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Productivity / Growth

Managing small business growth: Success is in the bag

Do you want to know more about managing small business growth? Ethan Nyholm, co-founder of digital luggage specialist STM (Standard Technical Merchandise), describes what it's like going from solo to small business.

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When Ethan co-founded STM  in 1999, their core business was designing stylish and comfortable luggage for laptops. I first met Ethan in 2001, when he described STM’s target market as the ‘digital generation’.

This proves incredibly far sighted at a time of glacial Internet speeds and relatively chunky mobiles and laptops. Of course when digital technology went seriously mainstream just a couple of years later, STM were perfectly poised to ride the wave. Branching out into ‘luggage’ for iPods, cameras and other digital equipment, their products soon found their way into the hearts of…well…the digital generation.

After such an eventful four years, I thought it’d be interesting to catch up with Ethan to find out how he and STM are managing small business growth. “It’s going great” he responds “our customer base has grown immensely.”

With business booming, STM have gone from soloist to small business. How has Ethan found the transition? “I’ve learned so much.” And the most important lesson? “To let things go. When we first brought people on, I tried to stay on top of everything. It just didn’t work.”

Ethan came to realise that the easiest way to manage the new team members was “…to give them complete autonomy. I’ve found if you have smart people working with you, all they need is the tools and to be pointed in the right direction. The rest is up to them.” The result, he tells me, is a productive and highly motivated team.

"Ethan came to realise that the easiest way to manage the new team members was “…to give them complete autonomy."

Want more articles like this? Check out the growth section.

In spite of the popularity of their products growing every year, Ethan and his business partner Adina Krausz are determined to keep STM a relatively small organisation. “We’ve got a small team of dedicated people, and that’s all we need.” he says “This way we each feel more ownership, which makes for a better work environment. We all work damn hard, but we all love what we do.”

What about striving for business growth and financial success? It’s a trick question and Ethan doesn’t fall for the cliché. “I guess that depends on your definition of success.” he says. “Making money for money’s sake is not our ultimate goal.” he responds “Sure, every business needs enough money, but what’s the point of trying to get more than enough? Enjoying the ride is more important.”

So Ethan has no ambitions to become a rich and powerful CEO? “No way! I am not a corner office person. That is just not me.” he scoffs. “Why would I want to get cut off from the team? I want to keep working amongst them.”

When I asked what the company’s aims for the future were back in 2001, Ethan told me “To stay in business long enough to make a name for ourselves, and simply wait for the idea to catch on.” I ended the article by saying:

Given Ethan’s strong work ethic and evident faith in STM’s products, this quiet determination will almost certainly pay off. Watch this space and before long STM will be giving the current industry players a serious run for their money. You heard it here first!

Now, who’d like me to pick a horse in the 3.10 at Flemington?

Check out STM’s website at http://www.stmbags.com.au/

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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