As businesses pivot in an attempt to adapt and adjust to the current climate, many founders will be reviewing the need for existential flexibility. Given the large number of both personal and environmental variables, there is no clear cut roadmap for entering into enterprise. It’s therefore worth thinking about different models of funding, growth and operations, even when they may deviate slightly from the ‘norm’. Innovation is after all, at the heart of the entrepreneurial journey.
As a corporate Tech designer and Internet consultant, Paul Jarvis spent years working with professional athletes like Warren Sapp, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal building their online presence, and with large companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and Warner Music. He then migrated to working with online entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte and Kris Carr. His book titled ‘Company of One, Why Staying Small Is The Next Big Thing For Business’, went on to be translated into 18+ languages, and he now spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating online courses for more than 13,500 students.
‘Jarvis makes a compelling case for making your business better instead of bigger. A must-read for any entrepreneur who prioritises a rich life over just a life of riches’ – Cal Newport bestselling Author of DEEP WORK
When starting a business, it’s important to think about your motivations: what are the business goals and aims, what are the values behind the brand that will determine its culture and ethos, and what are your own lifestyle ideals when it comes to personal and financial satisfaction?
Growth is not necessarily a by-product of success, the thesis of the book is that choice or freedom to choose is a by-product of success. And there is a compelling case to be made for ‘staying small’ relatively speaking, especially during uncertain climates that are prone to rapid change.
In the start-up landscape, there is very much a ‘go big or go home’ mentality. Yet many founders will be quick to admit that signing deals with a VC for almost immediate mass expansion, can be akin to ‘making a deal with the devil’. The typical business model centres around scaling up. When a business does well, it assumes that the only way to go is up, in order to get ‘more.’
To get ‘more’, the founder hires more people, builds more infrastructure, adds more processes, and works diligently toward increasing the company’s bottom line. Never mind that ‘more’ often equates to more stress, more problems and more responsibilities. Never mind that more employees means more salaries to be paid, more management needed to oversee these employees – if it’s too much too soon, ‘more’ ends up meaning more red tape, more complexity, more expenses, and more room for mistakes and misunderstandings.
Jarvis argues that depending on what you want, another slightly more counter-intuitive approach, is to find strength in the small. Small means the ability to be more selective about the types of clients a business owner takes on and the range of products s/he accepts. Staying small means concentrating on the audience the company is already engaging with, not that elusive audience that the company owner hopes to win if s/he “just gets bigger.” It means listening to and helping those who are already sold on the product, and who are already engaging with the community.
A good example of rolling out the red carpet for ‘more’ is with Telephone or Car Insurance companies. We often find ourselves switching phone provider or car insurance every year – mostly because the best deals and discounts are always offered to customers that these companies don’t yet have. ‘New Customers Only’ get free trials, previews and rewards when they switch and sign up. Meanwhile, existing customers lack loyalty (unless it’s out of laziness for shopping around), as they are often left to languish, having long signed on the dotted line.
The core concept of ‘Company of One’, is working laterally with other companies and hiring freelancers or contractors when needed, as opposed to hiring employees, often offering maximal efficiency. However a Founder in this kind of model must become adept at sales, marketing, management, networking and client retention, and in terms of business mindset – must, by necessity, know the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘easy.’
In return, “being a company of one lets you control your own life, your own job” and destiny, as the leader of a company of one, you and you alone decide how much money it will take to live the life you want and how much time you will need to spend on your business to earn it.
In terms of understanding the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ when it comes to problem solving, it is ‘easy’ to throw money at the problem – by having a study conducted, buying software to fix it, or hiring extra people. The ‘simple’ solution is to use the tools and workforce already in place, to be flexible and take an internal approach which could offer lessons and insights for the future, and to hire help on a contractual basis if at all.
A particularly poignant point Jarvis makes is the importance of being honest with yourself in knowing your strengths and weaknesses, as well of those of the people you work with, which is vital for knowing what to outsource and how best to leverage the strengths of your collective team. He also highlights the need to set boundaries, which will otherwise be set for you.
Companies need revenue and a ‘Company of One’ is no different in needing both profitability and longevity. Having the choice to stay relatively ‘small’ is not synonymous with unambitious or unsuccessful. Whether it’s tackling problems or finding innovative new ways of doing things – it often helps to work from first principles and rewind, or dig deeper into some of our typical assumptions and expectations around how and why we do things. Elon Musk often likes to highlight the difference between a cook and a chef, one follows the recipe whilst the other curates the menu.
It’s entirely down to personal preference but if you fancy being a chef, the Table of Contents in Jarvis’ book is sectioned into logical, sequential topics, beginning with the definition of ‘company of one,’ before moving onto what it takes to lead, how to determine the right mindset, and how to find the hidden value in relationships. Jarvis is a man that practices what he preaches, as he includes the story of his own personal journey towards building his modest ‘empire’, and what this means to him, as well as what he will and won’t compromise on.
What I love about Company of One is that it is not a blueprint, in that it offers questions not answers. On some levels, the policy is essentially the business equivalent of the minimalist or ‘enough’ mindset – in asking ourselves, is ‘more’ truly beneficial to your company and the audience that it serves, when will you / it be ‘enough’ and how much do you really need to be happy? Is it possible to feel fulfilled if we keep raising our baseline and chasing the next numerical goal? And if so, what are the motivations and intentions behind why you want or need to grow, and to what extent.
This book challenges the growth for the sake of growth mentality and asks us to redefine what success means to us, which starts with consistently asking ourselves, why?