José Bonnet asks:
How do you handle the pressure to grow?
Do you keep just saying ‘No!’?
I love this question because it’s one we get a lot. I also think it gets to the root of what growth means and how it’s perceived.
Let me say upfront that I may be interpreting José’s question incorrectly. I’m assuming he means hire more people when he says grow. I assume he’s talking about the physical space the company takes up.
Here’s the answer to the question I think he’s asking: No, we do not feel pressure to hire new people in order to grow.
Growing without “growing”
Just about every journalist I’ve talked to recently asks about the growth at 37signals. “You’re still just 8 people, how do you plan on growing?” “When will you begin to really grow the company?” “Why have you decided not to grow the company?”
The answer is always the same: We are growing, but not physically. You can grow without “growing.” In fact, I think it’s a healthier path.
Our customer base is growing. Our revenues are growing. Our customer satisfaction is growing. Our product offering is growing. Our integration options are growing. This is the kind of growth we want.
How you grow is up to you
We’ve intentionally set up our business so our headcount doesn’t need to grow linearly with our key business metrix. We’ve put self-serve at the core of our company. Self serve sign up, self serve upgrade, self serve downgrade, self serve cancellation.
We’ve been constantly tweaking the UIs for the apps to make them even more self sufficient. By making things clearer and simpler we make help/support less necessary. We’re obviously here to help people when they need help, but we’ve seen significant growth in our customer base without significant growth in customer service requests. This is the biggest payoff of simplicity and clarity. Less confusion and frustration for our customers, and less time and fewer company resources required to explain away bad design decisions, confusing features, and missed expectations.
Most companies need to continue to hire to generate/sell new business, service custom/key clients, handle a mountain of customer support inquiries because of the complexity inherent in their products, etc. We aren’t that kind of business. And I would recommend that if you are building a business – especially a web-based software business – you don’t build one of those businesses either. They’re rife with pressures to “grow.”
Will you ever hire more people?
Absolutely. We could use another person or two right now, but we also like feeling the stretch. The edge is where you are forced to be creative. It’s where your decisions are sharper and more informed. You make calls because you have to, not because they are convenient. “We can’t do this right now because that is more important.” Being at the limit forces you to think about value and we think that’s a great place to be.
Thanks for the questions!
So far we’ve received about 40 questions since posting the Ask 37signals announcement. We’ve earmarked a handful of especially good ones to answer so far. We’d love to answer yours. Please send it along to svn [at] 37signals dot com. Thanks again!