From the blog

Small is Small

March 19, 2011

There’s a pharmacy I go to at the bottom of my road. I buy everything from aspirin to biscuits there. When I go in, the owner usually asks me how I am and we talk about the weather, the neighbourhood, you know, the usual. The thing is, the guy had business acumen. In difficult times, he kept that place going. Other shops around him closed down. He didn’t. He has more customers now and often we don’t get to talk. When I’m the only customer on a Saturday afternoon though, what does he do? He asks me how I am. We talk. That right there, is good business. It’s good small business. Now, try calling a large company. You get customer support. If you are lucky, after a few minutes, you get to talk to a real person. If you are really, really lucky, he or she talks to you with minimal canned phrases. If you are really, really, really, lucky, you walk away from the conversation feeling like a human being. But most often, you don’t. A small business treats its customers like people. That’s what keeps a business small. It’s not the size of an office or the number of employees that tells you if a business is small. Small is an attitude, an outlook, a worldview. Small is small. Our friends at 37 signals recently got some flack for revealing a new design for a race car sponsored by them. One allegation made in the thread was that they had left their SME audience behind by diving into the high profile world of motor racing. Thread participants mistook Jamie for Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). Now, it’s no secret that we’re massive 37 Signals fans. We’ve never tried to hide it – as a startup, we learnt a lot from them, and we develop with Rails because of them. We think they are a great company. This, however, is not just blind fanboyism. As a small business ourselves, we’re going to show everyone in that thread why Staying Small is a mindset and why 37 Signals is still right on the money.

Also, we are a small independent business. We are headquartered in Chicago. We employ 26 people. We are profitable. It isn’t like we have 400+ employees and we’re still trying to figure out how to make a profit. We have 26 people. I consider that to be a small business.

We haven’t taken loads of VC cash. We’re not looking for an exit to sell to Yahoo or Google so they can screw Basecamp up with whatever genius management those companies employ. We’re a small independent business that’s in it for the long haul.

We try to be successful so that our customers can be successful. I hope that gives you some confidence that our business isn’t about to fail or go kaput.

This is solely my perspective. I don’t mean to speak for Jason David, or the rest of the team at 37signals. However, I’m sure they would agree with my points here.
Jamie makes a good, logical argument here, but I don’t think any of these facts really matter. The proof is in the pudding – a guy who just designed a bloody racecar is taking the time to talk to a client who said he’s moving away. One client. One person on the Internets who is mad. He doesn’t have to justify a business decision to one customer. In fact, he probably doesn’t have the time for it, but he does anyway, and he follows up, even accepting the client’s decision and inviting him over for coffee if he is in Chicago. We’re a small business with an online invoicing app. We don’t sponsor a race car, but we’re doing OK. We treat every customer like a person, and for as long as 37 Signals does the same, we’ll respect them like we always have. Saying they are no longer a small business because they are successful enough to invest outside their core business area is ridiculous. Don’t prosperity tax them, because they don’t prosperity tax you. Kudos on the race car, guys. When we get big enough we’re buying a boat. And we’re going to sing. Rock on. Stay small.

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  • http://twitter.com/asianmack asianmack

    Mahangu, Thanks so much for writing this up! Right on the money. Also, thanks for comparing me to Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. That is who I aspire to. LOL.

    Thank you for being a customer.

  • Mahangu

    Haha, awesome. :) Thanks for dropping by, Jamie. Hope we’ll see you around soon!