Reminded me of the fisherman's parable...

One day a fisherman was sitting by his boat while playing with his child on a beautiful beach; his fishing pole resting against the boat.

A wealthy businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday.

Curious and horrified at the sight of the fisherman wasting the day, the businessman asked, "Why aren't you out fishing?"

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, "Because I already caught enough fish for one day."

The businessman followed, "Why don't you catch some more?"

"What would I do with them?" replied the fisherman.

"You could earn extra money," said the businessman, "then with the extra money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more fish.

Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets.

With the nets, you could catch even more fish and make more money.

With that money you could own two boats, maybe three boats.

Eventually you could have a whole fleet of boats and be rich like me."

"Then what would I do?" asked the fisherman.

"Then," said the businessman, "you could really enjoy life."

The fisherman looked at the businessman quizzically and asked, "What do you think I am doing now?"

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I once got sucked into the 'scale at all costs' mindset and made the mistake of hiring sales and marketing staff for my animation agency, without already having a lead generation strategy in place. I was then forced to scale back down, and I've since been growing the company organically with me as the sole employee and freelance staff, most of them hired on a project basis. It's now a lot less stressful while being much more profitable.

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From an artist and oil painter’s perspective, I definitely can relate to this.

When countless IG reels and posts encourage artists to “Sell prints, too!” And scale up, it seems to want to move our eyes past the creation of one of a kind pieces of art into spreadsheets and marketing strategies.

Granted, those aspects are important, but for an artist, it might not be productive. We already have 2-4 lifetimes’ worth of subject ideas in our heads that we will probably never get to paint, so any deviation from it seems to lessen our joy and pursuit of what truly fulfills our calling.

Thank you for this post, Anu.

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Mar 25Liked by Anu

I think a lot of this fascinating discussion around 'scale' connects to what humans have evolved to do over millions of years- to walk around (limited in consciousness by our view of the horizon), to use our hands to make things, to solve immediate practical problems, and to be part of a social community. It's no coincidence that these also tend to be the things that give us joy.

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Great post. From what I've seen chasing scale in the context of start-ups can also cloud good judgement. You shouldn't from the get-go be thinking about how to be a billion dollar company with thousands of customers/users, you should focus on making your current customers super happy and growing from there. Really resonate with your thinking on this (ex. raising 1 round, boostrapping where possible, not glamourizing VC).

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I agree with you that reaching scale only to question its pursuit is not only for the few privileged that "made it" in a splashy way, I think it's all relative to your starting point in life: so if you start from a humble, working class upbringing like I do, it doesn't take much to be sucked in a race to a imaginary "top", even if six figures salaries and billions in revenue aren't involved.

Two things I realized when I started questioning the point of "more": the first is that when you start saying "enough" you won't be understood by many people, prepare to feel alone, at least for a while.

The second is the role of luck: we vastly underestimate the role of luck in the pursuit of success and we vastly overestimate the role our skills have. And again, nobody will hear you out when you will try to say that "the system is rigged" or you are benefiting from a speculative bubble.

And for that I think the pursuit of scale is so ingrained in our societies because it creates a sense of community, which is one of the strongest human need: stepping away from it means finding other, different communities and being able to face some "alone time".

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This is extremely well thought out and relatable.

I've got a successful software company, but we moved to a small farm a few years ago and this is the "non scalable" thing that helps ground me. It feels really fulfilling in a way that a scalable software company doesn't.

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This reminds me a lot of one of the laws of being influential which you can find in the first volume of my newsletter - “Know the difference between innovation and innovation for the sake of itself — being undiscerning about this is how people, businesses, and cultures die”

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Love love love this read and the philosophy behind it. Great Job!!

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One interesting idea this article brought to mind is the idea of scaling things that conventionally “don’t scale”. Maybe people who come from big scale (VC/tech/startups) into these old fashion industries can build larger outcomes (maybe not VC scale though). Reminds me of your Silicon Valley small business post. Continue to really enjoy these working theories!

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