Scaling Down

Often people who want to start a business go away and sit in a cafe (by them self), think of an idea (by them self), think of a business plan (by them self) and figure out how they are going to “scale up” and “disrupt” their industry (all by them self).

During the course of a single cup of coffee they’ve convinced themselves that they are going to change the world.  They call this their “vision”, but actually it’s a hallucination.

The reason it’s a hallucination is because it’s impossible to predict how the world will react to your product or service.  The world is too complex to predict.  The products and services we all love and use got good by going through thousands of iterations.

They were all off the mark when they began.



This is the original Amazon home page. It’s hard to imagine that Amazon once didn’t even have a “Prime” option and had absolutely no reviews!

Recently, an app I have been building launched some new features.  I am in the fortunate position of not just building software for medical practices, but being the user of the product in my own medical practice.

I had designed and created the wire-frames of the app myself, so I was incredibly eager to start using this new feature for the benefit of my patients.  But when I started to use it, I was incredibly frustrated!  

The reason I was so frustrated was that a button that I needed to click on regularly was on a page that seemed to make sense during the design process.  But when it came to using the app in real life, it turned out that the button was in the completely wrong position.  My frustration was so severe that even though it’s my own app, I refused to use it until I got the location of the button just right.  Until this was fixed I also refused to train up the rest of my staff to use the new feature.

The position of a single button, made the feature absolutely obsolete!

This really made me think.  It seems that if you can get something right on a small scale, that you can then scale up your solution and serve others.

But the opposite is not true.  If you’ve created a huge solution in an echo chamber, without getting input for things which may seem trivial to you, then your “disruptive” solution is unlikely to be adopted.  If the positioning of a single button can bring a whole feature to its knees then think of how many other things could go wrong if you’re not constantly learning and getting feedback.

The point is that you should always start small, get it right and then scale.  Doing the opposite will not work.

This goes against everything entrepreneurs want.  We want to create something big and have an impact.  We want to serve millions of users.  But the counter-intuitive fact is that if you want to serve millions, then you have to go through the journey of being able to serve just a handful of people well first.


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