Zipcar – idealism and the realpolitik of scaling a business

Very interesting article about Zipcar’s turnaround strategy on Inc. Worth reading for the insights on growing a business by the numbers, but also the story of a company founded on strong ideals, that had to change leadership to get beyond being a good concept with laudable values.

Zipcar was one a pioneer in what some now call “collaborative consumption”, started by a pair of idealists who wanted to cut carbon emissions through car sharing.

Now Zipcar is fulfilling the dream of the founders to the tune of US$100 million dollars a year. The cost to them – only one member of the original team still works with the company, and itsn’t either of them. The hard-nosed, metrics-focused CEO who took over the company when it was making a a loss, took up the challenge from one of the board members to “turn a political movement into a business”. He succeeded.

The article emphasises the things the founders got right (a lot, especially branding and positioning). But they couldn’t turn it into a profitable, fast-growing company. Scaling Zipcar required someone with more of an operational view of how the world works.

Sometimes activists make good entrepreneurs. They get things started, they have same will to power and vision that drives good entrepreneurs. To truly scale sometimes takes the business equivalent of engineers, though – business-first people.

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