الرئيسية Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business

Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business

What if the real key to a richer and more fulfilling career was not to create and scale a new start-up, but rather, to be able to work for yourself, determine your own hours, and become a (highly profitable) and sustainable company of one? Suppose the better—and smarter—solution is simply to remain small? This book explains how to do just that.

Company of Oneis a refreshingly new approach centered on staying small and avoiding growth, for any size business. Not as a freelancer who only gets paid on a per piece basis, and not as an entrepreneurial start-up that wants to scale as soon as possible, but as a small business that is deliberately committed to staying that way. By staying small, one can have freedom to pursue more meaningful pleasures in life, and avoid the headaches that result from dealing with employees, long meetings, or worrying about expansion.Company of Oneintroduces this unique business strategy and explains how to make it work for you, including how to generate cash flow on an ongoing basis.

Paul Jarvis left the corporate world when he realized that working in a high-pressure, high profile world was not his idea of success. Instead, he now works for himself out of his home on a small, lush island off of Vancouver, and lives a much more rewarding and productive life. He no longer has to contend with an environment that constantly demands more productivity, more output, and more growth.
InCompany of One,Jarvis explains how you can find the right pathway to do the same, including planning how to set up your shop, determining your desired revenues, dealing with unexpected crises, keeping your key clients happy, and of course, doing all of this on your own.
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Never Grow Up

There’s a hotel nestled in the picturesque countryside of Japan’s Yamanashi prefecture, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, which is the oldest continuously run hotel in the world. It has been in existence for about 1,300 years (it opened its doors in AD 705) and managed by fifty-two generations of the same family.

Empires have risen and fallen around Onsen Keiunkan, great wars have ravaged it, and massive economic booms and busts have come and gone. Still, the hotel has endured and remained profitable enough to stay open for business. The hotel has thirty-five rooms and access to six natural hot spring baths, which are open 24/7 to better serve their guests. The water of the baths is pure, alkaline, and neither artificially heated nor treated. The hotel serves simple, seasonal food, locally sourced from the surrounding mountains and rivers. Besides the baths, there are no other attractions in the nearby area, and there’s definitely no wi-fi or ride-sharing. Still, it’s been a popular destination for far longer than any of us (or our great-grandparents) have been alive. Guests have included emperors, politicians, samurai, and military commanders.

The hotel’s focus, since the beginning, has been on customer service, not on growth or expansion. It’s stayed small because the top priority has always been making guests comfortable.

How the Onsen Keiunkan has succeeded by not choosing exponential growth is a story best told by looking at its peer: the oldest continuously run business in the world, Kongō Gumi, a Buddhist temple construction company. The founder, Kongo Shigemitsu, saw an incredible opportunity: Buddhism was catching on quickly, and so temples needed to be built. For the next fourteen centuries (i.e., long after the founder’s death), the company kept busy building temples. Like their hotel peer, Kongō Gumi kept a relentless focus on serving customers and being absolute experts at their craft, and that focus enabled the construction company to be resilient enough to endu; re.

For 1,428 years, Kongō Gumi hummed along as a construction company. Things suddenly changed, however, when they decided to expand into real estate during a boom in the Japanese market in the 1980s due to an epic financial bubble and unconstrained credit growth. For a while, Kongō Gumi reaped the short-term rewards of fast growth, but as so often happens, that growth wasn’t sustainable.

By the start of the 1990s, the financial bubble had completely burst in Japan. Companies that took on vast amounts of borrowed money with artificially suppressed interest rates were left with nothing but debt. Debt was like a popular drug—everyone was doing it and every business seemed to have access to it.

Kongō Gumi ended up with close to $343 million in debt. It was sold to a larger company and ultimately liquidated a few years later—bringing its extremely long run as a company to an end. The temple construction company had survived countless political crises, two atomic detonations, and even a period when the Japanese government set out to eradicate Buddhism from Japan completely. But ironically, what they couldn’t survive was the cost of rapid growth. Their downfall was putting growth above stability and profit.

In Japanese, shinise is the word for a long-lasting company. Interestingly, about 90 percent of all businesses worldwide that are more than 100 years old are Japanese. They all have fewer than 300 employees, and the ones that still exist never grow quickly or without great reason.

Onsen Keiunkan, by contrast, has barely grown at all. Still operating with fewer than forty rooms and six hot springs, they’ve survived by recognizing that growth isn’t required for long-term success. Making every customer feel like they are the one and only customer, the hotel has been dedicated to service in a way that has drawn intergenerational patronage (which isn’t something many companies ever see). They have done some updating, of course, redoing the rooms in the 1990s and digging a new well, but these iterations have been slight and carefully thought out.

Onsen Keiunkan has survived, not in spite of being small, but because of it. They didn’t expand into a hotel chain, or turn their interests to real estate investing, or follow the whims of market booms. They haven’t taken on investors or gone public.

To put this all into perspective, Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management, found that the average life span of a business on the S&P 500 is only fifteen years total.

Onsen Keiunkan, on the other hand, has been in business and operating for 1,300 years.

Becoming Too Small to Fail

The ideas, research cited, and lessons in this book point to a broader philosophy of business achievement: business success does not lie in growing something quickly and massively, but rather in building something that’s both remarkable and resilient over the long term. This isn’t to say that success happens only after the first millennium has passed, but that success is about finding a way to sustain a business as long as it needs to be sustained. As we’ve seen time and time again, nothing is too big to fail. With bigger scale come bigger dangers, bigger risks, and much work to become and remain profitable.

Instead, you can focus on building something that, in effect, is too small to fail. You can adapt a small company of one to ride out recessions, adjust to changing customer motivations, and ignore competition by being smaller, more focused, and in need of much less to turn a profit.

Success, then, ought not to be measured by quarterly profit increases or ever-growing customer acquisition, or even by your ability to create an exit strategy and leave with more than you entered with. Instead, as Natasha Lampard of the popular internet conference “WebStock” says, you can focus on an “exist strategy”—based on sticking around, profiting, and serving your customers as best you can. Your success can be measured by being profitable quickly as you stay small and build real relationships with your customers—not because you’re an altruistic hippie, but because it pays off over time. Long-term, loyal customers will sometimes hang around for generations, continuing to financially support your business.

A better problem to solve—one that requires real ingenuity—is how to avoid dealing with everything that comes up by just adding more to the mix. Solving business problems by simply adding more is like putting a Band-Aid on a cut—yes, it might stop the bleeding, but covering it up doesn’t help you deal with why the cut happened in the first place. To add more is basically an effort to fix an existing problem without first looking at its cause.

If you figure out why you need more, you can come to better conclusions, ones that might actually help both your business and your customers. Maybe you can turn down growth that doesn’t serve your company. Maybe you can create and sustain a tiny business that doesn’t overwork you or your staff and doesn’t ignore customers and still profits wildly. Maybe instead of taking investments to grow, you can remain the same size.

Instead of solving problems with more, perhaps you can determine what is basically enough. Ricardo Semler, whom I quoted at the start of this book, believes that profit past the minimum isn’t essential for business survival. He likens going for profit at all costs to seeing a jail with empty cells and assuming that not enough prisoners have been rounded up yet. In effect, what’s best for the government that runs the jail isn’t a spike in the crime rate so that more people can be punished, but a greater effort to make sure crime doesn’t happen in the first place, thereby creating more taxpayers and more profit for them.

My mind keeps coming back to the two studies showing that growth is the main cause of failure in so many startups, and even many top corporations. The truth is, very few startups last for a long time. Most of them don’t even last a few years let alone fifteen years, and certainly not 1,300 years. When they grew, many of them simply became too big to succeed. Big companies can find it so much easier to fail, with their higher burn rates, the rampant acquisition they require to hit profitable status, and their huge teams full of people you hope are pulling their own weight, but who knows? There are too many people on them to know for certain.

Determining what is enough is different for everyone. Enough is the antithesis of growth. Enough is the true north of building a company of one, and the opposite of the current paradigm promoting entrepreneurship, growth-hacking, and a startup culture.

Growth, as we’ve seen from the studies and stories presented in this book, is not an unalterable law of business. Instead, growth doesn’t have to inevitably follow success or profit, especially for a company of one. When you become too small to fail, you also become small enough to make your own choices about your work. Real freedom is gained when you define upper bounds to your goals and figure out what your own personal sense of enough is. You’ll have the freedom to say no to doing the expected, or to opportunities that don’t serve you.

There’s a satisfaction in reaching the point of enough in your business, and then knowing that you don’t have to explore every new potential opportunity that comes up. This freedom allows you to run your company of one in your own way—a way that gives you a life you enjoy, fills your days with tasks you actually want to do, and brings you customers you actually want to serve.

This Is Just the Beginning

This book has been an exploration of the concept of a “company of one” by looking at research and examples of people who have asked, “What if . . .?” What if growth doesn’t matter? What happens when we put an upper bound on our goals? What if business and capitalism itself are turned on their head?

As I started out on this journey to explore companies of one, I figured I was alone in my belief that growth isn’t always the best course of action for business. But then, as I explored the idea more, I realized that a silent movement is happening. Companies of one around the world are starting to succeed, making substantial profits, without rapidly hiring employees or taking venture capital. Companies like Buffer and Basecamp are thriving and profitable, and people like Tom Fishburne and Danielle LaPorte are challenging the status quo and building smaller but amazing businesses.

Remember that technically everyone is a company of one—or at least, they should be. Even if you lead a team at a business that isn’t yours, or you are an employee at a massive company, no one else truly cares as much about your career as you do. Indeed, it’s your sole responsibility to look out for your own interests, and it’s up to you to define and then achieve whatever success means to you.

Most of us know that the perception that being an entrepreneur is riskier than being a corporate worker is misguided, since at a large corporation these days employees have little control as to how it’s run, how it focuses on profit (or on growth), and how secure their jobs really are. Yes, starting something on your own can be a little risky too, but I’ve found that most entrepreneurs are the most risk-averse people I know. They iterate on ideas and move slowly when it comes to risk, but move quickly to create profit (since they need profit in order to pay themselves).

By becoming a company of one, or just by adopting the key aspects of this mind-set, you can develop the resilience required to thrive in any job, at any company, or with any project or business you start on your own. By making sure your business works when it’s as small as possible, you can ensure that it will work if and when it grows.

There’s a point—and it’s different for everyone—where you realize that having more won’t affect your quality of life. When your “enough” happens, it should be liberating. What’s the difference, really, between having $90 million and having $900 million? (Honestly, I wouldn’t know.) If you’re not sure you’ve reached that point, question why you want more, or why what you have isn’t enough.

Accepting the mind-set of a company of one doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. Don’t feel that you have to take it or leave it. Instead, I challenge you to consider how specific ingredients in the overall recipe put forward in this book could benefit the way you work or the way your business operates. Perhaps you can adopt some ideas and leave the rest. As long as you’re questioning concepts and determining what’s best for your own business and customers, I’ll be happy.

Today more than ever, behemoth corporations need to learn how to be more nimble and maverick, more like a company of one. And people who are just starting down their own path, toward their own business, need to know that there’s another path forward. In fact, there are infinite paths, and unless you start asking questions about each pathway, you may not enjoy where you end up.

