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The Tortoise and the Hare Model for Successful Small Business Start Ups

Susan L. Reid

My mother used to affectionately refer to me as a turtle.

She had a picture of me when I was 5 years old standing in a red bathing suit near the edge of the pool. This was my first swim lesson, and I was listening intently to what the instructor was saying. Though this was not the first time I had been at a pool or swimming (my dad was an avid swimmer and used to take me all the time), this was the first time I was ever instructed in swimming. My mom remembers how the other kids jumped right into the pool, eager to start, while I stood near the edge, waiting. I wasn’t afraid of the water. Rather, I was taking time to prepare for the event. Then, when I was good and ready, I jumped right in and swam.

Thus began my relationship with the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” found in the much beloved bedside collection The Fables of Aesop. When my parents read from this book, they would explain that the animals were meant to teach us a lesson and that the moral of the story held sage advice for all of life’s adventures. “The Tortoise and the Hare” is perfect for illustrating sound start up practices.

Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare

Picture of tortoise and the hareOnce upon a time, there was a hare who, boasting that he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing tortoise for his slowness. Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: "Who do you think you are? There's no denying you're swift, but even you can be beaten!" The hare squealed with laughter.

"Beaten in a race? By whom? Not you, surely! I bet there's nobody in the world who can win against me, I'm so speedy. Now, why don't you try?"

Annoyed by such bragging, the tortoise accepted the challenge. A course was planned, and the next day at dawn they stood at the starting line. The hare yawned sleepily as the meek tortoise trudged slowly off. When the hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided, half asleep on his feet, to have a quick nap. "Take your time!" he said. "I'll have forty winks and catch up with you in a minute."

The hare woke with a start from a fitful sleep and gazed round, looking for the tortoise. But the creature was only a short distance away, having barely covered a third of the course. Breathing a sigh of relief, the hare decided he might as well have breakfast, too. Off he went to munch some cabbages he had noticed in a nearby field. But soon the heavy meal and the hot sun made his eyelids droop. With a careless glance at the tortoise, now halfway along the course, he decided to have another snooze before flashing past the winning post. And smiling at the thought of the look on the tortoise's face when it saw the hare speed by, he fell fast asleep and was soon snoring happily.

The sun started to sink below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke with a jolt. He could see the tortoise--a mere speck in the distance--and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, gasping for breath. Just a little more and he'd be first at the finish. But the hare's last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post. Poor hare! Tired and in disgrace, he slumped down beside the tortoise.

With a knowing smile the tortoise proclaimed, "Slowly does it every time!"

The Tortoise and the Hare Start Up Model

From the very start of this fable, it seems absurd that the slow, prodigious tortoise would even consider pitting himself against the swift and built-for-speed hare. Though everyone can appreciate the tortoise’s desire to quiet the hare’s bragging and silence his teasing, to the tortoise, the race was never about speed or silencing a bully. It was about following through on his word. It was walking the talk, doing what he said he would do--something the hare never saw coming. The tortoise was all about the long game while the hare was about the short. Both approaches are important for a successful small business start up.

The Tortoise Speaks

Picture of a tortoiseDo you have an overall plan for start up success and becoming a leader in your industry?
  • Do you have a viable niche market?
  • Do you have a purple cow product/service with good market appeal?
  • Is your profit margin adequate to support your income goals?
  • Do you have cohesive branding that effectively communicates what you do?
  • Do you have a business coach or mentor--someone you can trust to help guide you?
  • Do you have time, and lots of it?
  • Do you have the courage and commitment to see it through?
  • Do you have the financial recourses to devote to your start up?

The Hare Chimes In

Picture of hareAre you able to easily adapt and maneuver within the overall plan?
  • Are you computer savvy?
  • Do you have a reliable, up-to-date computer with high-speed Internet service?
  • Does a reputable Internet company host your domain?
  • Do you have the tools and skills to create a web site and edit web pages, or the financial resources to pay a professional to do it?
  • Do you have a variety of ways to drive visitors to your web site?
  • Do you have an Internet merchant account and shopping cart?
  • Do you have a list serve or another way to send thousands of emails out to customers/clients?

The Tortoise and the Hare Share Thoughts

Picture of tortoise winning the raceRealistically, it takes the winning combination of tortoise and hare characteristics to successfully start up and launch a new small business. It really isn’t a matter of one being better than another, nor is it about choice. It’s a combination of preparation, adaptability, flexibility, strategy, ability, sustainability and maneuverability in today’s business world that makes the difference between a success start up success and failure.

Moral of the Story

Getting out to an early start may seem like the thing to do to an eager entrepreneur with passion to burn and a great idea in hand. Yet, the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare is that slow and steady wins the race. Follow the example of the tortoise: focus on the task, pay close attention to the tried and true business start up fundamentals, and see things through. Then follow the example of the hare by being nimble and quick to adapt and maneuver when necessary.

Taking the best from both the tortoise and the hare ensures that slow and steady will win the race, while high-octane speed and adaptability will set the pace.

Copyright © 2007 by Susan L. Reid

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it:

Copyright ©2007 by Susan L. Reid, DMA

Susan L Reid, DMA, Small Business Start Up Coach, Consultant & Accidental Pren-her™ is the author of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success. Known for taking the fear out of starting up businesses, Susan provides value, inspiration and direction to entrepreneurial women starting up and launching small businesses. 

To get your copy of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success, go to WME Books or visit For ideas and start up tips, sign-up for our free e-Zine for entrepreneurial women called LAUNCH YOU! We are blogging at:

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