Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I

Edward D. Hess, University of Virginia

This course focuses on the common growth challenges faced by existing private businesses when they attempt to grow substantially.

Most entrepreneurship courses focus on how to start a business. Few focus on the next big entrepreneurial inflection point: how do you successfully grow an existing private business? This is the focus of this Course. It is based on the instructor's research and thirty years of real-world experience advising private growth companies. 
This Course will challenge how you think about growth; give you tools to help you plan for growth, assess the preconditions to grow, and manage the risks of growth. You will study stories of how five different private businesses faced their growth challenges. 
Growth, if not properly managed, can overwhelm a business, destroying value and in many cases even causing the business to fail. However, the research shows that every growth business faces common challenges. You can learn from others' experience—you do not have to "reinvent the wheel".
The Course format is case based. Each case tells a compelling story. You will learn from Julie Allinson, Susan Fellers, Dave Lindsey, Parik Laxinarayan and Eric Barger. In addition, each week, we will discuss a different content theme. In Weeks and 2 and 5, you will engage in Workshops where you will be asked to use and apply the Course tools and concepts to create growth strategies for two different real-life businesses. You will have the opportunity to create a Course Community of fellow-students to learn from each other as the Course progresses. 
You will learn about the: "3 Myths of Growth"; the "Truth About Growth";  why growth is like "Mother Nature"; the "Gas Pedal" approach to growth; the all important "4 Ps" of how to grow; and how to scale a business strategically.


Please see Syllabus for further detail on weekly reading and assignments.
Week 1: The "Truth About Growth":The common beliefs that all growth is good; bigger is always better; and businesses must "grow or die" are not true. Growth can be good and growth can be bad. There is no scientific basis for the axiom "grow or die". It is a fiction. You will lean from Julie Allinson, the founder of Eyebobs, who has built a successful business selling stylish “reading glasses for the irreverent and slightly jaded.” Julie approached growth realistically and understood its value creation and destructive powers. You will learn how she faced manufacturing, sales, and people challenges while building a high growth business—a cool story.
Week 2: Workshop—“Are You Ready for Growth?”:  Using the Growth Risks Assessment Tool from Week 1, you will meet and advise Susan Fellers, the founder of 3 Fellers Bakery. Susan started a business baking gluten-free products when she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Her start-up was successful, and she needs your help because she has had so many growth alternatives and she does not know which to pursue. You will be asked to create a growth plan for her. 
Week 3: The 4 Ps of Growth—Planning, Prioritization, Processes and Pace: Using the Defender Direct story, we will learn to better manage the chaos of growth; find a business's strategic focus; how to choose which daily "fires" to put out first; how to create replicable processes—“leave a fire extinguisher behind"; and how to pace growth letting "up on the growth gas pedal". Dave Lindsey is our business builder this week, and you will trace his story from starting his business in his home to today being a national, privately owned home installation company generating well in excess of $300M (USD) in revenue with healthy profit numbers. 
Week 4: The Four Ways To Grow a Business: This week you will learn about the different ways to grow—improvements, innovation, scaling, and strategic acquisitions—with a focus on growth boosters: how to get more customers and sell more products and/or services to existing customers more efficiently. Enchanting Travels, a travel company based in India, is our story this week. You will learn how they built the foundation of their business to scale their focused customer value proposition so they could grow geographically to Africa, South America, and Asia. The story presents a big decision for you: should they franchise their business?
Week 5: Workshop—“Creating a Growth Plan": This week you will read about Eric Barger's challenge: how to take a business that has had little growth selling a commodity product and turn it into a high growth business. You will be asked to create a growth plan for Eric. And after doing that you will learn what Eric did to quadruple his business in three years. 

Recommended Background

The only prerequisite for this Course is an interest in learning about how privately-owned entrepreneurial businesses grow. The following people will find this course helpful: students at all levels, private business owners, managers of private businesses, employees of private businesses, and people interested in growth, economic development, and job creation.

Suggested Readings

All of the required Course readings are listed in the Syllabus and will be provided for free by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation.

Additional reading that you might find helpful for the Course include:

1. Edward D. Hess, Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses, Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2012, which is the book that this Course is based on. 

2. Edward D. Hess and Charles F. Goetz, So! You Want to Start a Business? Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2008. This book was written for people who want to start a business. It focuses on the eight common reasons why start-ups fail and how to increase your probability of avoiding those mistakes.

3. Edward D. Hess, The Road to Organic Growth: How Great Companies Consistently Grow Marketshare From Within, New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. This book is based on a study of consistent high organic growth U.S. public companies and their defining characteristics—the six keys to their success. Company stories include Sysco, Stryker Corporation, Outback Steakhouse, Best Buy Co., Inc., TSYS, Tiffany & Co., and American Eagle Outfitters, Inc..

My additional list of good reads (not required):

1. Peter F. Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, New York: HarperBusiness, 1993.

2. Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

3. Neil C. Churchill and John W. Mullins, “How Fast Can Your Company Afford to Grow?” Harvard Business Review, 79, no. 5 (2001): 135-42.