Everything in this book derives from my belief that all companies, of every size, should be “lifestyle” businesses, not trapped in the paradigm of how “real” businesses operate. In fact, every business, theoretically, is a lifestyle business, in that each represents your choice of how you want to live. If you want to work in the fast-paced corporate world, you have to accept that your life will have little room for much else. If you choose the growth-focused venture capital world, you have to accept being beholden to two groups of people: investors and customers (and what each wants could be vastly different). And if you work in a company where enough profit is acceptable, then your lifestyle can be optimized for more than just growing profit.

In sum, all business is a choice about the life we want outside of it. One choice isn’t better than any other; all are simply choices, guided by our own internal and deeply personal factors. This book presents one choice. It may not be the choice you’d make on how to run your life and your business, but if it is, I hope that this book has given you both a bit of insight and a small light to guide you.

There’s only one rule for being a company of one: stay attentive to those opportunities that require growth and question them before taking them. That’s it—one rule. The rest is entirely up to you. But if you ever stop questioning the need for growth, you run the risk that the beast of growth will devour you and your business whole.

The company-of-one movement is constantly growing (bad joke, I couldn’t help myself). If you’ve got a company-of-one story of your own to share, I’d love to hear it (paul@mightysmall.co). I read every email and reply to as many as I can—I promise.

  The more products, the more markets, the more alliances a company makes, the less money it makes. “Full speed ahead in all directions” seems to be the call from the corporate bridge. When will companies learn that line extension ultimately leads to oblivion.


  The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing


Books are team efforts in which one person (the author) gets to take all the credit. So, my thanks go out to all the people whose names wouldn’t fit on the cover with mine:

To my wife, Lisa, who’s always willing to encourage me when that’s needed, and to kick me in the ass when that’s needed as well.

To my amazing agent, Lucinda Blumenfeld, my equally amazing editor, Rick Wolff, his wonderful assistant Rosemary McGuinness, and everyone else at Lucinda Literary and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You’ve all lifted this book to a level far beyond what I could have dreamed of or reached on my own.

To the folks who let me interview them for this book. I was totally hitting above my weight with my interview requests, but lucked out when these people agreed to talk and share with me: Chris Brogan, Kate O’Neill, Katie Womserley, Marshall Haas, Miranda Hixon, Tom Fishburne, Alex Beauchamp, Angela Devlen, Brian Clark, Danielle LaPorte, Glen Urban, James Clear, Jason Fried, Jeff Sheldon, Jessica Abel, Sean D’Souza, Jocelyn Glei, Kyle Murphy, Kaitlin Maud, Rand Fishkin, Sol Orwell, Zach McCullough, and everyone else I spoke with in writing this book.

To my “rat people,” my longtime readers who let me email them every Sunday morning with whatever wacky and mostly counterintuitive idea I want to share on my newsletter. Thanks for reading, for sharing, and for encouraging. Without you all, none of this would be possible.

To you, for reading this book. I hope what I’ve shared can inspire or cast a different light on your work.



xii people would rather get electric shocks: Timothy D. Wilson, David A. Reinhard, Erin C. Westgate, Daniel T. Gilbert, Nicole Ellerbeck, Cheryl Hahn, Casey L. Brown, and Adi Shaked, “Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind,” Science 345, no. 6192 (July 4, 2014): 75–77.

1. Defining a Company of One

7 The word “intrapreneur”: Gifford Pinchot III, “Who Is the Intrapreneur?” in Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur (New York: HarperCollins, 1985), 28–48.

8 In a recent study: Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai, “Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave,” Harvard Business Review (September 20, 2013), http://www.meritaspartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Recognize-Intrapreneurs-Before-They-Leave.pdf.

12 42 percent of jobs are at risk: Creig Lamb, “The Talented Mr. Robot: The Impact of Automation on Canada’s Workforce,” Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, Toronto, June 2016, http://brookfieldinstitute.ca/research-analysis/automation/, 3–8.

within the next ten to twenty years: Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report to the President: Together with the Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisers (Washington, D.C.: White House, February 2016), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/ERP_2016_Book_Complete%20JA.pdf.

15 employee satisfaction goes up, and turnover goes down: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It (New York: Portfolio, 2010), 11–36.

16 more than one-third of jobs in America: Edelman Intelligence, Freelancing in America 2016, commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, October 6, 2016, https://www.slideshare.net/upwork/freelancing-in-america-2016/1.

2. Staying Small as an End Goal

27 74 percent of those businesses failed: Max Marmer, Bjoern Lasse Herrmann, Ertan Dogrultan, and Ron Berman, “Startup Genome Report Extra on Premature Scaling,” Startup Genome, San Francisco, CA, August 29, 2011, http://innovationfootprints.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/startup-genome-report-extra-on-premature-scaling.pdf.

27 the Kauffman Foundation and Inc. magazine did a follow-up study: Jason Wiens and Chris Jackson, “The Importance of Young Firms for Economic Growth,” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, MO, September 2015, http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/resources/entrepreneurship-policy-digest/the-importance-of-young-firms-for-economic-growth.

30 left the company: Joel Gascoigne, “Change at Buffer: The Next Phase, and Why Our Co-Founder and Our CTO Are Moving On,” Buffer Open, February 10, 2017, https://open.buffer.com/change-at-buffer/.

35 earns $400,000 a year: Pieter Levels, interview by Courtland Allen, Indie Hackers, July 2016, https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/nomad-list.

39 the number of non-employee establishments: U.S. Census data cited in Elaine Pofeldt, “How to Find Your Million-Dollar, One-Person Business Idea,” Forbes, May 27, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt/2017/05/27/how-to-find-your-million-dollar-business-idea-by-tapping-new-census-data/#3ac375a343d9.

3. What’s Required to Lead

46 Research from the University of Lausanne business school: John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti, “Can Charisma Be Taught? Tests of Two Interventions,” Academy of Management: Learning and Education 10, no. 3 (2011): 374–396.

47 found that introverted leaders: Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann, “The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses,” Harvard Business Review ( December 2010), https://hbr.org/2010/12/the-hidden-advantages-of-quiet-bosses.

49 empowered, self-directed, or autonomous teams: Drita Kruja, Huong Ha, Elvisa Drishti, and Ted Oelfke, “Empowerment in the Hospitality Industry in the United States,” Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management (March 3, 2015).

52 “a little bit about a lot”: Meghan Casserly, “The Secret Power of the Generalist—And How They’ll Rule the Future,” Forbes, July 10, 2010, https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2012/07/10/the-secret-power-of-the-generalist-and-how-theyll-rule-the-future/#57821b312bd5.

55 stop hustling: David Heinemeier Hansson, “Trickle-down Workaholism in Startups,” Signal vs. Noise, May 30, 2017, https://m.signalvnoise.com/trickle-down-workaholism-in-startups-a90ceac76426.

Workaholism: Wayne E. Oates, Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts About Work Addiction (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1971).

56 the term “power paradox”: Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage,” Atlantic, July/August 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/power-causes-brain-damage/528711/.

56qualities that lead to the leadership roles: Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage.”

58 when people take the time: Rik Kirkland interview with Adam Grant, “Wharton’s Adam Grant on the Key to Professional Success,” McKinsey & Company, June 2014, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/whartons-adam-grant-on-the-key-to-professional-success.

4. Growing a Company That Doesn’t Grow

63 five times as much as keeping an existing one: Graham Charlton, “Companies More Focused on Acquisition Than Retention: Stats,” Econsultancy, New York, August 30, 2015, https://econsultancy.com/blog/63321-companies-more-focused-on-acquisition-than-retention-stats.

finding new customers: “Cross-Channel Marketing Report 2013,” Econsultancy, New York, August 2013, https://econsultancy.com/reports/cross-channel-marketing-report-2013.

64 “You can’t sell your way”: Gary Sutton, Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner’s Secrets (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005).

Steve Martin has had similar thoughts: Steve Martin, “Steve Martin Teaches Comedy,” MasterClass, https://www.masterclass.com/classes/steve-martin-teaches-comedy.

5. Determining the Right Mind-Set

78 B-corporation: “Certified B Corporations,” B Lab, accessed October 4, 2017, https://www.bcorporation.net/.

78risk of slowing sales: “Seventh Generation Staffers Line Dry Their Laundry,” Seventh Generation, Burlington, VT, July 1, 2010, https://www.seventhgeneration.com/nurture-nature/seventh-generation-staffers-line-dry-their-laundry.

78$250 million in revenue: Beth Kowitt, “Seventh Generation CEO: Here’s How the Unilever Deal Went Down,” Fortune, September 20, 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/09/20/seventh-generation-unilever-deal/.

79 Branson summed up purpose: Richard Branson, “5 Ways to Build a Project with Purpose,” Virgin, July 16, 2014, https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/5-ways-build-project-purpose.

81 positive economic impacts for companies: Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, “Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility,” Harvard Business Review, December 2006, https://hbr.org/2006/12/strategy-and-society-the-link-between-competitive-advantage-and-corporate-social-responsibility.

81 at the University of Quebec: Robert J. Vallerand, “On the Psychology of Passion: In Search of What Makes People’s Lives Most Worth Living,” January 2007, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228347175_On_the_Psychology_of_Passion_In_Search_of_What_Makes_People’s_Lives_Most_Worth_Living.

82 following your passion is fundamentally flawed: Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012), xviii.

engaging work helps you develop passion: William MacAskill, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference (New York: Avery, 2015), 147–178.

86 not be just a job but an adventure: Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel, “Is 30 the New 20 for Young Adults?” AARP, Washington, D.C., November 1, 2010, http://www.aarp.org/relationships/parenting/info-10-2010/emerging_adulthood_thirtysomethings.html.

86always winners: M. P. Mueller, “How to Manage (and Avoid) Entitled Employees,” New York Times, March 23, 2012, https://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/managing-and-avoiding-entitled-employees/.

88 attempting to focus on more than one priority: Mary Czerwinski, Eric Horvitz, and Susan Wilhite, “A Diary Study of Task Switching and Interruptions,” Microsoft Research, Redmond, WA, January 1, 2004, http://erichorvitz.com/taskdiary.pdf, 4–6.

88reduced by more than ten points: “‘Infomania’ Worse Than Marijuana,” BBC News, April 22, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4471607.stm.

88for every interruption: Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudick, and Ulrich Klocke, “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress,” https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf.

91 we make bad decisions: Cara Feinberg, “The Science of Scarcity: A Behavioral Economist’s Fresh Perspectives on Poverty,” Harvard Magazine, May/June 2015, https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2015/05/the-science-of-scarcity.

92 fifty-five hours a week: John Pencavel, “The Productivity of Work Hours,” IZA Discussion Paper 8129, Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn, Germany, April 2014, http://ftp.iza.org/dp8129.pdf, 52–54.

6. Personality Matters

97 lose 17,000 followers within hours: Anthony H. Normore, Handbook of Research on Effective Communication, Leadership, and Conflict Resolution (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2016), 151–153.

97wander 46.9 percent of the time: Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind,” Science 330, no. 6006 (November 12, 2010): 932, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.long.

