online, Bezos did not grow in small geographic steps. He went in one step from local to national, and in another step to global.

What can we learn from these inspiring stories of success?

1. Success is possible if you have invested in yourself: Genuine success takes genuine skill and sincere passion. Your first investment is in yourself, and your first success is a personal one.

2. Success starts small. There is no giant in any field on earth today who started as a giant. Beginnings are always small, with small and committed teams reaching out to small and interested constituencies.

3. Success grows in circles. Small becomes large, large becomes giant, giant becomes national and national becomes global. The circles of success grow like ripples in a pond, with you at the centre.

4. Success requires unwavering passion: The challenge is always to retain the vision, commitment and passion for quality and excellence, and your eyes fixed on the ultimate goal without wavering. Many companies that were successful when they were small lost their way as their circles and constituencies grew.

Prepare for your own imminent success knowing that it has a shape, and that it will most likely come to you in growing waves rather than as a flash flood. You will scale the highest heights.

But you must make baby steps before you take giant strides.

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