By Laura Gossman

Editor’s Note: Fieldnotes has profiled many of the Fellows at Praxis and highlighted their basic start-up stories and initial challenges. In order to explore these start-up challenges more deeply, we are examining some of the tensions identified in the book From Concept to Scale by Praxis’s Steve Graves, Dave Blanchard and Josh Kwan. For a previous introduction to these tensions read here. Below is Rising Tide Capital’s Co-Founder, Alex Forrester’s reflection on one of the tensions described in the book: ‘Scale now or Have patience’. To learn more about their start-up story read here.

Scaling means different things to different people.  Alex Forrester, from Rising Tide Capital, knows all too well that it is a buzzword we often hear in the start-up environment. For him, the example of Mother Teresa and her resistance of building an infrastructure with Sisters of Charity is one that keeps the success and growth of RTC in perspective.

When the organization started out almost ten years ago, they wanted a program model that was scalable and replicable as well as effective and efficient – but the model didn’t have to scale, it just had to have that capacity. From the beginning, they wanted to infuse a means to automatically keep the model at a higher quality, and the way to do this was to keep it scalable, even if that never happened.

There were three significant ways this tension of “scale now or have patience” presented itself. The means by which the tension surfaced also served as potential guides and nuggets of wisdom as the organization evolved.

Spiritual tension – There is a desire to acknowledge that it is God’s hand making the difference in the lives that are served, but there is also a desire to make a large impact. Sometimes this is in direct conflict with so many of the Biblical examples where God works through the humble, small, and ordinary. As Alex put it, “It’s all about pursuing work with the right spiritual perspective. Scaling was not a goal in and of itself.”

Co-Founder and COO of Rising Tide Capital.

Alex Forrester co-founded Rising Tide Capital in 2004 and serves as its Chief Operations Officer.

Tension with time and relationships – Early on, RTC experienced successful stories of local Jersey City entrepreneurs bearing fruit from the business training they had received. There is a temptation to take these inspiring stories and puff them up for the world to see so that word will get out, and things will grow. However, as Alex has observed, “In an attempt to scale too quickly, there may be a disregard for the trust-based relationships that are needed to really make the difference you exist to make. This difficulty is not often acknowledged. What you do over the long-term, day-in and day-out, even on the rainy days, is what really counts.”

Time is huge. For RTC, the ability to wait was crucial. It wasn’t scale now versus have patience. It was have patience in order to scale. However, if the patience didn’t result in scale, that was okay, because the relationships are what matter and bear the fruit needed to scale on God’s timeline.

They could have relied on puffing up inspirational stories, speeding up the process and no one would have said anything. “But the real work is in the small, often forgotten corners in life. RTC knows that the only real impact starts in the community that surrounds it, and it requires that they show up consistently to earn trust and respect,” concluded Alex.

Business product presentation at Rising Tide Capital.

Cazz Flemming, pictured here, and other Rising Tide Entrepreneurs benefit from in depth consulting and advice about their business brand and products.

Tension of de-stabilization with growth – In 2009, when RTC first received national recognition, they started getting exciting invitations to other communities to participate and start a similar model elsewhere.  Fortunately, through the guidance of wise advisors, they were warned about the de-stabilization that growth too early brings. They were encouraged to build a core foundation of infrastructure first.

By dedicating three solid years and resources to the unglamorous side of this foundation (HR, finances, operations, etc.), RTC had to decline invitations to replicate. During this time, they allowed only modest growth in the local area. The model is just now beginning to replicate in other cities like Chicago at RTC’s ten-year mark. Looking back, he is thankful they chose to build success around growing a solid foundation first. Following up on those early invitations to replicate would have been extremely difficult before their core infrastructure was built. Once RTC was committed to this three-year timeline to build the foundation before scaling, it became easier to stay true to the discipline locally when new opportunities to scale came around.

70% of Rising Tide Entrepreneurs are women, many of whom are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to generate additional income for their families.

70% of Rising Tide Entrepreneurs are women, many of whom are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to generate additional income for their families. Cecilia Chevere, pictured here, is an independent yoga instructor.

By abiding in the depth of work in the day-to-day mission in the local area, the leaders at RTC could truly ask themselves, “does this work?” Rather than scaling in the first five years, they had space to get the recipe right by gathering data over time from their programs. What they realized is that a program needs to get up to a certain size first to have enough data to treat problem areas, enhance it and know how to do it well. It took them five to ten years to explore innovative methods and know if the model worked.

In 2012, about after the three years had passed, they reached a point where they were ready to make investments in scaling beyond their local market. Replicating for the first time would be a multi-year project. This is when Alex intentionally looked for a mentorship, accelerator program like Praxis. He knew they would need smart people behind them that would help explore and sketch what the replication would look like. He received tremendous perspective from leaders with various backgrounds from for-profit, non-profit, communications, fundraising, operations, and IT sectors.

In February 2014, RTC launched a beta version of their licensed replication model in Chicago before they eventually take it to the larger national market. Having learned that time and trust is essential in scaling social entrepreneurship in the 21st century, RTC will once again be building relationships in this new neighborhood so that the infrastructure is contextualized for success.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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