100 ignore everyone else: Evan Carmichael, “Guy Kawasaki’s Top 10 Rules for Success (@GuyKawasaki),” YouTube, posted March 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYv4W2IUNs0.

101 hire journalists to denigrate: Sam Thielman and Dominic Rushe, “Government-Backed Egg Lobby Tried to Crack Food Startup, Emails Show,” Guardian, September 2, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/02/usda-american-egg-board-hampton-creek-just-mayo.

101“Can we pool our money to put a hit on him?”: Deena Shanker, “There Is Literally a U.S. Government Conspiracy Against Vegan Mayo,” Quartz, September 2, 2015, https://qz.com/493958/there-is-literally-a-us-government-conspiracy-against-vegan-mayo/.

7. The One Customer

106 great customer service: “2011 Customer Experience Impact Report: Getting to the Heart of the Consumer and Brand Relationship,” Oracle, Redwood Shores, CA, 2012, http://www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/cust-exp-impact-report-epss-1560493.pdf.

106ten times as much as their first purchase: The original study is out of print. However, “Increasing Customer Satisfaction,” a summary of the 1974–1979 study and the 1984–1986 studies for the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, was published by the U.S. Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO, 1986.

106don’t ever return: Ruby Newell-Legner, “Understanding Our Customers and Their Loyalty” (video), Seven Star Service, Littleton, CO,2014, http://www.7starservice.com/products/secrets-to-keeping-our-customers-happy/video.

108 less on the tangibles of a product: Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey Madge, “The ‘Moment of Truth’ in Customer Service,” McKinsey Quarterly ( February 2006), http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-moment-of-truth-in-customer-service.

109 word-of-mouth referrals: Anita Campbell, “November 2005 Survey ‘Selling to Small Business’” (letter from the publisher), Small Business Trends, November 2005, https://smallbiztrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/sellingtosmbiznovember.pdf.

110 help your business: “The Business Case for Loving Customers,” HelpScout, accessed June 23, 2017, https://www.helpscout.net/whole-company-support/.

111 “empathy index”: Belinda Parmar, “The Most (and Least) Empathetic Companies,” Harvard Business Review, November 27, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/11/2015-empathy-index.

112 internally led innovations: Gary L. Lilien, Pamela D. Morrison, Kathleen Searls, Mary Sonnack, and Eric von Hippel, “Performance Assessment of the Lead User Idea Generation Process for New Product Development,” April 1, 2002, https://evhippel.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/morrison-et-al-2002.pdf.

115 number-one most innovative company: Jeff Kauflin,“The World’s Most Innovative Growth Companies: 2017,” Forbes, May 17, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/innovative-companies/list/.

11534 percent increase in sales revenue: “SalesForce Pardot Customer Success,” SalesForce Pardot, accessed October 4, 2017, https://www.pardot.com/why-pardot/customer-success.

119 far less for malpractice: Aaron E. Carroll, “To Be Sued Less, Doctors Should Consider Talking to Patients More,” New York Times, June 1, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/02/upshot/to-be-sued-less-doctors-should-talk-to-patients-more.html.

119malpractice filings dropped by half: Kevin Sack, “Doctors Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Before ‘See You in Court,’” New York Times, May 18, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/us/18apology.html.

119in most cases apologizing: University of Nottingham, “Saying Sorry Really Does Cost Nothing,” ScienceDaily, September 23, 2009, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923105815.htm.

120 one of the ten most-hated companies in America: Douglas A. McIntyre, “The 10 Most Hated Companies in America,” 24/7WallSt, January 13, 2012, http://247wallst.com/special-report/2012/01/13/the-10-most-hated-companies-in-america/3/.

120didn’t answer support requests on social media: Anna Drennan, “Consumer Study: 88% Less Likely to Buy from Companies Who Ignore Complaints in Social Media,” Conversocial, December 19, 2011, http://www.conversocial.com/blog/consumer-study-88-less-likely-to-buy-from-companies-who-ignore-complaints-in-social-media.

121 don’t align with their actions: Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales, “The Value of Corporate Culture,” September 2013, http://economics.mit.edu/files/9721.

121“commitment drift”: Maryam Kouchaki, Elizabeth Doty, and Francesca Gino, “Does Your Company Keep Its Promises? Revealing and Addressing Commitment Drift in Business,” Harvard University, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, July 21, 2014, https://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/does-your-company-keep-its-promises-revealing-and-addressing-commitment-drift.

8. Scalable Systems

127 low salaries, and unfair treatment: Naomi Klein, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (New York: Haymarket Books, 2017), 113.

129 return on investment of 3,800 percent: Jordie van Rijn, “National Client Email Report 2015,” Data & Marketing Association, 2015, https://dma.org.uk/uploads/ckeditor/National-client-email-2015.pdf.

130 26 percent more likely to be opened: Campaign Monitor, “The New Rules of Email Marketing,” https://www.campaignmonitor.com/resources/guides/email-marketing-new-rules/.

130 segmented automation emails: “Q1 2017 Email Trends and Benchmarks Show Increase in Desktop Open Rates,” Epsilon, July 24, 2017, http://pressroom.epsilon.com/q1-2017-north-america-email-trends-and-benchmarks-show-increase-in-desktop-open-rates-2/,7,11.

9. Teach Everything You Know

142 1,200 clients of an investment firm: Andreas B. Eisingerich and Simon J. Bell, “Customer Education Increases Trust,” MIT Sloan Management Review, October 1, 2008, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/customer-education-increases-trust/.

145 advice from experts: Brandon Keim, “Given ‘Expert’ Advice, Brains Shut Down,” Wired, March 25, 2009, https://www.wired.com/2009/03/financebrain/.

10. Properly Utilizing Trust and Scale

152 92 percent of consumers: Cited in “Consumer Trust in Online, Social and Mobile Advertising Grows,” Nielsen, April 10, 2012, http://www.nielsen.com/ca/en/insights/news/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows.html.

152rated referrals: Anita Campbell, “85 Percent of Small Businesses Get Customers Through Word of Mouth,” Small Business Trends, June 10, 2015, https://smallbiztrends.com/2014/06/small-businesses-get-customers-through-word-of-mouth.html.

153 smaller businesses thrive: Fareena Sultan and William Qualls, “Placing Trust at the Center of Your Internet Strategy,” MIT Sloan Management Review 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 39–48.

153only 29 percent actually do so: “Anatomy of the Referral: Economics of Loyalty,” Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, and Advisor Impact, Salisbury, NC, December 2010.

15388 percent of American consumers: “Local Consumer Review Survey 2014,” BrightLocal, 2014, https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/local-consumer-review-survey-2014/.

11. Launching and Iterating in Tiny Steps

168 predictability, accessibility: George Whitesides, “Towards a Science of Simplicity,” TED Talks, February 2010, https://www.ted.com/talks/george_whitesides_toward_a_science_of_simplicity.

170 the most-funded KickStarter project ever: “Pebble Time—Awesome Smartwatch, No Compromises,” Kickstarter, accessed October 9, 2017, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/getpebble/pebble-time-awesome-smartwatch-no-compromises.

170( didn’t ensure Pebble’s long-term success): Lauren Goode, “Fitbit Bought Pebble for Much Less Than Originally Reported,” The Verge, February 22, 2017, https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/22/14703108/fitbit-bought-pebble-for-23-millionw.

171 best suited for consumer-facing products: Olav Sorenson, “Could Crowdfunding Reshape Entrepreneurship?” Yale Insights, July 14, 2016, http://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/could-crowdfunding-reshape-entrepreneurship.

171who are predominantly white males: Gené Teare and Ned Desmond, “The First Comprehensive Study on Women in Venture Capital and Their Impact on Female Founders,” TechCrunch, April 19, 2016, https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/19/the-first-comprehensive-study-on-women-in-venture-capital/.

171other white men: Alison Wood Brooks, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona E. Murray, “Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men,” PNAS, February 20, 2014, http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Brooks%20Huang%20Kearney%20Murray_59b551a9-8218-4b84-be15-eaff58009767.pdf; see also Malin Malmström, Jeaneth Johansson, and Joakim Wincent, “Gender Stereotypes and Venture Support Decisions: How Governmental Venture Capitalists Socially Construct Entrepreneurs’ Potential,” Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice 41, no. 5 (September 2017): 833–860.

171hitting their fundraising goals than men: “Women Unbound: Unleashing Female Entrepreneurial Potential,” PwC and the Crowdfunding Center, July 2017, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/diversity-inclusion/assets/women-unbound.pdf.

175 you’ve launched too late: Anthony Ha, “LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman’s 10 Rules of Entrepreneurship,” VentureBeat, March 15, 2011, https://venturebeat.com/2011/03/15/reid-hoffman-10-rules-of-entrepreneurship/.

175simply good enough to launch: Jim Collins, “Good to Great,” Fast Company, October 2001, http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html.

176 “Every company now is a technology company”: Anil Dash, “There Is No ‘Technology Industry,’ ” Medium, August 19, 2016, https://medium.com/humane-tech/there-is-no-technology-industry-44774dfb3ed7.

177 “are even on the radar screen in terms of competition”: Rick Munarriz, “Blockbuster CEO Has Answers,” Motley Fool, December 10, 2008, https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2008/12/10/blockbuster-ceo-has-answers.aspx.

177“Screw the Nano”: Clint Ecker, “Motorola: ‘Screw the Nano!’ ” Ars Technica, September 23, 2005, https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2005/09/1352/.

177“staring at a plywood box every night”: “Worst Tech Predictions of All Time,” Telegraph, June 29, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/worst-tech-predictions-of-all-time/darryl-zanuck-in-1964/.

12. The Hidden Value of Relationships

183 social networking section of Apple’s app store: Sarah Perez, “Video Texting App Glide Is Going ‘Viral,’ Now Ranked Just Ahead of Instagram in App Store,” TechCrunch, July 24, 2013, https://techcrunch.com/2013/07/24/video-texting-app-glide-is-going-viral-now-ranked-just-ahead-of-instagram-in-app-store/.

184 great customer experience: Sarah Perez, “When Growth Hacking Goes Bad,” TechCrunch, January 3, 2014, https://techcrunch.com/2014/01/03/when-growth-hacking-goes-bad/.

184path to failure, exponentially: Andy Johns, “What Does Andy Johns Think of Pinterest’s Rapid Growth? What Factors Do You Believe Drove Its Viral Growth, Especially from 2011–Present?” Quora, March 17, 2014, https://www.quora.com/Andy-Johns-4/What-does-Andy-Johns-think-of-Pinterests-rapid-growth-What-factors-do-you-believe-drove-its-viral-growth-especially-from-2011-present/answer/Andy-Johns?share=1&srid=hiM.

184for attention at any time: Des Traynor, “If It’s Important, Don’t Hack It,” Inside Intercom, February 12, 2013, https://blog.intercom.com/if-its-important-dont-hack-it/.

185 rate of repayment on Kiva is 97 percent: See the Kiva website at https://www.kiva.org/about (accessed October 13, 2017).

187 coining the term in 1916: “L. J. Hanifan,” Wikipedia, last modified June 2, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._J._Hanifan.

