Built in a Day
Entrepreneurs are told to go big
or go home. Stop obsessing over
scale, and perfect the basics
people to run the shop when you aren’t there. You
have to train those people. You have to get the menu
right. You have to get the pricing right. You have to
get the presentation right. You have to get customer
service right. You have to get customers in the door.
And then you need to get them to come back.
So much to get right in the here and now. Not
down the road, but today.
I’ve noticed that John isn’t alone in his desire
to go big. Something’s changed in what’s expected
of the entrepreneur. Ten years ago, people were
excited to just start a business. Create their own
thing so they didn’t have to go work for someone
else. They wanted to make a good living, buy a
house, and be able to pay for their kids’ college.
But now, entrepreneurship seems like a sport.
And the score depends on scale. How big can you
get? How fast can you get big? How much power
can you amass in the shortest possible time?
There are lots of forces pushing this scale-it-up, go-big-or-go-home mirage. Business schools
are guilty of pumping pipe dreams into students’
heads: If you follow this framework, you can
become the next Howard Schultz or Mark
Zuckerberg, they promise. Media worship of
super-fast-growing companies—many of which
are actually terrible, money-losing companies—
fuels the fire. Reality TV and social media make
it look like everyone can a;ord a $5,000-a-month
studio apartment in San Francisco.
This narrative is out of whack. Your teenager may enjoy doing school plays, but you’d be
irresponsible to urge her to move to Hollywood and try to become a movie star overnight.
If she is serious about acting, you might encourage her to try New York City or L.A., audition
for roles, and build a reel and a reputation, which, hopefully, over time, would allow her to
replace tips from waiting tables with paychecks from acting jobs.
Yet many entrepreneurs believe they can rush right to the top. Skip the fundamental work,
and just scale, baby! One store is for losers; if you want to make it, you need 100 stores. This kind
of thinking is poisonous. It sets entrepreneurs up to fail from day one. It’s like telling aspiring
basketball players that all they need to practice are flashy dunks. Free throws? Dribbling with
your left hand? Playing defense? Ha! Whatever! We know how that advice would turn out.
So, back to John. His ambition is good. And it’s good that he has a vision. But he would be
much better o; focusing all that energy on store number one, pouring everything into making
it a destination people can’t ignore. Only then, once there is a line out the door, is it time to
think about doing it again.
;LAST YEAR, I MET a first-time entrepreneur who was opening a tea shop. We’ll call him John. At the time, he had a pop-up shop in my neighborhood. I really liked him, his vision, and the quality and presentation of his tea, so we kept in touch. When he decided to go from pop-up to permanent shop, he asked for my advice. While we were talking about this permanent shop—which he still hadn’t opened—his attention would often drift to his next shop. And the one after
that. And after that. And then, becoming the next Starbucks.
Whoa. Hold on, man, I told him. I get it, scaling the business
seems sexy. But, I said, that is the entirely wrong thing to think
about now. I wouldn’t spend even a second on it. You have a real
challenge in front of you: opening your first real store.
In getting just one store right, everything is against you. You have
to design and build out the physical structure. You have to hire good
Jason Fried is a co-founder
of Basecamp (formerly
37signals), a Chicago-based
INNOVATE 102 - INC. - JULY/AUGUS T 2017