When it comes to growing a business, hiring can feel like a huge step toward success. After all, there’s a feeling of accomplishment in not having to be the entrepreneur who does everything, moving beyond the startup space, and operating like a “traditional” company.
But in Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, author Paul Jarvis argues against growth as a one-size-fits all strategy for startups. Technological advances and freelance talent have made it possible for growth-stage entrepreneurs to remain small and invest in resources over talent while creating a sustainable business.
A startup incubator like WeWork Labs can offer entrepreneurs a place to stay small and nimble with access to other small businesses for support. Here, four Labs founders explain why they’re intentionally staying small even in growth phase—and the workarounds and lessons that have helped them thrive.
Scaling down is harder than scaling up
That advice may sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to forget as your startup nets initial funding. “We prematurely scaled — a rookie mistake,” says Shadi Kuteish, the Paris-based founder of Boink, an app that allows you to order from your phone at restaurants and bars. “It was the most detrimental, dangerous, and wrong decision that I’ve made during the course of this startup,” he says. The high cost of making payroll each month quickly put pressure on the growing company—which is based at WeWork 198 Avenue de France—making it tough to adequately fund additional resources in technology needed for growth. “Scaling down was painful. We had to fire people, but it was an absolute necessity for the success of the organization as a whole.”
Smaller groups make faster decisions
Andonis Sakatis, CEO of the Sydney-based Zenify, a company that coordinates corporate partnerships through sustainable-product sales, came from a financial-services background.“I had seen where large teams often led to a lot of red tape when it came to decisions,” explains Sakatis, who works at WeWork 100 Harris St. When he founded his company in 2017, he decided to rely exclusively on freelance help for business needs such as marketing.
Sometimes the problem isn’t people power
Sarah Skyung, CEO of Soodevie, a Seoul-based wine-pairing company, began her business hosting corporate and private events. Skyung, a member at WeWork Yeoksam Station II, loved the events, but the time commitment made her realize that events may not be a scalable business. “Instead of trying to take on help to make the event requests happen, I took a step back to try to think of a way to monetize my idea,” she says. Skyung refined her business plan to maximize the reach of her brand: She created a home-tasting kit, which will launch this summer.
Automation can be a useful first step
Boink’s Kuteish feels like relying on technology is essential for early-stage startups—as long as they know when and how a human touch is needed. “We have tried as much as possible to use tech to scale our operations,” he says. “We have been successful so far but we know that there is a limit. The pros are less expenditure and a more-agile organization to innovate, while on the con side, there is less discussion and thought cross-pollination.” Keeping careful track of when the cons outweigh the pros may give you the nudge you need when it’s time to scale up.
A lean team helps you stay focused
Chloë Stewart’s company, nibs etc., is a sustainable-food brand that creates no-waste recipes and products sold at London’s Borough Market. For Stewart, the advantage of being the CEO of a small team means it’s easier to prioritize her daily to-do list. “Right now, we’re focused on selling the product, so my decisions are geared toward that,” says Stewart, a winner at last year’s Creator Awards in London who works out of WeWork 70 Wilson St. She finds herself saying no to one-off events and instead focusing on a website redesign. Her product was born from her food and lifestyle blog, and Stewart wants to make sure any new content supports it. By staying small, she doesn’t get pulled into time-consuming projects that may not support long-term growth goals.
Networking saves time and money
Sakatis finds the WeWork environment invaluable for networking with other small companies. “There’s a lot of cross-industry synergy that can make things happen much more quickly than in traditional organizations,” he says. “In other situations, if you were looking for a marketing firm or copywriter, you could spend days trying to fill a project. But here, you’re always getting referrals and seeing other companies. It saves so much time, and for a small startup, time truly is money.”