On Unemployable, we talk a lot about leveraging virtual teams and collaboration in order to achieve more. And we talk about building an audience that allows you build a bigger business than you could otherwise.
After all, as my friend Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void says, “Meaning scales, people don’t.”
In contrast, there’s the macho world of startups –- where tech bros aspire to build the next billion-dollar unicorn. It’s a culture of go big or go home –- usually driven by investors who need scale to get a return.
Is it okay not to scale? To just do great work that matters to the people you serve?
Of course it is.
In this episode, you’ll hear about our own philosophical struggles with whether Rainmaker Digital should “go big or go home,” and what we’ve decided at this point. Plus, a special appearance by Seth Godin.
The Show Notes
- You Don’t Have to Build a Scalable Startup
- Why Scale?
- Dumb Down and Scale Up
- Review Unemployable at iTunes
The Dark Side of Scale
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Brian Clark: On this show, we talk a lot about leveraging virtual teams and collaboration in order to achieve more. And we talk about building an audience that allows you to build a bigger business than you could otherwise.
After all, as my friend, Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void says, “Meaning scales, people don't.”
In contrast, there's the macho world of startups — where tech bros aspire to build the next billion-dollar unicorn. It's a culture of go big or go home — usually driven by investors who need scale to get a return on their investments that actually work.
Is it okay not to scale, to just do great work that matters to the people you serve? Of course, it is.
Today, you're going to hear about our own philosophical struggles with whether Rainmaker Digital should “go big or go home,” and what we've decided at this point.
Talking with Investors
Many of you have probably heard me talk about the fact that I have been talking to investors for roughly the last year. It is not something I typically do. It is not something that was really fun for me. The reason I started this company was to create great stuff for people, not necessarily go begging for money.
But there was a feeling that we should at least explore our options at this stage. We've passed into eight figures, we have a SaaS platform called the Rainmaker Platform for basically doing everything you need to do online. And we'd like as many people to use it as possible.
So, it seemed like a good idea to start talking to investors, primarily private equity investors who invest in already profitable companies that need capital in order to scale up, get big.
And that's basically what we found out — that people were willing to invest in us. We’ve met some people that we actually like quite a bit and could see them being a partner in the business.
But the thing that held us back, that we had to give careful consideration to, was: what does going big and scaling up do to this great little company that we've got here?
65 people all over the place seem to really enjoy their jobs and I'd hate to mess that up. So, it's not an easy decision to make.
Is Bigger Always Better?
Now, of course, there are some other people who think if you don't take investor capital, that you're just somehow a lifestyle business. That somehow you don't really matter if you're not somehow enriching a venture capitalist, which is pretty short-sighted and not very bright in my opinion. Again, it's a very macho kind of attitude.
You have to wonder — what are these people compensating for that they just need to be big, big, big, big, big? At the end of the day, we all end up dead no matter how big a company, so I'd rather take my life into account there as well.
There are a lot of smart people who don't think that way. Jason Fried and the gang over at Basecamp, formerly 37Signals, come to mind. They have a very great company and instead of worrying about scaling up and owning the world, they just want to have a great company that does good work and is a great place to work. That's it, and that's enough.
I love when they write and they poke fun at the world dominators. I was just reading an article that said, “Losing sleep is not a badge of honor. 40 hours a week is enough of work, as long as you're doing something that matters.”
That's a good example for me when I start feeling my ambition kind of taking over and making me think, “I’ve got to do this or I’ve got to do that.” I take a step back, I take a deep breath and realize, “No, I can do whatever I want to do.”
So, what did we end up doing with that investor that we liked a lot and wanted to put money into us? We said, “Not now.” And maybe never.
There's another smart person that is quite vocal about his opinions about scaling up — that it's kind of an irrelevant concept these days, and that’s Seth Godin. He wrote on the topic several times last fall, and I remember us having an email exchange and this was right in the middle of, “We've got to take the money. We’ve got to grow. We've got to get big.”
If you remember my conversation with Austin Kleon, we mentioned that Seth will show up and give you advice that you don't know you need or that you're not really looking to hear at the time. And yet, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I don't remember the exact exchange, but it was effectively, “Are you sure you want to do that?” That's what he said to me.
At that time, I was thinking, I was sure in the other direction. So, it's interesting to hear what Seth has to say about scale. I'll link up some of the posts in the show notes, but I also got him on Skype and just decided to get him to share a little bit of that with you. Let's listen in on Seth.
Wise Words from Seth Godin
Seth Godin: I'm excited that you're making this choice to do the work instead of merely to get bigger.
In an industrial age, getting bigger is important, because getting bigger makes you more efficient. A bigger plant, more vertical integration, all of those efficiencies lead to lower costs, which frees up money to invest in other things, which can let you improve your product.
But in a postindustrial world, scale doesn't scale, human doesn't scale, paying attention doesn't scale, caring doesn't scale. All of the things an investor wants when they need you to be 10 times or 100 times or 1,000 times bigger than you are now are diametrically opposed to why you started the thing in the first place.
The reason you started the thing in the first place was to make change happen, not to make a return on investment.
What Really Matters
Brian Clark: Wise words, as always, from the man.
It’s invigorating to me to see actually lots of backlash now against the macho startup world. A lot more focus on bootstrapping, a lot less support for scale. The whole unicorn thing is just ridiculous and it looks like that's already falling out of favor.
Just the idea that you don't have to have world domination. What you need is meaning and you need freedom and you need to do something that matters that also makes you happy and makes you money.
There's a recent article that was called You Don't Have to Build a Scalable Startup. It's kind of humorous to me that it's almost like we need to give people permission to just build a great business that provides you with what you're looking for.
But in that article, the author said, “The only three things that matter are, ‘Will I make money? Will I be proud of what I built, and will I enjoy the work?’”
And you know what? That's what I have. That's what we have in my company. And that's good, that's fantastic. And hopefully, that's what you have as well.
So, just remember, beyond those three things, there are only two rules for unemployable types, because let's face it, we don't like rules.
Number one is the word “should” — we've talked about this before. There's nothing you should do other than make a living, be proud of what you do and enjoy your work. Everything else is up to you or irrelevant.
And the other thing is: keep going.