189 comes from the social capital of a business: Willy Bolander, Cinthia B. Satornino, Douglas E. Hughes, and Gerald R. Ferris, “Social Networks Within Sales Organizations: Their Development and Importance for Salesperson Performance,” American Marketing Association, 2015, https://www.ama.org/publications/JournalOfMarketing/Pages/social-networks-sales-salesperson-performance.aspx.

190 several courses and workshops on the subject: “Customer Relationship Strategies: The Key to Developing Long-Term Customer Relationships,” McGill University, School of Continuing Studies, accessed October 12, 2017, https://www.mcgill.ca/continuingstudies/programs-and-courses/business-and-management/courses-and-workshops/cementing.

191 bottom part of the pyramid: “The Social Brain and Its Superpowers: Matthew Lieberman, PhD, at TEDxStLouis,” filmed September 19, 2013, YouTube, posted October 7, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNhk3owF7RQ.

191not harming animals: “Compliance with Appropriate Implementation of Animal Experiments in Research and Development Activities at Otsuka Group Companies,” Otsuka Holdings Co., Ltd., accessed October 13, 2017, https://www.otsuka.com/en/rd/compliance/.

192 caused loyal and long-term customers to revolt : “Keep Daiya Vegan! Reject the Otsuka Acquisition,” Change.org, accessed October 13, 2017, https://www.change.org/p/daiya-canada-keep-daiya-vegan-reject-the-otsuka-acquisition.

193 loyal stake in your business: Jim Dougherty, “5 Steps to Building Great Business Relationships,” Harvard Business Review, December 5, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/12/5-steps-to-building-great-business-relationships.

194 dimension of their business: “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the IBM Global CEO Study 2010,” IBM Corporation,2010, http://www-07.ibm.com/events/my/ceoworkshop/downloads/1.pdf.

13. Starting a Company of One—My Story

201 “People want to be the noun”: Austin Kleon, “The Noun and the Verb,” July 22, 2015, https://austinkleon.com/2015/07/22/the-noun-and-the-verb/.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


