AUG 19, 2015

(5-6 minute read by Kevin Sandlin)

There are as many quotes and memes about taking the first step or getting started doing anything as there are text characters in this article. We could go on and on about taking that first step, and convince you over and over that you should take that first step towards achieving your goals, whatever those goals may be. The first step is crucial, because that’s your starting point. It’s the point at which you will look back and say, “Wow. Look where we were, and how far we’ve come!”

This snapshot of your company can be viewed as the “sleeper” stage of the Vista Growth Process because its value doesn’t reveal itself until years have passed and seismic growth can be measured. Everything “historical” to the company is collected for this stage: “artifacts” like documents, pitch and presentation decks, org charts, product descriptions, prototypes, service descriptions, 2-3 years of financials, CEO speeches...anything and everything that helps us fully identify and describe the current state of the union, so to speak.

Why is all this necessary? For that answer, let’s go back 150 years or so to the great post-Civil War American railroad race to the Pacific Ocean. Several railroad construction teams, including the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific set out to win the race to the Pacific. There were incredible logistical, cultural, and life-threatening challenges ahead of each team; however, they all shared one thing: they had to start somewhere.

There were already thousands of miles of railroad up and down the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as Chicago at the time, so railroad building wasn’t new, just like building and scaling a business is not new today. However, building a railroad across completely uncharted territory was new. And unknown, dangerous, and scary. Just like the goal of going public or reaching the billion dollar valuation mark is daunting. Until you have a clear roadmap. And the only way to build a clear roadmap is to have a starting point. That starting point is the all too familiar dot on the map in the park, mall, or airport: YOU ARE HERE.


Sounds simple, right? Many times, though, the leadership of the organization gets a surprise when they see exactly where they are. It wasn’t where they thought they were at this point in the business. It takes a courageous leader to look in the mirror, see all the warts, wrinkles, gray hairs, and other flaws, acknowledge all of them, and then set out to boldly turn them around and provide a “makeover”. Only a courageous leader can take on such challenges face to face, with the understanding that, once they address and correct any and all systemic flaws, the organization will then be positioned for massive growth. This part of the process is most certainly not boring, but rather exhilarating, as we begin setting the stage for positive transformational process.

This stage is no different than finding your way in a thick forest: unless you climb to the top of the tallest tree to get the most revealing view of the landscape, all you’ll see is trees. When you reach the highest elevation, from where you can see the furthest, you will have the greatest vista (see what we did there?) of your destination. Until you know exactly where you are relative to your surroundings, you cannot know how to proceed. 

Knowing where you are is one thing, but knowing where you are in context with your surroundings is much more important.

When you reach that point of contextual understanding, you must then ask three very important questions:

  1. Where are you headed?

  2. Who’s with you?

  3. What do you have?

In other words, what’s your goal, who’s on your team, and what are your assets and resources? Knowing these answers, you can begin answering the question that President Eisenhower once answered as he set out to cover the nation in highways: how do you move massive amounts of people and resources from Point A to Point B along the same compass heading? Know your starting point, determine your target, set the route.

When Lewis & Clark set out to find the Northwest Passage, they determined a starting point, a goal, and a route. That route got them to the Pacific Northwest, which was their goal. But why was the starting point so important?  

For an already moderately successful business to achieve greatness, that starting point is also an equally important piece of information. In fact, the entire Vista Growth Process is predicated upon that starting point. The key metric behind the Vista Growth Process is CAGR, compound annual growth rate. It is that metric that can only be accurately measured when the starting point is known and understood. These Vista Growth companies experienced such growth:

So what was so important about Lewis & Clark’s starting point? Had they not known where they started, they would not have been able to tell President Thomas Jefferson (their sponsor) how far they had come and what they had discovered, not only about the territory, but about themselves.

Your starting point, the snapshot, enables you to measure your CAGR over time, look back, and understand just how far your organization has come, and understand far more about yourself, your team, and what you are capable of accomplishing.

At the beginning, you saw, “You are here.” Now you see how far you’ve come. The first step is crucial.