Small is the new big – Seth Godin
Commodities galore. Commodities forever – Hugh Macleod
I work for a small dot com. We have 18 employees. The business brings in £1.8 m. It’s growing strongly. We pride ourselves on good customer service. We are small enough that the founders can answer customer calls (sometimes), respond directly to customer emails. We treat the customers as the people who pay our salaries. They don’t pay enough to get a truly bespoke service, but we deal with them as individuals and try to tailor our product to suit them.
We’ve been acquired by a larger startup in Texas. 60 people, added quickly. Already we’re getting pounded by customers in forums for suddenly having a “corporate face” which doesn’t listen. Already we are sending out “corporate broadcast” marketing – bland PR blurts written by people who don’t understand what the customers want or what the business is really doing to satisfy them.
What I’m wondering is this: how we can best grow (big) without sacrificing our (small) success.
Strikes me, I’m going to have to go to Texas (big) and bring them a lesson in (small). And I think the solution is going to have something to do with blogs.
Archive for August, 2005
Various people have pointed out, quite rightly, that America might change me in ways I might not like. Particularly when it comes to the fast food and the generally vast portion sizes. I’m viewing it as a three-year “Supersize Me” experiment. However, mine will be different. The purpose of my experiment is to see if I can completely resist the lure of fatty, salty, sugary, fibre-less foods sold in cardboard containers and washed down with gallons of sweet, acidic vegetable-extract drink. Okay, I’m never going to be able to avoid them altogether, but at least to try to take things in moderation and mitigate the worst of the super-sizing effects with exercise and healthy eating. We’ll see. I’ll document the evidence and aim to come back subsized.
The beautiful Texas State Capitol in Austin,
one-foot taller than the US Capitol
It’s an exhausting process, moving from home. I’ve got approval for my H1-B visa. Only 65,000 of these are issued every year, once a year on October 1st. They ran out about three weeks ago and I just scraped in. My approval notice is numbered at 56,000 ish. Now I have to visit the US Embassy in London to have an interview and get my visa issued.
I’ve gone and bought books off Amazon – “The successful ex-pat”, “How to live miles away from home and survive”, you know the kind of thing. I’m trying not to be a typical English man abroad nor to get screwed over by bureaucracy, legal citizenship, or ex-pat exploitation. I’m going to be an Alien.
Other things you don’t think about – US banks are notoriously poor at being able to “trust” foreign credit histories and records. So when I get there I have to start from scratch – no credit cards, bank accounts without zero overdraft facilities. I’m trying to see if HSBC in the UK can offer an “international bank account” which might help, but that sounds pretty expensive to me.
Taxes – what’s that all about? Tax returns in both countries, income in both, moving money between USD and GBP accounts. I need a financial advisor.
And I’ve got to move all my stuff out there. I’m going to try and take as little as possible but when you suddenly stand back, aged 29 and look at the accumulated junk of your life so far, it’s quite a lot of boxes…
Two teachers, two students.
One teacher believes that teaching is about a power differential, making the student learn, demonstrating the teacher’s dominance and experience over the student and actively labelling the student stupid and arrogant if they fail to completely accept or understand the latest lesson. This teacher gets angry often, secretly believes his student is resistant to learning and even that the student is deliberately out to get him. His biggest complaint is to puzzle at why the student doesn’t more frequently come to ask his advice.
The second teacher understands that most people want to learn from experience, that people make mistakes, and need to learn from their own. The second teacher is secure in his position as a subject-matter expert and would happily see the student grow beyond his own knowledge in due course. The second teacher is willing to listen and accept that his opinion or experience may need to change in the light of new or different evidence. Most importantly he understands that the process of learning is a collaborative, engaging, interactive one where great patience with the student can sometimes be required.
The first teacher is the founder of the company I work for, the student, it’s new acquirers, desperately trying to learn how to run it. The second is how I wish he’d have approached the task. Too late now. His frustration is self-perpetuating as more and more people are alienated by the “teaching” process and become actively determined to go against his imposed ideas. His actions alone are the unfortunate root cause of the dysfunctionality in our organisation and of all the otherwise positive things which make my life at work challenging, he is the most exhausting.
… this commercialism? The marketing, the advertising. Spending time in the US is making me more sensitive to how tired the advertising facade is looking these days. How weak, broadcast sales messages are falling on deaf ears; failing to engage their audiences with tired jingles, overused logos, neon signs and terrible commercials interrupting TV every few minutes.
Too many companies, trying the same tactics and using the same agencies to continually compete in front of my eyeballs and persuade me to buy their products. Most of the time I don’t want any of it – so that makes it not very far from spam – driven only by the simple statistical game that maybe 0.001% of people who see it will convert, making the remaining 99.999% worth paying for.
When you think about it, that’s not a very smart way to spend marketing dollars or to do business for that matter. With the advertising market being squeezed by the decline in mainstream terrestrial channels and growth in the internet, non-commercial broadcasting, podcasting and blogging, it seems like advertising in its current form is dying.
Question is: can blogging as a way to spread commercial memes, even if done “non-commercially”, scale to suit big business?
A fire dancer. Whoever would have thought there was a market for such a classification of entertainer? I was invited to a party in Austin at the incredible home of one of the founding Excite.com employees whose birthday it was. It was quite an event.
Bahuzula, the fire dancer, wearing a conical metal bra, proceeded to light balls of cloth attached to her extended metal nipples and wave them suggestively in the air to music.
Behind her, a minder with a fire extinguisher and fire blanket waited anxiously. He later picked bits of ash off her red back and introduced himself as her “wet blanket”.
Austin is wierd.
Read this: “What business can learn from Open Source”.
How long are we going to carrying on kidding ourselves?
My internal debate about whether to move to the States or not has been raging for the past six months. I’ve been through a very positive swing towards going and then, more recently, a more negative one as the political issues surrounding the two companies has taken its toll on everyone’s motivation.
I’ve made a breakthrough though and found what I didn’t realise I was missing: a role model. My new boss arrived a few weeks ago and has made some impressive changes and reforms already. It’s important to me to have someone to learn from, especially as I take and continue to take steps in the transition to the heights of the crazy executive tier whilst trying to avoid becoming “content-free”.
Truth is the opportunity I’m being offered is a once in a lifetime chance to be part of a massive growth startup. There are so many plus points and benefits that I have to do it. And I’ll enjoy it.
Most importantly, for me, it’s an opportunity to make other changes in my life too; health changes, diet changes, life balance changes, social changes. It’s a shake up, a roll of the dice and a new chapter.
Tonight I took Ross, my new boss, on a walking tour of London – his first visit here. There I was, walking around beautiful London, extolling the virtues of living in this incredible capital and at the same time, ironically persuading myself to leave it all behind and move to another city 4,000 miles away in Texas.
Bring it on.