Course Format

Videos and Workshops Each week consists of videos made for the Course in short segments of approximately 10 to 25 minutes each. The videos discuss the articles and case studies to be read prior to the class. There are in-video quizzes embedded within the segments to evaluate your understanding of the concepts. You may proceed at your own pace.  There are also Workshop exercises, in which you have the opportunity to use the concepts discussed in the readings and videos to determine a course of action for a real, private business growth challenge. After completing the exercises, you will learn what action the business actually took and whether it was successful. 

There is a (non-optional) final exam of multiple choice questions. 

Discussion Forums You may choose to create course communities through the Discussion Forums, which will allow you to learn from your classmates. Communities can be formed based on your country of residence or based on the type of business you own or want to learn about. The purpose of the community is to provide a forum for you to learn from each other. It’s an opportunity for you create and grow together. 

Instructor Engagement I will be on the Course Discussion Forums from time to time to answer questions, chat and respond to other conversations. I will also host Google Hangouts (web conferences) with up to 6 students at a time. The Hangouts will be recorded, and all students will be able to view the conferences live or later through YouTube. 


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.
  • How will I learn in this Course?

    This Course is based on the principle that one learns by doing. There are required and optional readings. You will be asked to apply concepts discussed in the videos and readings in Workshop exercises, and if you choose to join a Course Community, you will learn from each other.

  • What resources will I need for this Course?

    None. The Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia is providing this Course for free because of its mission to positively impact society. Darden Business Publishing will provide all required Course reading for free.

  • Why is this Course important?

    Growing private businesses is in many parts of the world a major job creator and a key route to building a better life for oneself and one's family. In effect, this Course is about the pursuit of hopes and dreams. I think doing business is much more than just about making money. Doing business is the primary way many people achieve their hopes and dreams to provide a better life for themselves and their families. And in doing so, building a business can also create value for employees, customers, and society.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this Course?

    By bringing real-life business growth stories and challenges to you, this Course will teach you a different way to think about business growth and an appreciation for how managing risks and constant learning and improvement are critical to business success. You will also acquire tools, such as the 4 Ps in Week 2, that can help you manage your life.

    • 20 October 2014, 5 weeks
    • 20 January 2014, 5 weeks
    • 28 January 2013, 5 weeks
    Course properties:
    • Free:
    • Paid:
    • Certificate:
    • MOOC:
    • Video:
    • Audio:
    • Email-course:
    • Language: English Gb


    No reviews yet. Want to be the first?

    Register to leave a review

    More on this topic:
    155996_168d_13 Build Your Business Without Breaking the Bank
    Low to No-Cost Strategies for YOU to Get More Customers & Clients, Revenue ...
    151518_7730_4 Facebook for Small Business
    Go from a personal Facebook user to a Facebook marketing expert. Learn how to...
    19520_f046_2 It's Time To Blog! by Internet Marketing Coach Vincent Ortega Jr.
    Creating Your First Wordpress Website! How To Create Your Number 1 Lead Capturing... Fundamentals of Global Energy Business
    Learn about diverse and integrated markets for primary energy, and the essential...
    98778_2165_10 Grow Your Business with a Strategy by Trevis Certo
    Learn the basics of strategy to help you evaluate and pursue growth opportunities...
    More from 'Business & Management':
    Course__temasekpolytechnic_courses_bigdataandanalytics__course-promo-image-1564362720.07 Big Data and Analytics in Business
    Are you ready to explore what it takes to collect and analyse Big Data in the...
    Regular_e16aaa55-5f57-43f6-801f-cccc179f1e21 How to Succeed at: Interviews
    This free three week course provides the tools you need to succeed at interviews...
    Regular_a45e1791-4619-4c75-a5eb-98ee33da42b1 Logical and Critical Thinking
    Improve your logical and critical thinking skills in this free online course...
    Regular_d8af6c2e-2762-407e-8914-e24e6d63e258 Management and Leadership: Leading a Team
    Develop a business plan and build a team with this online course from The Open...
    Regular_4cb62c2e-f88d-46b7-b226-66b878e79b3d Business Fundamentals: Customer Engagement
    Learn how to design business and marketing activities to engage customers through...
    More from 'Coursera':
    Success-from-the-start-2 First Year Teaching (Secondary Grades) - Success from the Start
    Success with your students starts on Day 1. Learn from NTC's 25 years developing...
    New-york-city-78181 Understanding 9/11: Why Did al Qai’da Attack America?
    This course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies...
    Small-icon.hover Aboriginal Worldviews and Education
    This course will explore indigenous ways of knowing and how this knowledge can...
    Ac-logo Analytic Combinatorics
    Analytic Combinatorics teaches a calculus that enables precise quantitative...
    Talk_bubble_fin2 Accountable Talk®: Conversation that Works
    Designed for teachers and learners in every setting - in school and out, in...

    © 2013-2019