How to Grow Your Company’s Revenue 1000% in One Year

My entire life I had met mentors, coaches, and advisors, but it wasn’t until I met a provocateur that I realized the kind of impact one person could have on someone else’s professional career.

It was 2009 and I was sitting across the table from Bo Fishback, then-vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, trying to convince him to let my startup, KR Legal Management, into a new mentorship program he was starting, even though we didn’t perfectly fit the profile of companies they were recruiting for the program.

I really thought I was dropping some impressive numbers on him when I bragged about the $75,000 in revenue we had generated in our first year and our plan of growing to $100,000 in revenue next year.  But I didn’t get the reaction I was anticipating. Across the table, Bo looked extremely unimpressed. He sat back in his chair thinking for a second and then finally said, “I don’t really care about $100,000.” He paused.  “Can you do $1 million in revenue next year? I’ll let you into the program if you can do $1 million.”

At the time, I don’t think his statement completely registered with me. But, expressing as much false bravado as I could muster, I agreed – as if it were no big deal – to change my goal to $1 million in revenue next year. “OK, you’re in,” Bo said.

I walked out of the meeting thrilled to have been accepted into a program at the Kauffman Foundation, but that feeling of elation quickly gave over to a sense of dread. What had I gotten myself into? I thought, “I can’t do $1 million in revenue, that’s impossible!”

Concluding that I couldn’t get around the problem of my new promise, I decided to just run straight at it. I climbed into my car, pulled out my notebook, and started adding up the numbers. At 110 percent capacity, I could probably generate $140,000…maybe…so how on earth was I going to get to $1 million?

With my thoughts racing, I started working backwards. I flipped to a new sheet of paper, wrote $1 million at the top and started breaking down what kind of customers I would need and what kind of services I would have to provide to them to get there. I realized my strategy would have to be completely different. I didn’t have the capacity to grow my current customer segment to a high enough volume, so I was going to have to go after a different type of customer – one that would generate substantially more revenue. It seemed crazy, but I decided it was worth a try. The next year, my second year in business, I didn’t hit $1 million, but I still generated $800,000 in revenue.  That’s over 1,000% growth in one year!  All because of one little question: “Can you do $1 million in revenue next year?”

It was the first time in my life that someone completely pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to think in a brand new way, and made me believe in something I would have previously thought was impossible.  It was his nonchalant manner about the question and his confident belief in what was possible that made me believe.  That little injection of belief changed my perspective and, subsequently, the entire trajectory of my life.

Without someone challenging my methods and pushing me way beyond my comfort zone, I would have continued right down my incremental path thinking all was well. It would have been years before my company would have paid me a real salary or been anything other than a lifestyle business. Over the next few years, KR Legal Management generated millions in revenue and was eventually sold.

I never forgot the difference Bo’s provocative, unexpected question made in my career.  I knew that if I wanted to continue growing and achieving new heights, I would need to continuously seek out other provocateurs. And I also felt a calling to serve as a provocateur for others, in the hopes that I might one day have this level of impact on someone’s life.

How to find a provocateur

A provocateur is essential in any innovator’s journey. They resemble a mentor in some ways, but are an entirely different resource. A provocateur isn’t trying to be a mentor. A mentor is a person you can come to with specific questions as you build and grow a company. But, a provocateur doesn’t answer questions; they ask them. They analyze your situation, and then they ask questions that push you to think differently, to question your beliefs, to strive for new heights.

Here are a few things to look for in a provocateur:

  • A personal record of business success. Provocateurs can’t inspire big ideas unless they’ve had experience growing a company themselves. A provocateur should be able to reflect on their own experiences of failure and success and channel those experiences into thought-provoking questions for your company. Choose someone you respect for his or her business savvy, someone you’re sure would say no, and ask anyway.
  • Outside your chosen industry. The whole purpose of having a provocateur is to find someone who will make you think about your company in an entirely new way. When you get caught up in the daily grind of running a company, you often get stuck talking to the same people in your industry, and thinking about your business within the same limiting constructs over and over again. A great provocateur can offer a set of fresh eyes. They can look at your company and identify holes in your plan or opportunities for growth. By challenging the ways your industry traditionally works, a provocateur can offer a completely new perspective on your company.
  • Effective at holding you accountable. A good provocateur doesn’t simply ask you challenging questions; they hold you accountable to help you achieve your new goals. They become invested in your success by checking in with you on a regular basis to see what kind of progress you are making.

No matter if you’re an entrepreneur or a corporate innovator, you can benefit from this type of provocation. A provocateur can help you achieve successes you didn’t even know were possible. If I hadn’t been challenged to grow my company exponentially, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to try.

3187023So who’s pushing you? Who’s asking you questions that force you to shift your entire paradigm?


Diana’s book, All in Startup: Launching a New Idea When Everything Is on the Line is a New York Times Bestseller, and is used at more than 50 schools to teach innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S. For more articles on innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, subscribe to Diana’s email updates and follow her on Twitter.