Lemon trees and businesses, jabuticabeiras and people

Paçoca, myself and the lemon tree at your left

I have a small lemon tree in my backyard. We bought it almost a year ago, with barely any branches or leaves, and at a minimal size. Along with an also small tangerine tree and a “jabuticabeira” (not any chance I’ll translate this), they are the stars of my garden.

Then, it became my hobby and sport to water the plants. Every day, at lunchtime, I’ll take my cafezinho break in the garden, watering and enjoying my plants for a couple of minutes.

It is curious to see them grow day by day. One who doesn’t watch it for any amount of time (let’s say a week or a month) will say, “hell, that tree grew a lot and fast!”. Well, I’m with them every day.

And I see what does work better with them—the time and amount of water, the right sun exposure, the type of soil. There are some choices and improvements you can make to try to grow them better and faster.

It’s the same with a business. You have your small organism and variables such as people, product, marketing, strategy, culture, and many more. And while you can make massive leaps, mostly your job is to nurture what you think is best through small actions that compound into significant effects on time.

As a newfound CEO and founder, well, that’s precisely my job. A pep talk with a team member can unleash his or her performance to new levels. A new marketing tactic can improve your revenue. Some iterations of your product after listening to clients can make it more robust and serviceable.

Those who oversee the business “from the outside” or with a more spaced timeframe can see massive changes, but to the ones working every day, it’s one inch at a time.

What makes you stronger can kill you

Last month, I decided that some fertilizer was necessary to boost my lemon tree’s growth. So I bought NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphor, and Potassium) and randomly applied it to my loved lemon tree.

Well, the thing is: without knowing, I applied (a lot) more than the recommended portion. And instead of growing, the lemon tree started dying. Quickly, the leaves got all brown and fell, and the colorful tree became almost a zombie.

We had to wash off all of the mineral fertilizer, change some of the “infected” soil, and buy humus and other nutrients to compensate for the damage made by my mistake. After a couple of weeks basically in ICU (Intensive Care Unit), the lemon tree survived and started to flourish again, opening leaves in different branches.

My lemon tree, before (growing organically) and after (in “rebirth mode”) my ill advised fertilizer application

Well, that can also be the same for businesses. You overstep or include a new ingredient to the mix without thinking about it, and well, what should make you stronger ends killing you.

Advertising and paid media can also be a concrete example of trying to “nutrient boost” your business that can go sideways. While a great way of acquiring customers, if you exaggerate or lean only with it, it can drive you faster towards failure.

Many startups fundraise more than they need and start a money spree. Although you should test and try more tactics, and you should allow yourself to be less capital efficient to boost growth, too much capital flowing to paid media (or any other way) without that much analysis and diligence can be the recipe to attract the wrong customers, lose the balance between your unit economics such as CAC (customer acquisition cost) and LTV (lifetime value), or to commit with a traction promise you can’t live on to without bleeding out your cash.

Bonus: when you lean into another party’s audience (such as Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, or any other), you’re off guard to any changes they make on their environment (such as diminishing your organic reach drastically or raising tenfold their cost per click). Also, if you’re playing in the same garden that your competitors are, well, you should get more or less the same results (regression to the mean) as them.

“Product-market fit is achieved when you have explosive organic growth”, says one of many serious posts about it (I think it’s from Andreesen Horowitz). You surely can juice it up a little with the right substances, but I think it’s not a random choice of words when you say organic growth.

Jabuticabeiras and people

Jabuticaba is a kind of berry common in Brazil, and the tree that gives them is called Jabuticabeira. It’s challenging to find the right translation for them, so I’ll run with the Portuguese words.

They are beautiful trees, and they have something curious: in order to improve their fruit production, you need to stress the tree the right amount. Some people make some cuts along the trunk or even hit the tree directly.

Then, the jabuticabeira will sense the menace to their well-being and produce many more fruits and flowers. So if you stress the tree, you are going to have a better performance.

Well, the first two jabuticabas from the tree in my garden came right after we cut some small branches off it and after heavy rain: some stress, some fruit.

I think it is the same with people. With some grade of tension and pressure, along with water and all the nutrients you need, you can force yourself to go further, faster, and stronger than if you remain in your comfort zone. Just imagine how many times you had some negative feedback or stress and what you delivered after it.

The Fusca and the Jabuticabeira

I’ll end this biological, treeful, and floral post with a fun story of mine.

When I was learning to drive as a 14-year-old kid, I ran my grandfather’s VW Fusca into a jabuticabeira at the farm. I really ran over a young tree. Funny enough, when we started the car again and pulled over, the tree went back on standing, as if nothing happened.

And from that (stressful) day, that single jabuticabeira delivers fruit every day, no matter what season of the year. And a whole lot of fruit, way more than an ordinary tree. It has become the “Felipe’s Jabuticabeira” 🙂

At your right: the “survivor” jabuticabeira tree (when I ran over it, the tree was way smaller)

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