What works for big doesn’t always (or often) work for small


Early in my career, I thought seasoned executives from especially big companies could really help small companies become big. I assumed the systems and processes—from the software they used to how they recruited and hired to the manner in which they built their products—must naturally be better because the company was so big. Surely that must have been how they got big! Through painful (and expensive) trial and error, I quickly learned that what works well for big doesn’t always (or even often) work well for small.

Scale matters: A two person development team needs to work differently than a ten person development team. Many of the things that make an enterprise sales executive effective are different than what breeds success for an SMB sales executive. A ten person company with a relatively small amount of leads can’t effectively leverage a marketing automation solution. Worse, implementing one will probably hurt their marketing (as it did ours—we adopted it, then ditched it, and later returned to it once we reached a scale where we could not longer function without it).

So when you’re small, doing what works well for big companies can be downright dangerous.

The same warning is relevant for all sorts of organizations—from families to cities to nations. The allure of complexity is dangerous. Patrick Lencioni makes this case for families in The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Kirkpatrick Sale makes this case for institutions in Human Scale and Human Scale Revisited. Leon Krier makes this case for cities in The Architecture of Community.

When you are small, be small. Embrace the advantages. You understand every facet of your business and can make quick decisions. You can easily communicate to everyone in the company. You’re nimble.

Don’t shoulder big company systems until your small company processes aren’t working anymore. And when you are looking for inspiration, avoid people who only have big company experience. Talk to the folks who have taken something from smaller than you are now to twice your size. They have fought successfully in the same arena in which you’re battling now.

Kid ventures

Like most young people, both my kids enjoy building and creating things, and they often enthusiastically pursue various entrepreneurial projects. In the last few months, they’ve each launched a website featuring very different things.

Dual Blade Games

With dualbladegames.com, my son Alex unveiled his first publicly available video game, Testing Cube. Testing Cube has been called* “the greatest and most exhilarating new game of the last decade.” Check it out and you’ll see why. Keyboard recommended. People have been generous with feedback and if you have any ideas for him, he would enjoy hearing them.

Rhea’s Recipes

S'mores on a stick

Rhea has been baking up a storm for the last year or two and recently decided to start blogging her favorite recipes. S’mores on a stick (above) is her most recent addition and she’s adding new ones all the time. Her meringues are my favorite so far. If you visited the Botanical Garden Lights this holiday season and parked in our neighborhood, you may have walked by Rhea’s dessert stand. If so, you might have been wise enough to buy some of her delectable meringues. The wee desserts were a huge hit, and have been called* “a dazzlingly timeless reinterpretation of a classic favorite.”


Firewood delivery. He left his helmet at a customer's house.
He left his helmet at a customer’s house.

Alex still finds time to sell firewood to anyone in Ansley Park or Sherwood Forest. He buys it in bulk from a tree care company, splits down the big logs to a good size for fireplaces, and delivers loads one bundle at a time via his bicycle. Rhea has picked up his marketing torch; she spun up a firewood order form and any sales that come via that form earn her a commission. So if you are getting cold this winter and live nearby, you know what to do!

* Called by me.

Passing the torch

Luna, my GuildQuality co-founder, keeping an eye on things

Yesterday, I shared this on the GuildQuality blog and thought it appropriate to also post it here.

Sixteen years after GuildQuality’s launch, a decade after Mark Miles joined us to help build and lead the business, a bit more than a year following our sale to Providence Equity (wherein GuildQuality became part of the EverCommerce platform), and exactly one year after bringing Best Pick Reports and their team into our fold, Mark and I are pleased to be handing over the torch of leadership…. Read the complete post.