Natasha Ashton: Blink and it’s grown

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

Every entrepreneur dreams of going big, fast. However, few recognize that the dream of rapid growth can, if managed incorrectly, turn monumental momentum into inexorable inertia. The fact is, whether a business ultimately succeeds or fails comes down to how well the CEO plans for growth — especially rapid growth.

As CEOs of a company that has experienced 2,200 percent growth in revenue during a three-year period, with a workforce that feels as if it is multiplying faster than cells divide, my husband Chris and I have learned that having the best product in the marketplace helps but can’t guarantee long-term success. You sometimes need to take a leap of faith. But, at all times, you need passion, vision and a plan. Here are some tips on managing growth.

Communicate your vision

Before your team members can help fulfill your vision, they need to know what it is. Communicate your long-term goals, and set the bar high. Establish strategic milestones along the way, and celebrate each one.

Clearly define your core values, and ensure each decision you make as a leader can be supported by those values. Lead by example, and choose key staff and managers who do the same.

Power to the people

One of the best things you can do as CEO is hire experienced talent that understand your business model and can develop the key areas of operation. Resist the urge to keep a hand in everything — you simply won’t add as much value to details as you could to the big picture.

In the early days of Petplan, Chris and I were accustomed to doing everything from answering the phones to marketing, from accounting to recruiting. Eventually, we were so immersed in day-to-day tasks that we became further and further removed from the strategic vision that fueled our initial growth.

We adjusted our focus back into driving the business forward and created the structure to allow our managers to lead their teams. It was difficult at first, but everything that’s worth doing is.

Maximize your mentors

Creating strong external partnerships is important to any business, but an internal partner who can focus on driving growth is invaluable.

When Vernon W. Hill II, founder and retired chairman and CEO of Commerce Bancorp, agreed to join Petplan as chairman in 2008, his get-it-done philosophy increased the pace of our decision-making significantly.

The right mentor can push you outside your comfort zone and help you grow in ways you never imagined.

Take advantage of technology

The importance of understanding when and how to make investments in technology can’t be overstated.

In the early days, many of our administrative systems were manual. The office was coping fine, but our teams were overstretched. By investing in technology and automating administrative tasks, we reduced the opportunity for human error and focused our human resources on other key areas, such as exceeding customer expectations.

While the initial investment was not insignificant, we ultimately saw a cost savings of more than 90 percent, which allowed us to make key investments in other areas.

Don’t just get customers, make fans

Take good care of your customers and they’ll tell their friends. Transform your customers into fans and they won’t just tell their friends, they’ll speak so passionately about your product, service, culture and core values that their friends will wonder if they’re getting a commission.

Putting our policyholders’ needs front and center has codified our position as the top-ranked pet insurance company in North America since 2008. Keeping their needs in focus during periods of rapid growth has ensured we not just maintain that position but fortify it.

To an entrepreneur, a rapidly growing business is both the challenge and the reward. And with an unwavering vision and the right people to help execute it, you can harness the momentum to achieve even greater heights.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, “Fetch!” — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]