BIG FISH PRESENTATIONS: Growing in a Cautious, yet deliberate Manner

In early 2011, Kenny Nguyen and Gus Murillo attended an event taking place at Louisiana State University, the university they were attending. The speaker was the vice president of a Fortune 500 firm. Rather than being blown away by the presenta-tion, they were shocked by how boring it was. The speaker plodded through what seemed like 200 PowerPoint slides, and left his audi- ence uninspired. At that moment Nguyen, in particular, saw a niche. Was there an opportunity to start a company to help others create compelling  and enriching presentations  rather than boring  ones? In the accompanying photo, Gus Murillo is on the left while Kenny Nguyen is on the right.

That was the genesis of Big Fish Presentations. Nguyen, who was soon joined by Murillo, got into the presentations training business. The initial service that Big Fish Presentations offered was to provide personalized presentation services on an end-to-end  basis. Not only would Nguyen and Murillo help clients define the goals of their presen- tations and help them develop presentations that would engage and resonate with their specific audiences, but they would also develop the slides that accompanied the presentations and coach clients through practice presenta- tion sessions. The first year Big Fish Presentations generated about $59,000 in revenue. That number was short of Nguyen and Murillo’s goal of $100,000, but not bad for a com- pany that started with less than $1,000 in funding.

Initially, Big Fish Presentation’s clients came from in and around Baton Rouge, the home of Louisiana State University. Clients included Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Raising Cane’s, and Voodoo BBQ. From the outset, the company strived towards professionalism. For example, it started in the student incubator at the Louisiana Business and Technology Center on LSU’s South Campus, but soon moved out of the incubator to develop its own identity and brand. Similarly, in working with clients, Big Fish Presentations is very focused on helping clients present themselves in new and innovative ways. One way it does this is by selecting the presentation plat- form that is most appropriate for a particular client, rather than automatically reverting to PowerPoint. As a result, Big Fish Presentation has created slide decks for clients in many different platforms, including Prezi, which builds customized slide presentations with photos, graphics, and other media. In Big Fish Presentation’s view, the process of building an effective presentation includes five steps: design, storyboard,  copy, storytelling, and presenting. Big Fish Presentations excels in shepherding its clients through each step of the presentation process.

In regard to growth, Nguyen and Murillo are committed to growing Big Fish Presentations, but have opted to pursue a conservative and patient approach rather than a fast-paced strategy. In its second year of existence, the company’s presentation and consulting services were supplemented by video production and design, which now represents 40 percent of the firm’s revenue. The company maintains a high degree of self-awareness regarding what it’s good at and what lies outside its areas of expertise, and that self-awareness guides its growth-related decisions. For example, the compa- ny’s creative abilities have garnered some attention and client requests to pursue other graphic design or marketing outlets outside of their core competencies, but Big Fish Presentations does not offer those services. Instead, the company focuses intently on its three core services—presentation design, presentation consulting, and video design and production. The company has passed on some seemingly intriguing possibilities in order to remain true to its core priorities. For example, Nguyen and Murillo had the op- portunity to audition for Shark Tank. Ultimately, they turned down the overture based on the recognition that the people who watch Shark Tank aren’t part of their target clientele, and that they would rather self-fund Big Fish Presentation’s growth than take investment capital to do so. Big Fish Presentations currently has three full-time employees, including Nguyen and Murillo, and seven part-time employees who are utilized on a project-by- project basis. Additional freelancers are employed when demand necessitates. Its client list has expanded considerably since its first year. Its clients now include Paramount Pictures, Cabela’s, Mutual of Omaha, and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

In regard to managing the day-to-day challenges of growth, Nguyen and Murillo have taken concrete steps to make the process manageable. With respect to cash flow management, the company requires a 50 percent deposit when it retains a client. This practice effectively forces the client to finance half the costs of a project before final payment is received. Big Fish Presentations is also moving to a model where it tries to sell clients “packages”  of services rather than a single service. This step is intended to lower the company’s administrative overhead and boost sales by gener- ating more income from each client. In regard to price stability, which refers to com- petitors trying to undercut a company’s price, Nguyen and Murillo haven’t struggled with this issue. Most of their clients see the value in what they offer, and there aren’t many firms that offer the same expertise that Big Fish Presentations is selling. In re- gard to quality control, there is always a concern that as a company takes on more work, the amount of time they have to devote to each individual project decreases. Nguyen and Murillo have given this aspect of their business a lot of thought. There are two things they’re doing to keep quality high as the number of projects grows. First, they’ve carefully documented the processes they used to produce output, so when they hire a freelancer to work on a job he or she can be brought up to speed quickly, and expectations and quality standards are clear. Second, they never accept a job where they believe, as Gus Murillo puts it, the “odds are stacked against them.” What Murillo means by this statement is that they won’t accept jobs with unrealistic dead- lines, for example. Nguyen and Murillo have learned through experience not to put their company and employees in this type of undesirable situation.

As Big Fish Presentations moves forward, it will face additional challenges prepar- ing for and managing growth. The company is currently contemplating several new initiatives that it feels are consistent with its core competencies and are a good fit for the company moving forward.

The Big Fish Presentations case is encouraging in that the company has gotten off to a good start and has achieved growth in a well-executed man- sustained growth, ner. Its true test will be whether it is able to achieve which is growth in both revenues and profits over a sustained period of time. Evidence shows that relatively few firms generate sustained and outstanding, profitable growth.1 As evidence of this, consider Inc. magazine’s Build 100 proj- ect. The study entailed collecting data on more than 100,000 U.S. midmarket companies (those with 85 to 999 employees) to study firm growth. Incredibly, the project found that fewer than 1.5 percent of the companies in the study achieve sustained growth, which was measured by increasing their number of employees every year from 2007 to 2012. The study found that a company’s growth typically follows one of several patterns: (1) it might burst on the scene with years of expansion and then decelerate and decline, (2) it might grow in fits and starts, possibly in sync with the overall economy, (3) it might enjoy a brief boom and then plateau, or (4) it might achieve steady incremental growth re- peated over time. The fourth option is the healthiest and the pattern that leads to sustained growth. “It’s akin to Aesop’s tortise and hare story,” Gary Kunkle, the chief researcher on the project, remarked. “Slow and steady wins the race.”2

Although challenging, most entrepreneurial ventures try to grow and see it as an important part of their ability to remain successful.3 This sentiment was ex- pressed by Hewlett-Packard (HP) co-founder David Packard, who wrote that while HP was being built, he and co-founder Bill Hewlett had “speculated many times about the optimum size of a company.” The pair “did not believe that growth was important for its own sake” but eventually concluded that “continuous growth was essential” for the company to remain competitive.4 When HP published a for- mal list of its objectives in 1996, one of the seven objectives was growth.5

The first part of the chapter focuses on preparing for growth, including a discussion of three specific areas on which a firm can focus to equip itself for growth. The second part of the chapter focuses on reasons for growth. Although sustained growth is almost always the result of deliberate intentions, a firm can’t always choose its pace of growth. This section lists the seven primary reasons that motivate and stimulate business growth. The chapter’s third section focuses on managing growth, which centers on knowing and managing the stages of growth. In the final section, we examine the challenges of growth, including the managerial capacity problem and the day-to-day challenges of growing a firm.

Source: Barringer Bruce R, Ireland R Duane (2015), Entrepreneurship: successfully launching new ventures, Pearson; 5th edition.

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