When I hear a founder touting on how much headcount they have or will be increasing to I sometimes wonder about their definition of success. There are many different verticals and industries out there and some industries measure their success in much different ways. The common thread in every startup regardless of industry is that their success is commonly attributed to how big they are. In the age of "get big, then monetize" these founders often use headcount as a proxy for revenue and ultimately, success. This gets my head spinning.

Business Season

Sports and business can easily be in concert together as it pertains to the concept of winning. Go to YouTube and search "inspirational locker room speeches" in the morning and you'll be ready to embark on that day like no other day before. You could even stretch and relate business to war and do the same thing. The fact is, every company instills the philosophy of team from inception and tries to decipher how they will "win" at whatever they set out to do immediately. Since there is rarely a business that has no competition - at least any viable business - there is usually the "enemy" you will inspire your employees or army to battle against during a long, 260 game season. Yes that's longer than a baseball season everyone, it's called business season. Just like there's no crying in baseball, there's no crying in business. But you may be crying if you're success is just measured on size and not on profits... stay with me.

You're Replaceable

Replaceable is a word that no employee wants to hear. While even Google and Facebook are going to the extreme to keep their key employees, it's usually a small business' problem to keep their key employees that they can't lose... But then they get big enough that size will outnumber talent and talent gets lazy because they're not forced to be more efficient - talent leaves to start the cycle all over again. I'll be willing to bet anyone interested that Google employee given the counter offer to stay at Google will not be working at Google in a year. We have two things that are working for me on this bet:

  1. Google will be looking to have this person brain dump across a mass of people that will collectively act as that one person's replacement.
  2. This person knows this and took the money to start their own company which will be in time to launch right before the brain dump has been fully... dumped.

Hire less, develop more

One of the main differences in sports to business is that in business, there's no cap in how many people you can have on your team. In sports, it's based just on efficiency and not in numbers. There's no choice on getting larger, there's only a focus on getting the existing team more efficient. There's something to that isn't there? Spending time to develop your people as opposed to having someone else train them for you and then recruiting those people by the dozen, making every hire less important than the last and resulting in attrition when the new hire figures out they're replaceable. Having a smaller team creates loyalty. It just does.

A larger vessel is harder to steer. Some think that the more people you manage the more power you have, but not every good leader is as effective leading a mass of people. But if your vessel is one that is efficient, fast and profitable then your success is right around the corner, and you're just small enough to make that turn.

You need to be honest with yourself as a business leader. What do you consider as your ultimate success? Is it really to become the next Google, Microsoft or Facebook? Chances are that you will fail. If it's to be highly efficient to be bought out by one of those major players, now there's something more realistic. Don't think small, but think efficient.

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