Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “is it scalable?”.
It’s supposed to be the single most important question that all founders ask themselves about their products or services.
The end all be all of “disruptive” startups.
But why is scalability important and is it really the litmus test of good ideas?
In order to answer this, we should first understand why we’re asking this question at all. Simply put: You’re trying to figure out if your product/service is sustainable in the face of rapid growth.
The reason that’s important is because VCs want their 10x return on investment and if your idea isn’t “scalable” then you’re shit out of luck.
But is rapid growth actually necessary to succeed?
Before I answer that, let’s take a quick look at a few of the different reasons why people start their own companies.
We want to break out of the traditional 9 to 5 job and be our own boss. We want control over our schedule, we want to make our own decisions. To be completely free of oversight and restrictions.
Sometimes we get an idea that motivates us so much that we just can’t help but act on it. It fills us with enthusiasm, and our energy supply seems endless. It’s an amazing outlet for our creativity.
Mission drives a lot of founders in the early days of our companies. It’s why we’re okay with earning less, longer hours, and greater risk. We felt we didn’t have a purpose at our old jobs, but now we do.
All of these things are great reasons for starting a company, but rapid growth and the VC’s that require it are actually at odds with all of these.
You’ll lose your independence.
You’ll be subject to oversight.
Creativity will take a backseat to compliance.
Mission will take a backseat to money.
Scalability is a red herring. It’s a question they want you to ask yourself because it makes you play by their rules, and the game is fixed.
Who cares if your company is scalable? If your product/service can be used by 10 people but not 1000, does that equal failure? Hell no.
If you can create a product/service that people want and make a living doing it then you’re doing something right. You’re more successful in my book than the person who’s idea is “scalable” but needed VCs to prop them up.
People tell me my own company isn’t scalable all the time. They say it with derision and judgement. Like it’s some sort of defect in my product.
They’re absolutely right, my company isn’t scalable. I couldn’t handle thousands of customers with my current business model, but I might be able to handle a few hundred.
My customers don’t care, and neither do I.
I get to provide a product to my customers that they love, make a great living, and work at a company I founded.
So instead of one company serving millions of customers, let’s have millions of companies serving however many that they can handle.
That’s how true innovation happens. It doesn’t have to be “scalable” it just has to make people’s lives better.