Dilemma – to grow your start-up or not?

First up, I am sorry for absconding this blog for a while. It is not that I stopped running a business. Instead, I got lost running it.

Today, I want to share an interesting dilemma I am facing and my thinking process.

To grow your start-up or not?

Thanks to the awesome customers and supporters, my little business has been growing more than 100% year on year since I started it. The best part of this growth is that it is organic. It feels great to know that we are getting new customers, new prospects, new ideas, new deals, new link-backs without spending any money on advertising, PR or marketing. But…,

With growth , you get extra work, people to manage and blurred vision.

So, as I am winding up the year 2011, the question of to grow or not is staring at me.

Growing a Small Business & Differentiating from Big Businesses

[original image from Robert S Donovan]

Just to give you a comparison, when I quit my job to get in to this full time (in April 2010), this is how my weekly schedule looked like:

  • Writing new content – 12 hours per week
  • Email & answering – 12 hrs
  • Reading & learning new things – 6 hrs
  • Customer service – 3 hrs
  • Product development – 3 hrs

After 18 months, this is how it looks now (November, 2011):

  • Writing new content – 4 hrs
  • Email & answering – 4 hrs
  • Reading & learning new things – 1 hrs
  • Customer service –  1 hrs
  • Product Development – 8 hrs
  • Phone calls & collaboration – 1 hrs

While it seems like I have been working less (36hrs per week vs. 19hrs per week) , much of it is due to restructuring my time & priorities. That said, I have been working more on commercial side of my business (product development) than fun side of it (writing, reading & connecting).

And this has been a disturbing trend.

So, I want to take a step back and see if everything we are doing aligns with what we want this business to be.

What do we want – Growth, Fame, Money or Something else?

When I started my business, I did not have any loft goals. It was just a means for me to do what I love (play with Excel, connect with people, make them awesome). But as the business grew, I have narrowed the purpose of our business.

We are here to make you awesome

We are doing this by providing online tutorials, help, products & consulting on Microsoft Office platform.

Well, awesomeness is a lofty goal. But there are 2 important questions.

  • How do we make people awesome?
  • How do we measure it?

How to make people awesome?

There is no single or perfect way to make people awesome. You are awesome when,

  • you are very very impressive.
  • you are inspiring
  • you are a rockstar, a hero, a ninja

So how do we take a total stranger on internet and make her awesome? Of course, by being awesome ourselves. This is how we try to make others awesome,

  • Share our ways of doing awesome stuff
    • Writing new content
  • Teach how to be awesome (or like us)
    • Training programs
  • Make products that are awesome (ie inspire, impress and make the user a hero)
    • Templates & Downloads

How do we measure it?

Although not perfect, I have a vague sense of how to measure it.

  • Number of people reading and benefiting from our articles & tutorials
  • Number of people joining our training programs and working thru them.
    • Feedback given by these customers about the effectiveness of the programs.
  • Number of people using our templates, tools & techniques
    • Total downloads, purchases, feedback left
  • Emails & thank you notes received
    • This is qualitative, but you get a pulse of things.

If our goal is to make people awesome,

If our goal is to Make people awesome, then naturally, we must grow to meet new people to make them awesome.

But if that growth compromises our ability to make people awesome …?

As I see it, by spending more time developing products & collaborating, I am not able to make people more awesome.

So here is what I am going to focus for next several months.

  • Writing new content
  • Restructure our website navigation & make it friendly new readers: This is important because even though writing new content helps us make people awesome, every day we get thousands of people land on our site for first time. And we want them to be awesome by not just reading new content, but also consuming older stuff. Currently this is not possible because of the difficult navigation.
  • Trimming our product line: In our urge to meet our customer’s needs, we have created a few products that are 100% awesome. So I want to spend next 2-3 months trimming a few of them. This will free up our time to focus on important things.

What are your thoughts on this?

The question of growth consumes any entrepreneur during the childhood of her start-up. To grow or to remain stagnant. While it may seem easy to remain stagnant, it is just as difficult. There are several natural forces trying to grow or shrink your business all the time. How are you addressing these and what are your thoughts on the growth question?

Please share using comments.

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4 thoughts on “Dilemma – to grow your start-up or not?”

  1. Chandoo

    We are facing same issue , and I can acknowledge the same issue faced by you . My only thiking on this is that we should never forget the “Roots” , Blog is the root of everything, business came from blog , readers came from blog and reputation came from blog.

    If blog work is compromised than whatever is built over last fews years will slowly get diluted . business will grow at huge pace, but it might not continue .. I think it would be better to slowly grow it and take things parallelyl , in finance terms its better to earn 12% return for 30 yrs , rather than 25% return for few years and then loose it later becuase that 25% was not sustainable 🙂 . I hope you got my point . What I said is true for my own blog and thats where I am saying it from . I am sure it would be true for you too 🙂

    Manish

  2. Chandoo,

    reading your blog, I jumped on the topic and let me share with you a bit of my own experience. I started my consultancy business at approx the same time than you did and it’s a stand alone company. Everything you described, I went through it, except I have less success than you have and my turnover would envy yours…..
    It is always a compromise to focus or diversify, to try to embrace all and do it and to only coincentrate on a few things….
    As I read before, focus is the master word, stay focus on what constitutes your core business and everything else will find its place. I your core is to make people awesome in Excel, let’s concentrate on writing the content that will make them awesome and that is why people came to you at the first place and will continue to. That ‘s what drove me to your site anyhow.
    The compelling evidence of that is the attraction you gathered since you created your business, not only from your customers but also your partners (I understand you recently partnered with bionic turtle and that is a proof and recognition of the quality of the content your wrote).
    Whether it is from clients or partners, your proof of recognition came out of the content you published and the update of the content.
    In matters such like your, obsolescence comes fast and you need to constantly renew, update and upgrade, as well as find new ideas to innovate and discriminate. So far, so good. The direction you envisage to take is the right one from my standpoint.

    All the best!!!

  3. Chandoo – I basically agree with Manish (and Steve Jobs and and and…) in that you should stay true to what got you here in the first place. Almost everything changes, but there are one or two fundamentals that you must cherish. Only you know what they are, but from my viewpoint as a longish-standing reader (and occasional customer) what makes you stand out isn’t so much your technical Excel skills but your gifts as a communicator and teacher. You have fun. You make jokes. You learn and aren’t afraid to say so (look at how your thinking has evolved with respect to array formulas, for example). You get a kick from seeing the impact you have on our lives.
    Stay true to that. Make the adjustments you need to. I’ll stay tuned meanwhile.

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