3M, 8, 112

99U, 88, 179

1984 (Orwell), 102–3


A/B tests, 130

Abel, Jessica, 140–41

accounting, 209–10

Adams, Henry, 56

adaptability, 12–13, 18–19, 86

Adaptiv Learning Systems, 11

Airbnb, 61, 159–60

airline industry, 102, 150, 151

Amazon, 149–50, 157–58, 177

Ambassador Software, 153–54

American Egg Board, 101

amplification, 102

Andrews, Leah, 33

Anheuser-Busch, 181

apologizing, 117–18, 119

Apple, 103, 177, 192

Arnett, Jeffrey, 85–86

Arthur & Henry, 128

asynchronish, 132

attention, vs. credibility, 184

attention economy, 96–99

audience. See customers

authenticity, 186

authority, teaching and, 143–46

automation, 35, 176

  job loss and, 12–13

  launching a business, 65

  referrals and incentives, 155–56

  scalability, 125–26, 129–31


  abuse of, 50–51

  contractors and, 48–49, 195, 196

  direction of, 49–51

  intrapreneurs and, 7–9

  pitfalls of, 15–16

  as trait, 14–18


Balsamiq, 69–70

Basecamp, 18, 55, 90, 107, 133, 145, 160–61

B-corps, 78

Beauchamp, Alex, 159–60

Becker, Dean, 11

Behance, 177–78, 179

Bell, Simon, 141–42

Belsky, Scott, 177–78

Berns, Greg, 145

Best Buy, 113

better vs. bigger, 185

BetterBack, 171–72

Bickford, Charlie, 96, 107

blind growth. See growth

Blockbuster, 177

Bolander, Willy, 189

branding. See personality; values

Branson, Richard, 69, 79

Brogan, Chris, 180–82, 186, 191

Brown, Bill, 196

Brown, Brené, 58

budget. See cost

Buffer, 29–30, 70–73, 133, 188–89

Butterfield, Stewart, 19


calendar sharing, 90

car dealers, 151, 160

career advancement, 70–73

Carson, Cindy, 115

Casper, 142, 168–69

CDBaby, 100, 107, 172–73

Ceglowski, Maciej, 20

charisma, 46

Chevrolet Bolt, 175

choice, 202

Chouinard, Yvon, 70, 77–78

churn, 63, 90, 111–14, 150, 183, 194

Circle, 184

Clark, Brian, 135–38

Clear, James, 40–42, 126–27

collaboration, 132–34

Collins, Jim, 175–76

commitment, to word, 120–22, 157–58

“commitment drift,” 121–22


  action based message, 186

  for leaders, 53

  mistakes, 117–20

  onboarding, 190–94

  one-to-many, 126, 129–31

  of personality, 99

  promises, 120–22

  workload and, 89

company of one, 3–23

  accounting, 209–10

  asset of, 13

  autonomy, 14–18

  career advancement, 70–73

  customer base, 202–7

  defined, 6–7, 10

  drawbacks to, 200–202

  example of, 3–5

  goal of, 173

  growth in, see growth; scalability

  health coverage, 213

  launching, see launching

  legal considerations, 208–9

  lifestyle, 23–24

  mind-set, see mind-set

  origin story (Jarvis), 198–200

  personality, see personality

  resilience, 10–14

  rise of, 7–23

  rule of, 222

  salary, 210–11

  savings, 211–12

  simplicity, 20–23

  speed, 18–19

  vs. technology, 12–13

competence. See skills

complexity, 6–7, 20–23, 63

consumer confidence. See trust

contractors and freelancers

  collaboration, 132–34

  gratitude, 58

  overhead costs, 38–39

  relationships with, 194–97

  rise of, 16–17

  scalability, 125–26

Cook, Tim, 192, 193

CopyBlogger, 136–37

Corcoran, Barbara, 82

Corporate Canaries (Sutton), 64

Corporate Culture and Performance (Kotter and Heskett), 80


  of apologizing, 119

  of customer acquisition, 63, 106–7

  of launching, 67, 163–64, 207–8

  minimum viable profit (MVPr), 164–66

  of neutrality, 99–104

  of opportunity, 87–92

  of trust, 159–62

creation, scalability of, 127–29

Creative Class, 206

creativity, 13

Crew, 55, 67, 173

crowdfunding, 170–72

Cushion, 213

customers, 105–23

  building, 182–87, 202–7

  claiming ownership of, 182

  education of, 138–46

  emotion-based service, 108–11

  growth and, 173

  listening to, 111–14

  mistakes, 117–20

  niche of, 31

  promises to, 120–22

  relationships with, 65, 173–74

  retention of, 25–26, 61–63, 106–7

  success and, 114–17

  trust, see trust

  See also relationships

CVS, 80


Daiya Foods, 191–92

Dash, Anil, 176

decisiveness, 54, 79

Delicious, 20

Devlen, Angela, 194–95

Dinh, Ellie, 128

Dinh, Quang, 128

distraction, 133–34

Doty, Elizabeth, 121

double-sided incentives, 154, 155

Dougherty, Jim, 193–94

D’Souza, Sean, 24–27

Dunn, Brennan, 36


eBay, 149–50

Econsultancy/Responsys Cross-Channel Marketing Report, 63

Edmonds.com, 160

education. See skills;  teaching

efficiency. See productivity

ego, 41, 42–44, 63, 201

Eisingerich, Andreas, 141–42

Elixir, 8

Ellevest, 150

Elster, Kurt, 158

emails, 36, 58, 88, 129–30, 156, 222

emotion-based service, 108–11

empathy, 58, 111–14, 119, 182, 190

employees, 79, 80, 88

enough, 5, 40, 219

entitlement, 86

entrepreneurs, 15–16, 37–40, 56, 57–59, 221

envy, 42–44

Epley, Nicholas, 120–21

errors. See mistakes

Evolutionaries (Phipps), 52

Evolve + Succeed, 174

Examine.com, 17

Excalibur Screwbolts, 96, 107

expenses. See cost

expertise, 47, 138

extroverts, as leaders, 47–48


Facebook, 8, 47, 69, 133, 140

failure, 27–28, 177, 219

feedback, 113, 141, 167–69, 174–79, 206–7

Ferris, Tim, 177–78

financial capital, 187

“Fire Starter Sessions,” 174

Fishburne, Tom, 3–5, 100

Fishkin, Rand, 56–57, 59, 96


  attention and, 97–99

  collaboration, 132–34

  growth and, 30–31

  as skill, 53, 88–89

  startups vs. companies of one, 29–30

  when starting a business, 64–68, 175–76

  work week, 92

Ford, Henry, 91

Forleo, Marie, 95, 98

Foster, Richard, 217

Franzen, Alexandra, 65–66, 203

freedom, 202

freelancers. See contractors and freelancers

Fried, Jason, 90, 160–61

funding, 169–72


Gandhi, 46

Gather, 169–70

General Mills, 102

generalist skill set, 17–18, 200–202

Ghostly Ferns, 196

Gilbert, Daniel, 97

Gino, Francesca, 47, 121

Girlfriend Collective, 128

Glei, Jocelyn, 88, 89

Glide, 183

globalization, 127–28

GM, 175

goal setting, 46

Godin, Seth, 135, 137

Good to Great (Collins), 175–76

goodwill, 181

Google, 8, 15, 69

Govindarajan, Vijay, 8–9

Graham, Paul, 28

Grant, Adam, 47

gratitude, 58

Gray, Halley, 174

Groupon, 167


  acquisition vs. retention, 106–7

  business failure and, 27–28

  as byproduct, 115

  complexity of, 6–7, 20–23

  downside of, 30–34

  envy and, 42–44

  at launch, 164–66

  limits on, 24–25, 55–56

  process and structure, 30–31, 50

  reasons for, 62–64

  scalability, 124–34

  social views of, 4–5

  as solution, 9–10

  sustainable levels of, 40–42

“growth-hacking,” 60, 183

Guilizzoni, Peldi, 69–70

Guillebeau, Chris, 189


Haas, Marshall, 124–26

hackathons, 8, 133

Haines, Linda, 86

Hallman, Jonnie, 213

Hampton Creek, 101–2

Hanifan, Lyda Judson, 187

Hansson, David Heinemeier, 54–55

happiness (customer), 61, 69, 105–6, 109–10, 114, 159, 194

Harley Davidson, 95

health coverage, 213

Hellmann’s, 101–2

Heskett, James, 80

Hewlett-Packard, 88

hierarchy of needs, 191

HighRise, 190

Hill, Napoleon, 178

Hippel, Eric von, 112

Hixon, Miranda, 37–39

Hofmann, David, 47

Hogshead, Sally, 97–99

Hoogendoorn, Jamie Leigh, 131

HootSuite, 189

Hudl, 49–50, 58

Hulick, Samuel, 132

human capital, 187

humility, 48


IBM, 194

ideas, value of, 139–40

improvement. See feedback; iterations

Inc. magazine, 27–28

incentives, 154, 155–56

inflation, 62, 212

innovation, 8–9, 112, 115

intellectual property, 139

Intercom, 184

internet, 149–51

intrapreneur, 7–9

introverts, as leaders, 47–48

investing, 212


  goals of, 28, 62–63

  launching, 169–72

  speed and, 19

  stockholders, 68–69

  strings attached to, 10–11, 69

  traditional approach to, 206

Ismail, Salim, 28

iterations, 35, 83, 167–69, 174–79


Jarvis, Paul

  career, 83–85

  email, 222

  on email marketing, 130

  on exponential growth, 6–7

  fascination profile, 98

  as introvert, 48–49

  launch and iterations, 206–7

  leads, 110

  on mistakes, 118–19

  newsletter, 240

  origin story, 198–200

  personality, 94, 103

  on service, 105

Johns, Andy, 184

Just Mayo, 101–2


Karnes, Amber, 97

Katsuhiko Machida, 46

Kauffman Foundation, 27–28

Kawasaki, Guy, 100

Keltner, Dacher, 56, 58

Kickstarter, 167, 170, 171

Killingsworth, Matthew, 97

Kington, Miles, 53

Kiva, 184–85

Klein, Naomi, 127–28

Kleon, Austin, 201

Klettke, Joel, 110

Kniberg, Henrik, 49

Kongō Gumi, 216

Kongo Shigemitsu, 216

Kotter, John, 80

Kouchaki, Maryam, 121

Kramer, Mark, 81

Krispy Kreme, 31, 32

Krug, Katherine, 171–72


Lady Geek, 111

Lampard, Natasha, 218

LaPorte, Danielle, 10–11, 19, 30–31, 174, 189–90

launching, 163–79

  accounting, 209–10

  customer base, 202–7

  examples of, 163–64

  first steps, 64–68

  funding and capital requirements, 169–74, 207–8

  legal considerations, 208–9

  minimum viable profit, 164–66

  savings, 211–12

  simplicity, 167–69

  small, as goal, 64–68

  speed and frequency, 174–79

  work involved in, 200–202

leaders and leadership, 45–59

  autonomy, 49–51

  employee time, 90

  growth and, 29–30

  ownership of mistakes, 117–20

  power paradox of, 56–59

  purpose, 80

  role of, 50

  skills, 51–54

  social image of, 45–49

  workaholism, 54–56

legal considerations, 208–9

Leggett, Kate, 111

Levels, Pieter, 35

Lewis, Meg, 196

Lieberman, Matthew, 190–91

Liebovitz, Liel, 120

lifestyle, 23–24, 222

Lindiwe, 184–85

LinkedIn, 111

listening, 47, 111–14, 116–17, 203

loyalty, 79, 105–6, 107, 116, 141–42, 154


MacAskill, William, 82–83

MailChimp, 130, 154

mailing list, 60, 116, 126–27, 135, 137, 181, 182, 188

malpractice, 119

management. See leaders and leadership

Mansharamani, Vikram, 52

Mark, Gloria, 88


  aversion to, 180

  customer happiness, 114

  defined, 156

  education, 142, 143, 160–61

  emails, 36, 58, 88, 129–30, 156, 222

  newsletters, 60, 103, 126, 129–31, 138, 186, 240

  trust, 156–58

  trust by proxy, 152–56

Marketoon, 4, 5

Marmite, 100, 102

Martin, Steve, 64

Maslow, Abraham, 191

Mason, Andrew, 167

mastery. See skills

Maud, Kaitlin, 16–17, 18–19

Mayer, Marissa, 193

McDonald’s, 13

Medium, 178

Milbrath, Sam, 189

Milkwood Designs, 37–39

Millman, Debbie, 144

mind-set, 9, 77–93

  entitlement, 86

  opportunities and obligations, 87–89

  passion, 81–87

  purpose, 77–81

  scheduling, 89–92

minimum viable profit (MVPr), 164–66, 179, 207–8

mistakes, 117–20

Morita, Akio, 178

Motorola, 177

MOZ, 56–57

mudita, 43–44

Mullainathan, Sendhil, 91

multitasking, 87–88

Murphy, Kyle, 49–50, 58

Musk, Elon, 144

Myers, Dave, 8


Need/Want, 124–26, 164

Netflix, 120, 177

networking, 180–81

neutrality, cost of, 99–104

Newell-Legner, Ruby, 106

Newport, Cal, 82

newsletters, 60, 103, 126, 129–31, 138, 186, 240

niche market, 158, 169

Niehues, James, 196

Nivea, 192

Nomad List, 35

Norris, Dan, 167–69

Nortel, 21


Oates, Wayne, 55

Obhi, Sukhvinder, 56, 58

obscurity, 66

onboarding, 115, 131, 190–94

O’Neill, Kate, 60–62, 63, 106

one-to-many relationship, 126

online payment systems, 176

Onsen Keiunkan hotel, 215–17

opportunities, cost of, 87–92

Oprah, 95

Orwell, George, 103

Orwell, Sol, 17

Otsuka, 191–92

overhead costs, 38–39, 63

Owner Media Group, 180–82

ownership, 70–73


paradigm. See social views

passion vs. purpose, 81–87

Patagonia, 70, 77–78

Pebble, 167, 170

Pencavel, John, 92

performance, purpose-based companies, 80

personal connection. See relationships

personality, 94–104

  attention economy, 96–99

  commitment, to word, 120–22

  vs. neutrality, 99–104

  relationship building, 193

Pets.com, 32

Phipps, Carter, 52

“Pillow Talk,” 142

Pinboard, 20

pivot, 19

placation, 102

Planet of the Apps (TV show), 54

Pointe Restaurant, 161

polarization, 100, 103–4

Porter, Michael, 81

Post-it notes, 8

power paradox of leadership, 56–59

“priority,” 87

problem solving, 13, 173

prodding, 102

product development, scalability, 127–29

productivity, 8, 18, 80, 87–88, 132–34

productivity audit, 89–90


  commitment and, 121–22

  customers, 65, 105, 106, 114–17, 205

  empathy, 111, 112

  vs. growth, 68–70

  at launch, 207–8

  measuring, 185

  minimum viable profit, 164–66

  realized vs. potential, 126

  salary, 210–11

  short-term vs. long-term, 183

  social capital, 187–90

psychology, 24, 52–53

Psychotactics, 24–27


  of a business, 173

  business decisions and, 79

  company of one, 201–2

  consequences of, 80–81

  importance of, 77–78

  vs. passion, 81–87

  resilience and, 12

  short-term vs. long-term, 80–81


quality vs. quantity, 69–70, 199

Queen of Snow Globes, 33

quitting, 179


RackSpace, 109

RainMaker Digital, 137

real-time messaging, 132

Reas, Evan, 184

recommendations. See referrals

RedBox, 177

referrals, 109, 149–50, 152–56

relationships, 180–97

  authenticity in, 182

  building a customer base, 202–7

  colleagues and contractors, 194–97

  customer retention, 190–94

  one-to-many, 126, 129–31

  social capital, 187–90

  See also customers

resilience, 10–14, 53, 57–58, 86

respect, 193

responsiveness. See adaptability

Ressler, Cali, 15

retention, customer, 61–63, 106, 185, 190–94

retention, of employees, 6–7

ReWork (Fried), 90

Riley, Pat, 33

risk, 37–40, 221

ROWEs (Results-Only Work Environments), 15, 18

Rubel, Steve, 96–97

Ruby on Rails, 54–55

runway buffer, 211–12


SaaS, 110, 131

salary, 125, 165, 208, 210–11

SalesForce Pardot, 115

Sandberg, Sheryl, 47

Satornino, Cinthia, 189

savings, 211–12

scalability, 124–34

  collaboration, 132–34

  communication, 126, 129–31

  examples of, 124–27

  product development, 127–29

Scarcity (Mullainathan and Shafir), 91

Schachter, Joshua, 20

scheduling, 89–92

scope of influence, 70–73

Sears, 177

self-awareness, 57

selling, 180

Semco Partners, 27

Semler, Ricardo, 27, 219

servant leadership, 48

service, 48, 105–7, 108–11

Seventh Generation, 78–79

Shafir, Eldar, 91

Sharp, 46

Sheldon, Jeff, 115–16, 154, 163–64, 169–70

“shinise”, 216–17

Shopify, 124, 158

Silver, Spencer, 8

simplicity, 20–23, 167–69

single-tasking, 88

Sivers, Derek, 100, 172–73

skills, 51–54

  autonomy, 14–18

  generalists, 17–18, 200–202

  growth, 33

  passion, 82, 86

  success, 83

slow fashion, 128

small, as goal, 24–44

  better vs. bigger, 24–30

  career advancement, 70–73

  envy, 42–44

  growth drawbacks, 30–34

  meaningful growth, 60–64

  minimum viable profit, 164–66

  profit vs. growth, 68–70

  risk and, 37–40

  vs. traditional approach, 34–40

  upper bounds, 40–42

  when starting a business, 64–68, 163–74

SmallBizTrends, on referrals, 109

Snapchat, 95

So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Newport), 82

social capital, 187–90

social media

  brand reputation, 192

  mistakes and, 120

  personality, 97–99

  relationships, 115–16, 188, 189

  scalability, 126

  viral content, 159–60

social views

  on business growth, 4–5, 24–25

  on leaders, 45–49

  on work, 34–40

Socrates, 42

Sorenson, Olav, 171

Southwest Airlines, 40–42

spamvite, 183, 184

specialization, vs. generalist, 51–54

speed, 18–19

Staples, 181

Starbucks, 31–32

starting a business. See company of one; launching

Startup Genome Project, 27, 28

startups, 28, 124, 219

stereotypes. See social views

stockholders, 68–69

stories, 102–3

stress, 63, 88, 89

structure, growth and, 6, 30–31, 50


  Buffer and, 29–30

  customer renewals/retention, 61–63

  of customers, 65, 114–17

  definition, 24–25

  education, 144

  envy, 42–44

  opportunity, 55–56

  purpose, 79

  relationships, 194

  resilience, 11–14

  skills, 83

  society’s view of, 9–10

sustainability, 40–42, 80–81, 164, 217–18

Sutton, Gary, 64


Tao Te Ching, 48

teaching, 135–46

  authority, 143–46

  benefits of, 138–39

