Wasn’t This Supposed to Get Easier?

Lacy Starling

A few months ago, Legion had its five-year anniversary. It’s a milestone many companies look forward to. At the beginning, we all read the statistics about businesses succeeding or failing in their first five years, and how after five years in business, failure rates drop off dramatically. So before you reach that five-year mark, it seems a little bit like a finish line. Or certainly, like summiting a mountain.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that at five years, Legion certainly hasn’t reached a summit. And that’s great – it lets me know we haven’t peaked. (That’s a mountain joke. You’re welcome.) However, it can also be a letdown to wake up on day 1,827 (that’s five years plus a day, allowing for one leap year) and realize that you still have to get up, put your big-person pants on, and go to work. Even worse, that work is so dramatically different from what you faced on day one that it can make you feel like a rookie all over again.

For instance, when we started Legion, managing the finances involved paying a few bills and making a deposit at the bank once a week, if we had received any checks. Yesterday, I signed a new credit line with the bank that is in excess of $1 million. We now have borrowing bases, GAAP accounting, fixed charge ratios and on and on and on. Most of this, we learn as we go. Some of it, I still don’t fully understand.

When we started, I was the only employee, and I didn’t even really count as an employee because I was an owner. Now we have 45 employees, which requires regular meetings about the Affordable Care Act, worker’s comp, FMLA and OSHA compliance. I had to buy a medical kit with a splint, for crying out loud. And create a profit-sharing plan that requires more stress-testing than Archie Bunker.

Five years ago, our marketing consisted of me knocking together a website and having a handful of business cards. We’re currently going through an entire re-brand (you heard it here first!), which requires lengthy meetings about our color story and company personality. Daily, we have to make decisions about fonts and pantones and our “voice.” Not to mention the giant marker board looming over our desks that outlines our social reach and engagement that we update weekly.

In the basement of Tony’s house, we sat at a cobbled-together assortment of tables and desks. At one point, I took over the dining room and we just ate standing up in the kitchen. For the last three years, we’ve been sitting at Ikea furniture that we picked out, loaded into a truck and assembled ourselves. By the end of the year, we will have official, by-God commercial furniture that will be installed and assembled by professionals. It’s going to have divider screens and wiring troughs and all sorts of wondrousness. For what we’re paying, it should probably also vacuum my floor and fly me to Florida (but I’m not getting my hopes up). Tony and I have spent days measuring, diagramming, looking at color swatches, budgeting, negotiating and carrying around laminate samples to get to this point.

These are the challenges that come along with running a $25 million company. Five years ago, I could not have possibly imagined what my days would look like now. And I’ve come to realize that I have no idea what my days will look like in another five years. I no longer worry about having enough money to pay the bills, but now I spend hours in meetings parsing the financial statements and discovering new efficiencies. I don’t print the checks anymore, but I have to negotiate treasury services rates with the bank so we can go paperless in the next 12 months.

There are days when I wonder if I’ll eventually get beyond my capabilities as an owner. It hasn’t happened yet, and maybe it will never happen. But with each new challenge, Tony and I have to dig deeper, find a new gear, lean on each other and question our advisors a little more. The good news is, we’re up to the challenge. The bad news is, that mountain summit seems just as far away today as it did five years ago.