It is possible to earn a lot of money and create very little value for society.
It is possible to earn very little money and create incredible value for society.
So how to do we know when we have it right, for a startup or even life? Here’s my measure – how much would people miss you if you didn’t turn up? And how long would it take for them to notice after you stopped turning up? The more our not being there gets noticed, the more valuable we know our work is. I’m pretty sure the world wouldn’t notice if Wall St took a year a two off. While I’m sure most children will notice the day their mum and dad didn’t come home.
How long would it take for customers to reach out to your startup once you stopped shipping or your software stopped working? It’s an interesting question. And while we often hope to attract a large quantum of customers and scale, I’d rather have 100 people who really cared if I wasn’t there, than a million people who clicked elsewhere the moment I disappeared.
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And it is this simple maxim:
If you want to be leader of many, then you must first be faithful with few.
One of the most important sentences I learned from the late great Jim Rohn. And it matters in all walks of life and business regardless of our ambitions. The picture above is from an after dinner talk I did recently at a local Rotary Club. One of the things I have done a lot lately is deliver speeches on the technology revolution we are all living through. This is mostly the result of my book. Sometimes I get lucky and get paid to do it at a conference. But often I am also asked by local community groups who are interested in some of my stories. Which is what happened with Essendon North Rotary. It’s events of this size where I first got asked to share a few ideas and learn the craft of public speaking. In the startup community many times I’ve shared some lessons with new entrepreneurs. For more than 10 years I did unpaid speaking with tiny audiences… that is, the few people who had enough faith in me to give me their time so we could both have a valuable exchange. If it wasn’t for this, then I’d never be able to present in larger audiences like this. But on the flip side, we should never forget the few, even if we have the attention of the many.
It raises a few question of how we might behave in a startup:
Do you love the customers you do have? Are you faithful with those who gave you a try before you have any scale? And if you have many followers, do you still take the time to reply to the few who reach out? Do you still support the low profile few who made what you do possible, or just gravitate to the high profile few who you now have access to?
An easy way to test this is to tweet a famous person or brand and see if they respond. If they don’t, then they should be clear they won’t on their profile. I’m not saying every web tool can scale, I’m just saying we should be clear with our audience on what to expect. If you think it isn’t possible, I can tell you that Seth Godin still answers every email himself (he doesn’t tweet). I can also tell you that Cory Doctorow advises in his twitter profile of better ways to reach him. I can also tell you that Skype answers every tweet you send to them.
In the end leadership is about giving thanks and paying homage to the trust you’ve been granted by those prepared to take the journey with you, from the start. But it’s also about not be too ‘big’ to engage with those who helped you get there once you’ve arrived. It’s not easy, but the real job of leaders in the pre and post success era is to bethink both the few, and the many.
At Tomcar we seriously love our customers. It’s a highly personal interaction at this early stage in the business, so we both take it personally, and make it personal. We care about how our cars perform for them, and how they make their working lives better. We’ve recently been documenting the delivery of our vehicles and making some short films about it.
Yes, we know it doesn’t really scale as a business model.
Yes, we know that major car manufacturers would never do this.
Yes, we know that it makes us seem like small fry.
But here’s something else we know: Doing things which do not scale in the short term, is what gives startups a chance at scale later.
Here’s a little video of one such unscalable activity. Oh, and if you buy a Tomcar, you’ll get your personal movie made too.
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So a question you might want to ask is this – How can you treat your customers like micro celebrities of your brand?