Creating versus building

Or, the stuff no one ever told me about scaling a startup (and that I wasn’t smart enough to ask about)

Sometimes I write posts that I honestly hope no one reads, mostly because I’m trying to work through something and have little idea what might come out.

This is one of those posts #fulldisclaimer

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about scaling companies, why there are so few social enterprises scaling in Pakistan, and what are some of the reasons why Amal might fail to scale.

There’s some well-intended self-help book advice that says what made you successful yesterday won’t be what makes you successful tomorrow — or some version of this — but I used to think that this comes with limitations. Fine print, if you will, which might read something like “what made you successful blah blah… except for the core principles, like a never fading bias towards creating” (or, in Seth Godin’s words, a never fading bias towards shipping)

What I’m realizing, however, is that this fine print might actually be slowly fading. At least for now. As I find myself doing very little creating — which I loved and I think is what helped us achieve our initial momentum at Amal — and spending most of my time building/constructing.

Take this week, for example, which was spent:

  • Meeting with deans, directors, and VCs in order to launch fellowships in new university partners and to scale up / integrate fellowships into the curriculum in old partnerships
  • Traveling to a few schools in our advisor’s village outside of Kasur to explore if Amal can play a role in their expansion plans
  • Talking with HEC to scale up our faculty development course
  • Interviewing a whole lot of candidates for new roles at Amal
  • Connecting with our new Ops Director to catch him up to speed on everything Amal

As I think about this list and the rest of the week, I realize that none of this really has to do with creating. But almost all of it has to do with building.

What I love about creating is that it feels like art. It’s just you and a white paper. (Or maybe you and some friends and a white board)

Building feels more like construction work. Machinery, concrete, drywall, asphalt, scaffolding.

And yet, I think it’s important to remember that perhaps there is a time for both. That just because we’re building now doesn’t mean we can’t — or don’t need to — create again. Or even find a way to create at the same time that we are building. To create and build together.

If this is true, then perhaps scaling a company is less like constructing a building, and actually more like developing a community — one with lots of different buildings and components — which emerges over time through the never fading bias towards both creating and building together.