The question we ask, whenever we hear about a new business or idea, whether it’s renewable energy or a messaging app or a fucking hamster sled, is this:
Will it scale?
And then if we find out that whatever idea we’re looking at can’t instantly scale to a million users and isn't designed to be a billion dollar concern, we dismiss it. Sometimes, even laugh at it. When we do that, we’re being assholes. Huge assholes. Because starting a big, huge, fancy, sweating tech company isn't the be-all and end-all, and choosing not to do that doesn't make anyone stupid.
In fact, going in the opposite direction is likely to make you happier, healthier, wealthier and shit-tonne wiser. You can choose to found an on-line small business rather than a start-up unicorn. What’s the difference?
A start-up unicorn wants to grow fast and grow big, take on investment and gain dominance.
An on-line small business wants to to grow within clear limits, reach profitability and serve customers.
It probably seems counter-intuitive, to not be shooting for huge scale. But I believe there’s enough good points that are going to make it worthwhile.
You Can Focus On Simplicity
You’re literally building something small, within clear limits and boundaries. There’s no giant pressure to add features, meaning you have the freedom to focus on the smaller things that matter deeply to you and your users. Creating products that retain their simplicity is a huge challenge far beyond most big, growing companies. A small business doesn't have that problem.
People Matter More
When you stay small, you can spend more time with the people who really matter in your business. Whether you have one employee or five, they’re going to be a bigger priority than if you were on a hiring spree trying to support growth. A small business is about people.
Keeping Things Personal Is Easier
I love seeing a personal touch in every business and every product. That’s just not possible when you’re killing yourself trying to be Huge Fucking Amazing Company LLC. But it is very possible when you’re building something small. You can take the time to ensure that your users and customers are given a little magic every time.
Small Doesn't Mean Poor
Keeping your product small and your company small doesn't necessarily mean you’re going to make jack-shit and die poor. It means you;ll make less, certainly. But you have a lot more chance building a million dollar company than you’ll ever have of building a billion dollar company. Small means lower overheads, lower cash burn rate — and the chance to keep all profits within your own company and your own pocket.
You Don’t Have To Stay Small Forever
If you do want to grow, you’ll have a much better chance of doing it from a position of power with a successful, profitable smaller company. When you already have an established product and cash-flow, you’re not only a more attractive prospect for future investors, but you can even fund your larger growth out of your own pocket. Not to mention the fact that you’ll have a wealth of knowledge and learning behind you that can only make scaling easier.
Some people call it bootstrapping, but I don’t think that necessarily captures it. To me, bootstrapping just means funding a company yourself. Starting a small business means funding a company, setting boundaries and limits, understanding your product or service and what you want it to accomplish and working to a plan of meeting your limits.
If you do that, you’re not going to be a billionaire. But you could be a very happy millionaire. And to me, that’s a pretty good option.