In today's business world, it's assumed that the key to success is constantly growing and expanding by hiring more employees and taking on investors to provide the necessary capital. The team gets bigger, projects get bigger, the need for middle management arises, and there seems to be no end to it. I recently read an interesting thought on this:
… constant need for growth is also a characteristic of cancer cells.
That doesn't sound very healthy, does it?
I'd rather imagine our company as a beautifully trimmed bonsai tree instead.
Staying Small is an Active Choice
Staying small as a business is an active choice we make every day. There's always more work than we can realistically handle and an incredible number of ideas in our heads that we could work on. Staying small forces us to maximize our resources and avoid overextending our budget or working hours. It forces us to distill ideas to their critical parts and ship this version instead of striving for perfection.
Even if we quadrupled our headcount, it still wouldn't be enough to work on everything. Additionally, the amount of management a large team requires would consume a significant amount of any extra resources. Just thinking about it gives me headaches, and I bet most customers wouldn't even notice the additional time that would go into perfecting a feature that already works flawlessly for them.
Quick Decision Making
Staying small also makes us incredibly nimble. Decisions can be made in a matter of minutes. There is simply no need to work through a long chain of command. For example, when the first nationwide COVID lockdown was announced in 2020, the five of us had a quick call in the morning, and we came up with an idea to allow our customers to continue working with their patients: video consultations.
It took just three days from idea to launch. In those three days, we hashed out the entire workflow, and technical implementation, ensured patient data privacy, and conducted several rounds of quality assurance. Within the first week, we recorded over 2.000 video consultations, and most of our customers were able to continue providing care to their patients despite the lockdown.
This was way faster than our larger competitors, who took weeks or even months to launch their own solutions. This wouldn't have been possible if there were multiple product teams to coordinate and layers of organizational management blocking the straightforward path.
Wait, there's more
An often overlooked advantage of staying small is that it allows for a more personal approach to customer relationships. With a smaller team, employees can get to know the customers better and provide personalized attention and support, leading to stronger customer loyalty and a better overall customer experience.
The same principle also works on a company level. Staying small fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among team members. In a larger company, employees may feel like just another part of the machine, but in a small team, everyone's contribution is more visible and important. This motivates employees to take on more responsibility and play a bigger role in the company's success. It also makes it easy to recognize when something is off and gives you more time to address issues before they can become real problems.
Challenges of Staying Small
Of course, this approach to running a business comes with its own set of challenges. We're strictly limited to working on one thing at a time, even though we'd sometimes wish to do everything at once. Unexpected events can also be harder to handle with a smaller team. For example, bugs and infrastructure issues can significantly disrupt progress when there are only two developers. Especially if something critical goes wrong, it can bring the entire momentum you might have had to a grinding halt.
That's one of the reasons we're currently trying to hire another developer focusing on customer support. Someone on the defense who is dedicated to handling any technical issues or bugs our customers might run into. This will free up our two leading developers to tackle the bigger projects without interruptions and distractions.
Staying small has many advantages for a company. It allows for flexibility, a strong company culture, and a personal approach to customer relationships. While growth is essential, always focus on building a solid foundation and finding a sustainable business model first.