In Startuplandia the concept of “faking it until you make it” is accepted as part of the process of building a successful business.
When speaking to potential customers, partners or the press, the common wisdom is to pad your user numbers, growth trends or team size so outsiders assume that you’re larger than you really are—thus more established + less risky of a proposition.
The interesting part is that in other parts of the economy, scarcity, small batches and fewer offerings are seen as a sign of quality. Think boutique bakeries that only make a few dozen artisan croissants a day—and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Or Hermes, whose signature Birkin bags are in perpetuity (and purposefully) kept in short supply; and Bespoke Watchmakers who produce their craft in small batches and have customers waiting for years before their order is fulfilled…
But back in Startup Land, an ecosystem fueled by capital that needs to be returned in 8 to 10 years, these models are deemed “lifestyle businesses” and if not openly derided, then at minimum looked upon as not a part of the rarified air that is the world of scalable startups.
Though, the facts don’t bare this out. All of the massive companies, and household names, we now know, started as small businesses. In fact most of them started with small batches, and did things that “don’t scale”.
AirBnB started with the founders renting out their own extra space. Houzz started as a husband and wife duo who needed help remodeling their own home, so decided to throw up a website. Nike started uber small as documented in Phil Knight’s well-worth-the-read autobiography Shoe Dog.
Then, when these companies raise more capital, or begin to scale, they look like overnight successes to people looking in from the outside—think Spanx, or Juul—but many, many, more failed under the pressure of high-growth (like my last venture-backed startup).
One of the lessons I’ve learned this time around with AVRA is to spend 20% of my time thinking in terms of future scale, while dedicating the other 80% of my time on “small batches” e.g. the quality of our work with the ten or so clients we serve at a time.
We currently cap the number of companies we work with at around 10. This means each Recruiting Specialist has no more than 3 client accounts they’re working on—versus the 15-25 open reqs that a traditional external recruiter is hiring for at one time. It also allows me to be personally involved with each client account.
Do we want to grow? Absolutely—we believe that what we are doing can disrupt the traditional recruiting industry in a way that will help companies hire people better suited for each role, and in a way that helps job seekers get great work. But we are the most concerned, nay, obsessed, with the quality of each search and making sure we find the best person, for the right role, every time.
Because of this small batch mentality, we don’t have to spend a dime on sales or marketing, instead all of our clients come from word of mouth or referrals. It also allows us to grow in a controlled manner, versus reactively, this helps preserve the quality of each engagement and deal with the unforeseen things that always bubble up as you grow a company.
But don’t take my word for it, check out the book Small Giants and if you’re not convinced that small batches can produce better results—especially early on—I’ll buy you a croissant.