The Case Against Growth

The Case Against Growth

On a recent family vacation, I found myself in a conversation with my father-in-law about the lingering possibility of tentative plans to grow my business.

I naturally wanted to tell him that I was considering hiring an employee or two. That my revenue was enough to support scaling up. That I was working through a few product ideas to expand my offerings. But, I didn’t.

I didn’t, because I’m not sure that’s what I want. There’s a ton of companies that grow for the sake of it. Was I to be one of them?

I had some reflecting to do. Luckily, I had already bought a ticket for MicroConf 2018, and was excited to talk to other bootstrapped founders about this very topic to see how everyone else is dealing with these same questions.

Almost serendipitously, I received an email that day from Xander, the conference organizer. He mentioned that they were accepting submissions for talks by attendees of the conference. The abstracts would be voted on, and the most-voted topics would be granted the opportunity to be presented at the conference.

So, I figured, what the hell. I submitted a topic for a talk. I called it “The Case Against Growth”

As humans and makers, we’re constantly striving to make ourselves bigger, better, and stronger. We look for the next challenge as soon as we complete the previous one, applying our innovation and skills to create our best work. However, along with more products and more employees comes more complexity. In this talk, we’ll explore an argument against growth, and why staying small could be the key to unlock the best potential for you to actually grow.

That abstract was voted to the number two spot in the voting process. Clearly, other people are asking themselves this same question.

Guess I’m writing a talk this week.

I took it upon myself to really force myself to think through the topic, and wanted to share a few thoughts on the matter.

Redefine your idea of growth

One of the reasons business growth is so confusing is because we assign a default definition to the word. We generally associate growth with Getting Bigger™ or having more. More employees. More customers, more revenue, more products.

But, this definition of growth is a fallacy, or incomplete at best. It’s a social construct.

This unchallenged notion of growth is a software company’s own version of the American Dream™

You graduate with debt, get a big job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and then one day, you’re sitting on a riding lawn mower looking down at your hands wondering what the hell you’re doing and where the last 15 years went.

Words like “big” and “more” and “fast” are not the goals of any business. Neither are “small” and “less” and “slow.” They are simply descriptions of businesses, not objectives of businesses. They are the means to the end. They’re the vehicle to your actual objectives. Either can be successful.

Business goals are much more human than that. We want our employees to be happy. We want to make an impact, and do the best work that we can. We want to be prosperous with our efforts.

Once you recognize that your company can be structured however you like, you can then be open to building your business in the way that works best for you. Like the rules of art, rules of business primed to be broken once they are understood.

Know your reasons

If you’re not familiar with the Parable of the Fisherman (or, if you need a refresher) give it a quick read:

This story is something I come back to whenever my head gets too big.

When are you content with enough?

How much internal restraint must you have in order to restrict growth, even when you have the means to grow?

The real important question here is one you already know: why?

Why do you want to grow your business? What for? What will it accomplish?

Why do you want to hire that next employee? Is it because you think they will be helpful to your business, or are you actually just looking for a friend?

Why did you get into business in the first place? Are you still working on your favorite things every day? Will you still be if you choose to expand?

There are plenty of ways that you can grow your business without expanding outwards. What can you double-down on given the resources that you have right now?

  • Improve your UI/UX
  • Clarify your documentation
  • Maximize process efficiency
  • Cultivate deeper relationships
  • Redesign your onboarding
  • Raise your prices

What impact will your ideas of growth have on your existing employees and customers?

Be careful not to grow just because it feels like the next natural step. Do not skip steps. Think this through and grow within your means.

Avoid compulsively making things worse

Debbie Millman really nailed it with this idea. Are you making changes that are actually going to help get you closer to a better future?

Impulsive growth can cause all sorts of side effects:

  • Adds additional risk
  • Slows decision making
  • Causes potential technical debt
  • Lead to founder burnout

The internet is the most amazing platform for business ever. We can learn how to do something by brute-forcing Google and YouTube, and suddenly be the expert, teaching and selling to customers halfway across the world. Many of us have lived this exact story.

This low barrier of access makes it really easy to find ourselves crossing lines and consumed by situations that we haven’t actually thought through.

Keep your ambition in check, decide the direction you want to go, and build that into the core of your company.

The number one secret to building a company that you can scale is not in a book or a podcast, nor is it a productivity app. It’s simply this: being you.

To Read

  • The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman

  • Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
  • Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

  • Small Giants by Bo Burlingham
  • The Magic of Tiny Business by Sharon Rowe

  • The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together by Sherry Walling
  • Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin

Comments/Questions? Hit me up on Twitter @davekiss:

1 comment

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  1. Gina G

    May 8, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Wonderful message. I plan to keep this in mind and apply along the journey. Thank you for sharing your insight and passion.

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