Great companies aren’t born, they’re grown 13 Oct 2005

39 comments Latest by Jeff Adams

Apple started in a garage. Dell started in a dorm room. Starbucks started with a single store. Nike started out of a car trunk. Crate & Barrel started with a single store without budget for displays so they used shipping crates and barrels to display their products. Anthony Maglica started making Mag Lights in his garage. Google started as a thesis. eBay and Amazon share similar stories. Great companies need to grow into great companies. They need room to make mistakes. They need room to go unnoticed for a while. They’re just like people. Be ambitious, but grow into it.

39 comments (comments are closed)

Typical 37s SVN Poster 13 Oct 05

Blah blah blah. You guys are all about Hype. I suppose we should let 37signals grow into the next Microsoft. Blah blah blah.

Michael 14 Oct 05

Guys, we need a bit more meaty content then this fluff. Really. This is just silly. It used to be interesting controversial stuff.

Now we get mush about wordplay and analogies, and then stuff about “companies start small, and get big”.

Bring back the good stuff, and the stuff about design.

I may be a vego, but I like to read meat !

Geof Harries 14 Oct 05

There’s plenty of meat in this post - just a lean cut, minus the fat. We’re all so innudated with technical information and advice that we begin to expect it from everybody involved in the web industry. It’s refreshing to read insightful thoughts and commentaries that are short and sweet.

Carlos Moreno 14 Oct 05

thanks.
i needed this post.

sometimes we garage companies get frustrated at the growing pains. …but we need to continued to be inspired by the garage tinkerers who had the great ideas, and used them to grow in to being great companies.
‘keeps us going.

Ray Irving 14 Oct 05

Remember as well, great companies ain’t necessarily big companies!

Tim 14 Oct 05

I find this note rather refreshing, reminding us that the big guys were once the small guys too ;o)

Ian 14 Oct 05

Wait, so is the goal to be big or small?

Couldn’t resist.

Graham 14 Oct 05

Being big or small doesnt matter. Being great at what you do matters.

Andy Crouch 14 Oct 05

The great untold story is just how privileged the founders of most of these businesses were. Most (though not all) of them started with extraordinary access to social and financial capital. Nine times out of ten, when you hear a romantic story of “two guys in a garage,” what is omitted is that the garage was in Atherton and the two guys went to Harvard.

Jamie 14 Oct 05

I think Jason’s point is to do what you love even if it’s on the side or if there isn’t a clear biz model. If you do something you are passionate about (whether it be Web Apps, Insanely Great Computers, or Selling Great Housewares) you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams. I think Jason and Co. Are on that track. Keep up the great work guys.

Martin 14 Oct 05

Staying unnoticed for a while can definitely be a good thing. Only once your songs are fine-tuned, and you’ve been watching the big dogs and their weak points on MTVs should you rip out the guitars, step into the limelight, and bring on the rock ‘n roll.

One of the things that makes a great company is realising that somewhere in some garage, there’s a kid who’s going to outdo you.

Lisa 14 Oct 05

True. Of course you have to start somewhere.

There is one thing, though, that these companies all have in common:

They are all big companies.

Christopher Fahey 14 Oct 05

The goal is not to be big OR small. The goal is to be great.

Patrick McElhaney 14 Oct 05

“Great companies need … to go unnoticed for a while.”

What does that say about 37Signals?

Trump 14 Oct 05

Sounds like something I would say..

Lisa 14 Oct 05

Good point Mr. Fahey…but there’s no mention of great small companies, only mention of growth.

Ron in Vermont 14 Oct 05

Andy Crouch - yes, I have noticed that too! Oftimes.

You wrote: “The great untold story is just how privileged the founders of most of these businesses were. Most (though not all) of them started with extraordinary access to social and financial capital. Nine times out of ten, when you hear a romantic story of ďtwo guys in a garage,Ē what is omitted is that the garage was in Atherton and the two guys went to Harvard.”

Yep, or something like Grandmother gives them a “small” loan (as in $100,000, which in most circles would take something in the order of 25-years of hard work to save). Well, $100,000 is a pretty bick kick in the buttocks when the rest of us start out with nothing.

Pete 14 Oct 05

I don’t get it. what defines something that is born vs grown? Technically, before something can grow it must be conceived (born). Also, was MSFT not grown, it didn’t turn into a billion dollar company over night? Same with IBM. Even bad companies are GROWN; consider Enron.

