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!
Ian Silberon 28 Sep 07
Growing up is probably the most important growing a company can do.
By growing up I mean getting older, smarter, more efficient, etc.
Jason S.on 29 Sep 07
First off, sorry Jason for not putting my last initial a few posts ago, forgot you only use your first name when posting :)
I really wish that someone over at Facebook read this article this past spring, when they were working out the Facebook Platform. I think an API can be helpful, but not without control. I think the small Facebook team, and the set of features before the applications came out was exactly what a lot of people needed, and it was a great niche. Trying to battle my way through 20 useless apps just to find a friend’s phone number has become a nuisance and has detracted from the originally intended experience.
Facebook now has a huge headquarters with over 300 employees. I feel that the 8 employees at 37 Signals have developed a much more useful and pleasant user experience with their software tools.
The Good and the Bad
I must give credit to the Pandora team that has created an excellent Facebook application and musical experience. The integration is clean and allows my friends to easily listen to the stations and music I’ve played recently or bookmarked. A great example of how web applications can work together.
On the other hand, I am dismayed by removal of the students’ course list. This was a great way to get in touch with classmates in your course, and has helped me collaborate with and learn with other students in my major. Facebook’s explanation was that someone can make an app for it. Unfortunately, the most users any current “course list” application has is 4%. So that means, out of my class of 20 students, there might be one other student listed on Facebook…
Thank you 37Signals
Thank you 37 Signals for staying small while still growing. I will always keep this article in mind as I hope to progress towards a career in software and web development.
cmvon 29 Sep 07
I work for a company that is “rife with pressure to grow”, and let me say, you nailed it. your description/reasons why these companies fell pressure to grow is spot-on. Let me add one more reason to that list, the people who run these companies most likely came from corporate america (as our’s did). And they think that business on the web today should be ran the same way as business was ran at IBM in the early nineties. and this thinking/culture is pervasive thorought the company because they will hire people who think the same way.
Walt Kaniaon 29 Sep 07
Intriguing perspective, Jason.
To you, growing is about getting better. Not bigger.
I like that.
Anonymous Popon 29 Sep 07
You guys should do what makes you happy & brings you success. Having said that, I am sure you recognize “one size doesn’t fit all”. To quote one relevant example, Jeff Bezos, whom you and I both respect, has such an enormous technical ambition that he could use hundreds, if not thousands of engineers!
Viktor Bon 30 Sep 07
I remember that in the late 90’s investors valued the companies on headcount. It was easy to calculate ones potential in growth by headcount. Today good talent could probably perform the same tasks that hundreds did 10 years ago. But the people investing and making the decisions around such are still thinking that more people means more pennies… I look forward to when talent is really recognized for being what it is. Something unique that each of us holds individually. But in effective teams it can be pure genius.
José Bonneton 01 Oct 07
Thanks for the reply, Jason.
Few remarks on your answer…
Definition: That was what I meant, ‘growing’ like ‘hiring more people to work for 37S’. Yor answer was brilliant (of course you’re growing on those fronts you mention, stupid question of mine). The thing is, in this ‘business’, ‘big’ looks (unfortunately) ‘better’, therefore the unavoidable pressure to increase the number of people…
Diversity: That’s another thing: companies grow because they want to have more than one business, to protect themselfs against sudden changes in markets… Of course you may say that you can lead two (of the currently eight) people to explore that new business… but what if they take too long to get into that new business? See what I mean? Speed might lead you into ‘growing’ in number of people hired as well…
The Edge: The edge, the one limitting the ‘grow’/’no grow’ space, is fuzzy. So, besides the risk of running on the edge, you often don’t know where it is exactley! Imagine that you decide to go on a new feature/application, at the expense of one of the others, and this simply disrupts your customer base (I don’t think this is probable in your case, because of all the care you give to your customers, but…)... Then, ‘ups! we’re off the edge!’...
So…In the end, you may allways say ‘It works for us, I don’t know about the rest of the world!’ ;-)
Thanks for all the innovation you’ve provided us with.
Serge Lescouarnecon 01 Oct 07
I agree with you on simplicity (clarity) as a way to reduce hand holding. After mulling in the topic of how to charge for my New Jersey Concierges services, I decided to charge by the hour not by the task with just 2 different rates, one for regular hours (Monday through Saturday) and a higher rate for Sundays and early and late hours. It irritates me as a Customer when a Service is not clear as I wrote about my Bank of America Online Experience on ‘Serge the Concierge’.
Have a great day
Keep up the good work
Serge ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’
This discussion is closed.