  building a customer base, 203–4

  drawbacks to, 140–43

  example of, 135–38

  ideas vs. execution, 139–40

  onboarding, 115

  simplicity, 168–69

  social capital, 188

  trust and, 160

technology, 12–13, 34–36, 125–26, 176

Tesla, 13

Tetrick, Joshua, 101–2

Think and Grow Rich (Hill), 178

Thompson, Jody, 15

Trader Joe’s, 113

transparency, 117–20, 139, 145, 149–51

Traynor, Des, 184

Trello, 110–11

trust, 149–62

  autonomy, 50–51

  building through education, 141–42, 143–46

  cost of, 159–62

  marketing, 156–58

  referrals, 109–11

  relationships, 182, 188

  sales, 185

trust by proxy, 152–56

turnover, employee, 79

Twitter, 111, 178


UFC, 139–40

Ugmonk, 115–16, 154, 163–64, 169–70

Unilever, 101–2

United Airlines, 102, 192

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 101

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 101

Unsplash, 173

Unsubscribe (Glei), 88

updates. See feedback; iterations

upper bounds, growth, 40–42

Upwork, 16

Urban, Glen, 149–51

Urban Outfitters, 97

UserIQ, 115


Vallerand, Robert, 81–82


  envy and, 43–44

  misalignment of, 191–92

  personality, 94–96

  purpose of company and, 77–78

  sustainability, 128

“Van Winkles,” 142

vanity metrics, 157

venture capital, 28, 169–72

viral content, 159–60

Virgin, 69, 79, 167


Waid, Adam, 115

Wakefield Brunswick, 194–95

Walmart, 177

Watson (IBM), 13

WD-40, 175

Wealthfront, 184

WealthSimple, 150

Wells, H.G., 13

WestJet, 102

Wheatley, Jon, 125

Whitesides, George, 168

“why.” See purpose

Williams, Ev, 178

win-win relationships, 79, 96, 103, 115–17, 151, 188, 202–7

Womersley, Katie, 72

Word of Mouth Marketing Association, 152

word-of-mouth publicity, 107, 109, 110, 115–16, 144, 152–56

WordPress, 35, 176


  commitment to, 86–87

  in company of one, 200–202

  defined, 16

  engaging work traits, 83

  passion and, 82

workaholism, 54–56

World Domination Summit, 189


Y Combinator, 28

YouTube, 176


Zafirovski, Mike, 21

Zander, Ed, 177

Zanuck, Darryl, 177

Zingales, Luigi, 121

Zuckerberg, Mark, 47, 69, 193

About the Author

Beginning as a corporate web designer and internet consultant, Paul Jarvis first spent years working with top professional athletes like Warren Sapp, Steve Nash, and Shaquille O’Neal with their online presence, and with large companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and Warner Music. He then migrated to working with online entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte, and Kris Carr to help build their online brands.

These days, Paul Jarvis spends his time writing, creating software, podcasting, and teaching online courses with his own company of one which is called Mighty Small Ventures. His writing and ideas have been featured around the internet in places like WIRED, Fast Company, USA Today, VICE News, and by MailChimp and Adobe.

When not working, Paul enjoys gardening, driving fast cars, sarcasm and hiking. He lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with his wife Lisa.

Paul writes a weekly newsletter called The Sunday Dispatches, where he shares his latest writing and ideas. It’s free and you can sign up at www.pjrvs.com/signup/. You can also find him on Twitter @pjrvs.

To learn more about how to start your own company of one, join the Co1 community, listen to the Companies of One podcast, and get other free resources related to the book, visit the website: www.ofone.co.

Connect with HMH on Social Media

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Part I


Part II


Part III




Defining a Company of One

In the fall of 2010, Tom Fishburne quit his seemingly great career as the vice president of marketing at a large consumer foods company. He wanted to draw cartoons. This turned out to be Tom’s best career move—both emotionally and, surprisingly, financially.

He wasn’t just following his passion on a whim, nor did he become some sort of anti-capitalist hippie. He carefully planned out and executed his decision to ensure, as much as anyone could, that he would thrive.

As a child, Tom was obsessed with drawing cartoons—so much so that he would take his doctor father’s prescription pad and draw flip-books on the back.

Then, at Harvard, while working toward his MBA, his friends prompted him to submit cartoons to the campus paper, the Harbus, which he did for the rest of the time he was at school. Still, once finished with school, he took a job in the corporate world, because it seemed like the logical next step after receiving a business degree. Tom was also part of the SITCOM demographic (Single Income Two Children Oppressive Mortgage), so he figured he needed a “stable” job. Cartooning remained a hobby, however, and he would share with coworkers his cartoons poking fun at corporate marketing—the very industry he was now part of.

As Tom worked his corporate job and his cartoons were shared by his friends, and then by their friends, and then outside their circle, they started to garner attention. He began taking on side jobs to draw during the evenings and weekends for companies that were eager to pay him. It wasn’t until he had a safe runway of such clients lined up, and money saved up, that he pulled the trigger to leave his corporate career and start his own venture.

In the seven years since quitting, Tom has made two to three times more income as a cartoonist than when he was an executive. This didn’t happen because he grew an agency, or hired more employees, or expanded to having satellite offices around the globe. His company, Marketoon, is still just he and his wife, along with a few freelancers who work only on isolated projects. Tom and his wife work from home, in a sunny studio in their backyard in Marin County, California, where their two daughters regularly sit and draw cartoons in the afternoon with them.


Traditionally in business, growth has always been seen as a by-product of success. But Tom doesn’t care much for how things are supposed to work. He knows the rules of business—he studied at one of the top schools in the world, then put that knowledge to work at a massive corporation. He just wasn’t interested in following those conventional rules.

Typically, when a company does well, it hires more people, builds more infrastructure, and works at increasing its bottom line. There’s a core assumption that growth is always good, is always unlimited, and is required for success. Anything else is pushed aside as not being a top priority. If Tom had grown his company, even though he has a waiting list of clients wanting to hire him, he’d have less time to draw cartoons (as he’d be too busy managing cartoonists) and would have far less time with his family in their backyard studio. For Tom, that kind of growth wouldn’t be smart or logical. It would go against what he values in his life and in his career.

Consumer culture says the same thing—that more is always better. Through advertising, we’re sold a bill of goods that requires us to love the things we buy only until a newer or bigger version is put out for sale. Bigger houses, faster cars, more stuff to pack into our closets, garages, and then, inevitably, our storage lockers. But under this hype, this fetishization of wanting more, are empty promises of happiness and fulfillment that never seem to come to fruition. Sometimes “enough” or even less is all we need, since “more” too often equates to more stress, more problems, and more responsibilities in both life and business.

We can easily run a business with less, although to many people that seems counterintuitive. Tom doesn’t have to worry about human resources, rent for office space, salaries, or even the responsibility of managing employees. He hires outside people only when a paying project requires them, and they too have other clients and other work; they can fend for themselves when they’re not working on a job for Marketoon.

Tom has been able to create a stable, long-term business that’s small enough to handle any economic climate, resilient enough to not have to lean too heavily on a single project or client, and autonomous enough to let him build a life around his work (not the other way around). He’s been able to grow his revenue without having to also grow the trappings that typically come with it. He’s a brilliant businessperson who gets to spend every day with his family, drawing cartoons, with his daughters, for multinational companies that pay him much more than most illustrators earn.

In short, Tom is the perfect example of a company of one.

A Company of One, Defined

A company of one is simply a business that questions growth.

A company of one resists and questions some forms of traditional growth, not on principle, but because growth isn’t always the most beneficial or financially viable move. It can be a small business owner or a small group of founders. Employees, executive leaders, board members, and corporate leaders who want to work with more autonomy and self-sufficiency can adopt the principles of a company of one as well. In fact, if big businesses want to keep their brightest minds in their employ, they should look to adopt some of the principles of companies of one.

I’ve personally seen the most success in my life when I’ve figured out solutions to problems without having to do what traditional businesses do to solve problems—hire more people, throw more money at the problem, or build complex infrastructures to support the extra employees. Basically, I’m not interested in addressing problems by throwing “more” at them. Solving with “more” means more complexity, more costs, more responsibilities, and typically more expenses. More is generally the easiest answer, but not the smartest. I’ve found both delight and financial benefits in working out solutions to problems without growing. Instead, I and many others enjoy handling problems with the resources currently available. Although it can require a little more ingenuity, solving problems this way can set a business up for long-term stability, since less is needed to keep it afloat.

In October 2016, I wrote a blog post saying I wasn’t interested in exponentially growing any company I own or build. I felt like the single red fish in a school of green ones. But then an interesting thing happened: replies started to pour in. People doing all sorts of exciting things in business, from selling fair-trade caramels to working at the biggest tech companies to manufacturing clothing, emailed me that they felt the same way—they had resisted traditional growth and had benefited from it. As I started to develop my own ideas around this concept of staying small and questioning growth, I continued to discover more and more research, stories, and examples of others doing the same. I found that there’s a silent movement to approach business in this way that isn’t just for cash-strapped tech startups or people who make just enough to scrape by. This movement includes individuals and businesses making six and seven figures and becoming happier than most businesspeople are with the work they do. The school of red fish is, ironically enough, growing.

The Rise of Companies of One

Technically, everyone should be a company of one.

Even at a large corporation, you’re essentially the only person who looks out for your own best interests and continued employment. No one else cares about you keeping your job as much as you do. It’s your responsibility to define and achieve your own success, even in a larger framework of employment.

It can be harder to be a company of one within a corporation, but it’s not impossible. Companies of one within organizations can thrive and even be responsible for massive progress. Over the years these individuals have been credited with everything from inventing Post-it notes to developing Sony’s PlayStation.

The word “intrapreneur” points to one example of a company of one within a larger organization. It describes corporate leaders who come up with their own goals and then execute them. They don’t need much direction, micromanaging, or oversight, as they’ve been given full work autonomy. They know what needs doing and they just do it. They’re aware of the needs of the company and how their talents fit, and they just get to work.

Where the term “intrapreneur” varies from a company of one is that intrapreneurs are typically responsible for product creation and marketing—that is, creating something new, with the resources of the company behind them. Companies of one within organizations don’t need to be managers or create products—they simply need to find suitable ways to become better and more productive, without more resources or team members. They can certainly be managers or product creators, but that’s not the only definition.

Companies of one within larger corporations have a history of helping large corporations make breakthroughs and dominate markets. Dave Myers, who worked for W. L. Gore and Associates, the company that makes GoreTex fabric, was given “dabble” time to develop new ideas within the company and ultimately came up with the idea to use a kind of coating they were already manufacturing on guitar strings. The result was the best-selling acoustic guitar string brand, Elixir (the strings I use on my guitars—they’re head and shoulders above the competition). Sometimes companies of one happen by accident. Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was working to create an adhesive for aerospace. In playing with the formula, he created a lighter adhesive that didn’t leave any residue. It wouldn’t work for planes, but it was perfect for paper products, and thus Post-it notes were born.

Some large corporations, like Google, give their employees “personal time” to experiment with ideas outside their typical job roles. Facebook uses “hackathons,” which typically last several days and bring together computer programmers to collaborate on something big in a relatively short amount of time. It was a hackathon that led to the creation of Facebook’s “Like” button, which arguably connects its ecosystem to the rest of the internet.

In a recent study, Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth, found that for every 5,000 employees, at least 250 will be true innovators and 25 will be innovators and great intrapreneurs (or companies of one) as well.

Many large corporations have companies of one hiding within them. If the skills and passion for innovation and autonomy of these employees are fostered, it can greatly benefit the entire business as a whole. But if they are stifled in their creativeness and freethinking, they tend to move on quickly to other employment or entrepreneurialism. They’re rarely motivated solely by money or salaries and lean more toward reinventing their job and role in a way that works best for them.

If you’re a company of one, your mind-set is to build your business around your life, not the other way around. For me, being a company of one means not having to bother with infinite growth, since that was never the purpose of my working. Instead, I just focus on maximizing work in a way that works for me, which can sometimes mean doing less. Work can be done at a pace that suits my sanity rather than one that supports costly overhead, expenses, or salaries. As much as I enjoy growing my wealth, I also realize that there’s a point of diminishing returns if I don’t also take care of myself and my well-being.