Also, I think all companies make mistakes everyday, how they handle these mistakes might be different.

Unfortunately, I think you guys are getting too deep in the retoric and should do what you do best, discuss/create software and user design. If we want a pep-talk we’ll rent the movie Rudy or buy a Jack Welch book.

Or if you really want we can continue with this sort of retoric. I’ll help:

“BIG COMPANIES HAVE TO SHRINK BIG TO WIN”

wow, not as hard as i thought… The retoric of web 2.0 is becoming as bad as 1.0. The only difference is that 2.0 doesn’t use as many buzz words. Grow up guys.

Tony 14 Oct 05

Someone please explain to me the point of people going around to various blogs and commenting that they don’t like the posts. It certainly happens a lot on this site, but I’ve also seen it elsewhere (recently over at Airbag). It’s not like you spent 35 cents on a newspaper and opened it up to find nothing but opinion pieces and non-sequitors. You took ten seconds out of your day to look at a web site and you didn’t like a relatively short post that was on it. Get over it! You don’t own this site, 37signals does.

Adrian L. 14 Oct 05

Someone please explain to me the point of people going around to various blogs and commenting that they donít like the posts. It certainly happens a lot on this site, but Iíve also seen it elsewhere (recently over at Airbag). Itís not like you spent 35 cents on a newspaper and opened it up to find nothing but opinion pieces and non-sequitors. You took ten seconds out of your day to look at a web site and you didnít like a relatively short post that was on it. Get over it! You donít own this site, 37signals does.

Constructive criticism improves a situation, while silence can imply approval.

I know I’d rather have discussion about a post I make than have a bunch of people ignore it because they disagree with it.

37signals opens its posts up to public discussion. While this doesn’t imply public ownership, it does imply respect for (or interest in) public opinion.

John Revel 14 Oct 05

Crouch and Ron in V

I agree… This seems to be an odd post on a small startup’s site, but Americans are feed the same “two guys in a garage” story from a very young age, neglecting to mention the founders “true” background. We know that a Stanford grad is or will be successful no matter what type of business they are in.

There is a huge layer of incredibly successful people & companies with even more incredible success stories than the ones that are shared in the news or everyday conversation.

Everyone can be successful in his or her own right. Let’s not concentrate on the “top” 1%.

Anonymous 14 Oct 05

“We know that a Stanford grad is or will be successful no matter what type of business they are in.”

Hahaha. Sure. Just go to Stanford and you’re guaranteed to be successful. Sorry, John. More to it than that.

..ak 14 Oct 05

Great companies fulfill a person’s needs in the most elegant way. It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s what you do. Microsoft is still providing the best tools to run the majority of businesses and they are huge.

who cares where you start or where you’re going. It’s about what your doing to make a difference.

Rik 14 Oct 05

Ah yes, I remember with fond nostalgia when the web team at mysterydvdretailsitei’dbetternotname.com was just the four of us, toiling away in blissful obscurity in a rented house in Cambridge. We were full of excitement and idealism about this newfangled ecommerce thing and worked hard and - lo and behold - a few years later the site has become a huge success (3 million registered customers) and as a result the three founding directors are now extremely rich. Amazingly (not), the oft-mooted ‘stock options’ never materialised (since they are still privately owned) and the enormous profits generated never trickled down to the staff and now there are hundreds of employees and a whole tranche of management has been brought in and the new managing director is about to join from another entertainment behemoth at a salary of £500,000. Meanwhile, the 3 original team members who are still there (I left to ‘pursue other interests’ a few years back, thank the lord) are still toiling away, slightly better paid than they were, but now accountable to multiple layers of marketeers and management drones in an increasingly corporatized atmosphere, an in one case working a part-time job in a superstore in addition to their fulltime job in order to try to save up enough cash to buy a house.

There must be a lesson there, somewhere…

Anonymous Coward 14 Oct 05

Hahaha. Sure. Just go to Stanford and youíre guaranteed to be successful. Sorry, John. More to it than that.

No, not really. I’ve met a few complete idiots from Stanford that were doing quite well simply because they had that piece of paper from Stanford.

Anonymous Coward 14 Oct 05

Rik: sounds like the story of the Geek Squad

Anonymous Coward 14 Oct 05

Adrian said:

Constructive criticism improves a situation, while silence can imply approval.

You and I clearly have differing ideas of what the definition of “constructive” is.

Alex Bunardzic 14 Oct 05

Perfecting the art of stating the obvious, one blog post at the time.

Dave Simon 14 Oct 05

Seems like 37signals has fulfilled one of the requirements for a big company: people bitching no matter what they do.

I, for one, am glad Jason posted this. I didn’t know about MagLite’s history. So I learned something.

One of the things every company has to decide at some point is whether they want to grow big, or stay small. Be an agency or be a boutique. That kind of thing.

I hope that decision comes around for me someday. :)

Nollind Whachell 14 Oct 05

Great companies need to grow into great companies. They need room to make mistakes. They need room to go unnoticed for a while. Theyíre just like people. Be ambitious, but grow into it.

And hopefully not grow out of it either. Life isn’t perfect, companies shouldn’t act like they are either, even when they do “grow up”.

Wade Schuette 14 Oct 05

Jason, I totally agree! For support see John Gall’s book “Systemantics - How things fail” — a delightful look at some unexpected rules of life (it was the American Mgmt. Assn’s book of the month in 1975) - on of which isn’t listed on Wikipedia, but is: “The only way you can make a large system that works is to evolve it from a small system that works.” (paraphrased). The first time you read the book, you laugh so hard it’s hard to breathe - then you buy copies for everyone you know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systemantics.
Why did nature pick growing a whole human from a single cell, instead of cloning parts or each breaking off a finger and joining them? Why go through all the struggle to fit everything into one cell? Because, apparently, it really helps maintain coherence and coherence is critical to making that most bizzare thing - multicellularism - work at all.
Health is about wholism which is about coherence, which comes from paced growth - (which seems really hard to achieve when VC’s and stockholders want 37% /year forever and forget those time outs to mature.

michael 14 Oct 05

But I did pay to read this. It took my time, energy, concentration and bandwidth. I don’t want to unsubscribe just cause a few childish sounding posts.

Natalie 14 Oct 05

Is this what we small businesses aspire to? I for one, would despise myself if my coffee shop ever ripped off the 3rd world suppliers, or my clothing manufacturing company employed child slave labour (or slave labour of any kind) or even if I had to sell out both my share in the company or my ideals (the very reason the company exists at all) in order to consider myself successful.
I understand the idea, its tough work when your small and the world looks down on you because of it, and for that reason, I suppose the post was a success. It reminded me of exactly why I am delighted to be part of a small ‘garage’ business. Not becaue one day we may grow into one of those ‘great’ businesses, but because I will do everything in my power to ensure that we wont.

Tony 14 Oct 05

michael:

But I did pay to read this. It took my time, energy, concentration and bandwidth. I donít want to unsubscribe just cause a few childish sounding posts.

If you do the math, you will find your opportunity cost and (miniscule) bandwith cost was more to post this highly insightful comment, than to read the short post.

Just my two cents.

Cashmore 15 Oct 05

Well said, Jason. As always, interesting discussion in the comments - maybe we should have a 37signals wiki/forum for this kind of thing?

dtrain 15 Oct 05

Will somebody seriously get f’ing real and use Ruby on Rails to make a Web 2.0 application (which isn’t Ajax) to automate this blog. Something like:

”[ Long Held Belief | Business School Lesson | Cliche ] isn’t true in Web 2.0. Case in point Us. Buy [ Basecamp | Ta-Da Lists | Backpack ] .”

JF 16 Oct 05

Go for it, dtrain. And start your own blog while you’re at it. Looking forward to nothing but original ideas from you.

Oh, and the only person bringing up basecamp, tada, and backpack in this post is you. There’s no mention of us or our products anywhere in this post.

Perhaps you should also write an app that reads the posts and prevents you from looking like an ass criticizing things that aren’t even there.

Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

Thereís no mention of us or our products anywhere in this post.

To be fair, the products are listed on the right hand side of every page within SvN. Maybe he has a depth perception problem? ;)

Jeff Adams 17 Oct 05

I think it is funny how people always criticize success. I think it is the human tendency for jealousy coming through

Keep up the good Jason and company, I like your products and always find your blog interesting.

Here’s to being successful. Cheers