Society has ingrained in us a very particular idea of what success in business looks like. You work as many hours as possible, and when your business starts to do well, you scale everything up in every direction. To this day, this strategy is considered what it takes to be a success in business—solving problems by adding “more” to the solution. Anyone who stays small, in this line of thinking, hasn’t done well enough to add “more” to the mix. But what if we challenge this way of thinking in business? What if staying small is what a company does when it’s figured out how to solve problems without adding “more” to them?

Growth, especially blind growth, isn’t the best solution to any problem a business might face. And going further, growing your business might actually be the worst decision you could make for the longevity of your business.

So a company of one is not anti-growth, or anti-revenue, and it’s not just a one-person business either (although it certainly can be). It’s also not just working with a tech-focused or startup mind-set, although leaning on technology, automation, and the connectedness of the internet definitely makes it easier to be a company of one. A company of one questions growth first, and then resists it if there’s a better, smarter way forward.

Next, let’s look at the four typical traits of all companies of one: resilience, autonomy, speed, and simplicity.


Danielle LaPorte, a best-selling author and self-made entrepreneur, reaches millions of people each month with her message of conscious goal-setting and entrepreneurship and is one of Oprah’s (yes, that Oprah) “Super Soul 100” leaders. But in the beginning, she was fired by the very CEO she had hired months earlier.

In believing that exponential growth was required for her business (more on this in Chapter 2), she took $400,000 in funding from private investors with the provision that she had to hire a “wunderkind CEO” to run the business. So she incorporated and hired a thought-to-be superstar.

But six months later, the investors and CEO wanted to change the business model, which meant relegating Danielle’s role to just a few blog posts a month and substantially decreasing her pay. Note: named after her, the business was a personality-driven brand based on her own unique personality and style.

Once Danielle got over the supreme shock of what happened, which involved a lot of yoga, tears, and good friends, she began to bounce back. She brought on a new team of A-players, created a website within a few weeks, and figured out the fastest way to start making money on her own with a new business that she had full control over. She began offering consulting services that became so popular that she had to create a waiting list, and then she wrote a best-selling book.

In all the success of her new website, she realized that the strings attached to other people’s money are often those other people’s opinions about your business and your life. In hardship, she was able to find her path to becoming a company of one. Being or becoming a company of one has a lot to do with resilience: the capacity and fortitude to recover quickly from difficulties—like a changing job market, or being fired. Like a shift in a larger company’s focus, or the need to adapt to new disruptive technology—or even to avoid being replaced by robots. (No, this book isn’t a taking a turn toward sci-fi . . . more on this in a second.)

Dean Becker, the CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems, has been researching and developing programs around the idea of resilience since 1997. His company found that the level of resilience a person exhibits determines their success in business, far more than their level of education, training, or experience. Contrary to popular belief, resilience isn’t something that only a select few are born with. It can most definitely be learned. Resilient people possess three—absolutely learnable—characteristics.

The first trait that resilient people have is an acceptance of reality. They don’t need for things to be a certain way and don’t engage in wishful thinking. Instead of imagining “if only this changed, I could thrive,” they have a down-to-earth view that most of what happens in our lives is not entirely within our control and the best we can do is to steer the boat a little as we float down the river of life. For example, I’m not going to stop writing today because my neighbor is using his deafening chainsaw. Rather, I’m just going to close my window, turn on some electronic music, and get back to work. Danielle LaPorte didn’t throw in the towel after being fired; instead, she took a minute, regrouped, then started again.

Often, it’s easier to accept reality with a bit of dark humor. My wife, a firefighter and first responder, regularly jokes around with her department because they’re routinely exposed to the worst day of someone’s life—houses burning down, heart attacks, even chainsaw accidents. Their humor is a way of coping that her fire chief actively encourages, not to make light of bad situations, but to add a sense of light to bad situations. Their sense of humor is just as important as their ability to save lives and put out fires. However crass it might sound to an outsider, dark humor helps first responders and firefighters accept their reality and therefore keeps them resilient in doing their essential work.

The second characteristic of resilient people is a sense of purpose—being motivated by a sense of meaning rather than by just money. Although purpose and money are not mutually exclusive, you’re more likely to be resilient when you know that even in awful or stressful situations, you’re working toward a greater and larger good. This sense of purpose comes from values that are unchangeable and central to both individuals and companies as a whole. Companies of one know that they can enjoy their work without always enjoying every aspect of it. So, even if work is sometimes stressful, as long as it relates to a greater whole or a greater end result, that tough work is worth it in the end. For example, you may get stressed out on the day you launch a new product or land a new client, but if the product or the client aligns with the purpose of your business, that momentary anxiety is worth it, since not every day will be nearly as stressful.

The last trait of resilient people in a company of one is the ability to adapt when things change—because they invariably do. In Canada, 42 percent of jobs are at risk, according to Ryerson University, from advances in automation, and 62 percent of jobs in America will be in danger within the next ten to twenty years, according to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2016. As much as we can joke about “welcoming our robot overlords” (a memorable quote from the 1977 film adaptation of H. G. Wells’s short story “Empire of the Ants”), the threat is real. McDonald’s has a robot that can flip a burger in ten seconds and could replace an entire crew within a few years. Tesla and other companies are working on self-driving big rigs to replace truckers for long-range cargo delivery. Highly skilled jobs are also at risk: IBM’s Watson, for instance, can suggest available treatments for specific ailments, drawing on the body of medical research and data on disease.

However, what’s difficult to automate is exactly what makes a company of one great: the ability to creatively solve problems in new and unique ways without throwing “more” at the problem. Whereas workers in “doing” roles can be replaced by robots or even by other workers, the role of creatively solving difficult problems is more dependent on an irreplaceable individual. Regardless of the rise of the so-called robot overlords, this is where the strength of a company of one lies.

A company of one sees coming shifts like the above and can pivot. For example, an interior designer may spend less time measuring and ordering supplies and more time creating innovative design concepts based on a unique client’s needs. Or a financial adviser may spend less time analyzing a client’s financial situation and more time understanding the client’s particular needs and teaching them how best to manage their money.

These industry disruptions or market changes aren’t a sky-is-falling scenario—they’re truly just opportunities to redefine work and adapt to changes. When I was doing web design full-time, each time an economic bubble burst or a recession hit I found myself in a great place to find more jobs because I could offer the quality of work a larger agency could provide, but at a price that had one less zero in it. And not only was I still making more profit than if I had been salaried at an agency, but I could still make the most of the price I was charging because my overhead was almost nothing past having a computer and writing off the second bedroom in a rented condo. And then, when the economy picked back up, agencies were so busy that they had to farm out work, which I was available for. So either way, I had a model for revenue that larger agencies couldn’t have replicated without scaling down immensely.

Improvising when change happens or when difficulties arise in the market allows you to make do with what’s at hand, without having to add “more” into the mix—as in, more employees, more expenses, or more infrastructure.

These traits for resilience are absolutely learnable, not just inherent. In fact, they must be learned, and then fostered, if you are creating a company of one.

  Autonomy and Control

Companies of one are becoming more popular because people want more control and autonomy in their lives, especially when it comes to their careers. This is why so many people are choosing this path: being a company of one lets you control your own life and your job.

But to achieve autonomy as a company of one, you have to be a master at your core skill set. Competence and autonomy are tied together because the opposite—having complete control but not a clue what you’re doing—is a recipe for disaster. So just as Tom commanded a knowledge of marketing from his Harvard MBA education and subsequent corporate marketing job, as well as a talent for drawing that he had fostered since childhood and worked at weekly, you have to have a skill set, or a combination of skills, that’s in demand. With a well-developed skill set, you’ll know what areas will benefit from growth and what potential places for growth don’t make sense.

Basically, you have to be good at your skill set before you can expect to achieve autonomy from using it.

Typically, you can’t acquire this mastery without putting in some time at the beginning of your career in a job that’s less autonomous, offers less control, and requires less resilience, since you’re managed by the whims of someone higher up. Companies of one know how to break standard rules for the greater good. Doing so is tricky, however, as it involves learning the rules first. In the beginning, a pre–company of one adopts the mind-set of a sponge—basically, you learn everything you can about your profession, your industry, and your customers, and you work at collecting valuable skills of your trade.

Corporations that excel at creating autonomy for their best employees often empower them to become something like companies of one: these employees work faster and more ingeniously, and they use fewer resources. For example, Google gives its engineers “20 percent time”: they can work on whatever project they want for 20 percent of their time. More than half of the products and projects Google releases were created during this 20 percent time.

Other companies set up ROWEs (Results-Only Work Environments), in which employees don’t have set schedules, all meetings are optional, and it’s entirely up to employees how they spend their time working. They can choose to work from home, they can work from 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM if it suits them, and they can sculpt their job however they want, as long as the results benefit the company as a whole. Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have defined and then studied ROWE implementations for over a decade, and they find that in these kinds of autonomous environments, productivity goes up, employee satisfaction goes up, and turnover goes down.

For entrepreneurs or those working for themselves, autonomy may seem easier to achieve but can come with several pitfalls. Often when you start working for yourself you trade micromanaging bosses for micromanaging clients. The solution to finding better clients and better projects has a lot to do with your skill and experience, just as I mentioned at the start of this section. When you’re starting out and your skills aren’t as developed, you won’t be able to lead projects or be too picky about the type of work you do. But as your expertise increases and your network grows, you can land better clients—the kind who listen more carefully to how you would do what they’re paying you to do—and you can be more selective about the types of customers and projects you want to take on.

Kaitlin Maud, a digital strategist and currently a freelancer, put in her time developing her skills at an agency for five years. She spent that time learning the ropes of her industry as well as building a solid network of contacts, with whom she actively kept in touch. Just like Tom the cartoonist, she didn’t venture out on her own until she had enough freelance projects to bring in a relatively stable side income.

Kaitlin thinks that a sense of autonomy looks different on everyone. She herself has created a work life that rewards her for getting her work done quickly. In a typical company, regardless of how quickly you work, you’re still required to be there for a set number of hours a day; in other words, there’s no reward for productivity or efficiency. Kaitlin has also found that she’s able to get work done with more focus from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, so she doesn’t schedule meetings or calls during that window of time.

According to a study from Upwork, freelancing now accounts for more than one-third of jobs in America. Like Kaitlin, people are increasingly choosing to go freelance—that is, they’re not using freelance work as a fallback because their job disappeared. Freelancing makes up almost half the jobs being done by younger people, who are choosing to freelance in hopes of gaining more control over their career path. As a society, we’re gradually starting to view “work” not as a single place of employment, but as a series of engagements or projects. The millennial generation in particular views the traditional aspiration to a corporate job in an office as something like a satirical sitcom, à la The Office, than something they wish to strive for.

With a stable of side project clients and a vast network of contacts in hand, Kaitlin left her agency job and started to freelance full-time. When she started, she first worked at leveling up her skill set before focusing on becoming more autonomous. Since going solo, she’s had a steady waiting list, regularly has to turn down projects that are a fit for her values, and has worked with some large companies like Beats by Dre, Taco Bell, Adobe, and Toms. Her work, because she put in the time to become great at it, now revolves around her life. She can focus entirely on the type of work she loves, solving problems with creative solutions online—basically, Kaitlin is the Olivia Pope (of Scandal fame) of the internet. She fixes things that no one else can—and she’s well on her way to becoming her own company of one.

Sol Orwell, a fellow Canadian, has refused venture capital for his very profitable business, Examine.com, because he doesn’t see an upside in relinquishing control to venture capitalists. He doesn’t need cash—his company makes seven figures per year. He isn’t looking for a quick out or trying to sell—he enjoys his work a great deal. As a majority owner, he doesn’t have to answer to anyone except his paying customers. Sol would rather have ownership of his work and the freedom to not have to fill every minute of every day with his job. Success to him means making a great living, but not at the expense of being able to take long midday breaks to walk his dog or attend hourlong dance classes on a Wednesday afternoon.

But bear this in mind: achieving control over a company of one requires more than just using the core skill you are hired for. It also requires proficiency at sales, marketing, project management, and client retention. Whereas most normal corporate workers can be hyperfocused on a single skill, companies of one, even within a larger business, need to be generalists who are good at several things—often all at once.


Companies of one work best under constraints—because that’s where creativity and ingenuity thrive. Companies like Basecamp have a four-day workweek during the summer (no work on Fridays) because it helps them prioritize what’s important to work on and what they can let go of. The key for their employees is to figure out how to work smarter to accomplish tasks with the time they’ve got, not just harder. Companies of one question their systems, processes, and structure to become more efficient and to achieve more with the same number of employees and fewer hours of work.

On the company intranet, Basecamp has a “weekend check-in” where employees can post photos of what they did on their three days off from work. This helps this remote-based company build connections between its employees, who are spread all over the globe.

Speed is not merely about frantically working faster. It’s about figuring out the best way to accomplish a task with new and efficient methods. This is the concept at work in the ROWE method: employees no longer have to work a set amount of time, but are rewarded when they finish their tasks faster. By being smarter at getting more work done faster when you work for yourself, you can create a more flexible schedule that fits work into your life in better ways.

Tasks that used to take Kaitlin days to accomplish in the open-office environment of the agency she worked at now take her only a few hours, because she’s figured out what needs to be in place to maximize her productivity. This gives her the space in her workday, when she’s not at peak productivity, to head to the gym or spend time with her newborn daughter. She’s able to accomplish eight hours of agency work in four hours of freelance work, freeing up half her day. She still works hard and sometimes has to work much longer as project deadlines loom, but she enjoys the reality that most of the time on her schedule is her own.

Another aspect of speed in a company of one is the ability to pivot quickly when a customer base or market changes. As a solo worker or small company, a company of one finds this much easier to do, because it has less infrastructure to cut through.

So speed works to the advantage of companies of one not only because they’re able to pivot when needed, and far faster, but also because they have less of the corporate mass that often gets in the way. Stewart Butterfield started out developing online games, like Game Neverending and Glitch. Both games failed to gain enough of an audience to become profitable, but both times Stewart was able to pivot his (then) small teams, pluck key features from the games, and spin them off into their own products—the photo-sharing site Flickr and Slack, an internal chat system that is now worth over $1 billion. Facing the limitations of both time and money running out, Stewart’s teams managed to hyperfocus on a single solution and bring it to market. By keeping his company small and by paying attention to what was working and what wasn’t, he was able to quickly move to spin-offs that ultimately netted great gains.

When I asked Danielle LaPorte if she’d take funding again for a new business idea, she said no. She’d learned that not accepting outside funding allowed her to move faster. Instead, she said, she would quickly release a first version of a new product that would fund iterations on it, keeping her costs and expenses as low as possible in order to move toward profitability as quickly as possible. The fewer staff and less external funding involved, the faster a company can move, whether forward or in a new, more promising direction.


The best example of the power of simplicity comes from two rival social bookmarking services, Pinboard and Delicious. Delicious grew quickly, adding lots of features, and its founder, Joshua Schachter, made investments early on and grew Delicious into a company with approximately 5.3 million users. The company was sold to Yahoo for somewhere between $15 million and $30 million. Unable to make it profitable, Yahoo sold it to Avos Systems, which removed the popular support forums that Delicious users had come to love. A few years later, Avos sold Delicious to Science, Inc., where Delicious users were continually leaving and using other services.

While Delicious was rapidly changing hands, Pinboard was started by web developer Maciej Ceglowski. He offered his simple service to users at $3 per year, a fee that increased over time to $11 per year. Since the beginning, Pinboard has been a one-person company with a limited feature-set and with no investors. Ceglowski operated it as a side business for the first few months, until it was generating enough income for him to move to working on Pinboard full-time.

Then, on June 1, 2017, Pinboard acquired Delicious for just $35,000 and quickly shut it down to new users, offering existing users the option to migrate their accounts to Pinboard instead.

After rapid growth and increased complexity in its offerings and internal structure, Delicious, in which millions of dollars had been invested, was ultimately consumed by a company of one for a tiny price. Pinboard had kept things simple, played the long game, and ended up winning.

Typically, as companies gain success or traction, they grow by taking on additional complexities. These complexities can often detract from a business’s original or primary focus, resulting in more costs and the investment of more time and money.

For a company of one at any size, simple rules, simple processes, and simple solutions typically win. Complexity is often well intentioned, especially at large corporations, where, as complicated processes are added to other complicated processes and systems, accomplishing any task requires more and more work on the job and not toward finishing the task. It can be a slippery slope: one step is added to a process without increasing its complexity too much, but then, after a few years of adding steps here and there, a task that once took a handful of steps now requires sign-off by six department heads, a legal review, and a dozen or more meetings with stakeholders.

By contrast, growth for a company of one can mean simplifying rules and processes, which frees up time to take on either more work or more clients, because tasks can be finished faster. With this goal in mind, companies of one routinely question everything they do. Is this process efficient enough? What steps can be removed and the end result will be the same or better? Is this rule helping or hindering our business?

For a company of one to succeed, a strategy for simplifying isn’t just a desirable goal but an absolute requirement. Having too many products or services, too many layers of management, and/or too many rules and processes for completing tasks leads to atrophy. Simplicity has to be a mandate.

When Mike Zafirovski became the CEO of Nortel, he implemented an unambiguous theme of “business made simple” across the entire company. From reducing costs to speeding up product development, to making it easier for customers to get the latest technology, he wove the idea of “simple” into every aspect of their large company.

Often, complexity can creep in right from the beginning—when you’re just thinking about starting a new business. You begin to assume that your business requires “essentials” like office space, websites, business cards, computers, fax machines (just kidding), and custom software solutions. In reality, it’s usually possible to start a business—especially the freelance or startup kind—just by finding and then helping a single paying customer. Then doing it again, and again. And only adding new items or processes to the mix when they’re absolutely required.

If you have an idea for starting a business that requires a lot of money, time, or resources, you’re most likely thinking too big. Your idea can be scaled down to the basics—do it now, do it on the cheap, and do it quickly—and then iterated upon. Start without automation or infrastructure or overhead. Start by helping one customer. Then another. This puts your focus on helping people immediately with what you’ve got available to you right now. Work on things like sales funnels and automation when it no longer makes sense to personalize your interactions with your customers in surprising and delightful ways.

We’ve become enamored with new technologies, new software, and new devices, and too often large companies and even solo companies try to incorporate them into their existing structures in an effort to “keep up.” The problem here is mistaking “simple” for “easy.” Often we try to be simpler and end up more complicated. We add more tools, more software, more devices to the mix to make things easier, without testing or questioning how easy they’ll be to use on a daily basis.

Even the latest and greatest HR software, for instance, probably doesn’t need hundreds of screens and drop-down menus. A business selling thousands of products can probably cut most of them if the bulk of their sales comes from just 5 percent of their offerings. There may be no need for thirteen company-wide initiatives if three will do.

Start out as simple as possible, and always fervently question adding new layers of complexity. Set yourself up as a company of one that’s run to maximize your ability to solve existing problems and to adapt as new problems arise. And then, who knows, perhaps you’ll end up acquiring a massive competitor that couldn’t keep up with your radical simplicity.

Begin to Think About:

	Whether growth is truly beneficial to your business

	How you could solve business problems without just adding “more”

	Whether you really need funding or venture capital for your idea, or are simply thinking too big to start



Staying Small as an End Goal

Sean D’Souza doesn’t want to grow his company.

He decided that $500,000 a year of profit was all he wanted to earn and that his business shouldn’t exceed it. So that’s what Psychotactics—his consultancy that teaches other businesses the psychology of why their customers buy (or don’t buy)—earns through its website and in-person training workshops.

Sean feels that his job as a business owner is not to endlessly increase profits, or even to defeat the competition, but instead to create better and better products and services that his customers benefit from in their lives and work. Implementation, he’s found, is the key to retaining his customers and persuading them to keep buying—that is, if they’re using what he makes, they see successes in their own business and then keep buying more from him.

Sean is only interested in reaching his target limit. This goal feels very counterintuitive to what we’re taught about business and success. Society says that business goals should focus on ever-increasing profit and that, as profit increases, so should everything else—more employees, more expenses, more growth. But like many others, Sean feels that the opposite is true—that success can be personally defined, and that while profit and sustainability are absolutely important to a business, they aren’t the only driving forces, metrics, or factors in business success.

Sean’s goal of achieving a target profit and not exceeding it comes from shaping his business around an optimal life he wants to lead—complete with taking a three-month vacation each year with his wife and spending hours walking, cooking, and teaching and tutoring his two young nieces each day.

Typically awake by 4:00 AM—no alarm clock required—Sean goes to work early from a small office located in his backyard. By starting this early, Sean can record audio for his podcast before the world around him becomes too noisy. It’s an idyllic life filled with hourlong walks and ample coffee breaks. His work routine revolves mostly around answering questions for his customers in his private message board on his website.

Sean is easily able to meet his $500,000 per year profit goal, not through marketing and promotion, but by paying close attention to his existing customer base. His audience has grown slowly and sustainably because those listeners share his work with their own audiences and contacts—his current customers gladly become his (unpaid) sales force.

Too often businesses forget about their current audience—the people who are already listening, buying, and engaging. These should be the most important people to your business—far more so than anyone you wish you were reaching. Whether your audience is ten people, a hundred people, or even a thousand people, if you’re not doing right by them, right now, nothing you do regarding growth or marketing will make a lick of difference. Make sure you’re listening to, communicating with, and helping the people who are already paying attention to you.

Sean sees lots of people in the online education world focusing their time entirely on marketing, but his focus is on making his products better for his existing audience. He works to get more and better results for his existing customers, who in turn continue to buy from him, both established products and new products as he releases them. He likens his business to a kind of “Hotel California”—“You can check in anytime, but you can never leave”—except that his version is less psychedelically creepy and doesn’t feature pink champagne on ice; it features chocolate.

Part of Sean’s customer retention strategy involves sending his customers a box of chocolates, with a handwritten note and sometimes a small cartoon he draws himself. The package costs him approximately $20, which includes shipping from New Zealand (where he lives currently), but it’s the one thing his customers talk