Profit can be a wonderful thing. It can help you provide for your family, create financial security and allow you to build and grow ideas you care about. But more and more, I am seeing a certain blandness that comes with companies and ideas that are growing fast or have been doing so for a while. The other day we stayed in an Airbnb in Phoenix. I love Airbnbs and have stayed in them all over the world. A big draw has always been how unique they were, how personal and how my stays oftentimes would turn into friendships with my hosts.
This Airbnb in Phoenix was more like a hotel. One that looked “authentic” on the outside but then the cupboards were empty (literally). All my communication with my host was with a bot. I didn’t like it because that’s not why I book Airbnbs.
Uber. In the early days, you were literally driving in people’s cars (well after the limo days) and there was what felt like a special relationship between the driver and his passenger. Now there are more and more professional Uber drivers, with cars specifically leased to drive Ubers.
Starbucks. I am sure the first Starbucks super authentic and unique.
Honestly, I probably would have liked the first Subway.
Unfortunately, once you start scaling a business (which you do when there’s the prospect of profits), a lot of the things that made it cool in the first place are in danger of being diminished. Sometimes that’s ok, but other times it can sink you.
Airbnbs become more like hotels.
Ubers feel like Taxis.
Starbucks becomes just like McDonald’s.
And it’s not just big companies either. When I first started IdeaMensch, it felt much more like a small community of entrepreneurs. Many of my interviewees became good friends of mine. Now that we receive dozens of interviews every week, that doesn’t happen so much anymore.
So what do you do about this?
- I believe there’s a certain magic about every business and you need to protect that magic with everything you got. You can’t protect everything, so know what makes you so special.
- Invest in your customers every step of the way. Never give up the ability to speak to them directly.
- Disrupt yourself. Continuously. Because if you don’t, eventually someone else will. This is why I started Seniorlevel, to approach launching a new interview community from the perspective of a challenger.
- Do things that don’t scale. Paul Graham wrote an essay about it, which is brilliant. If all you do is act like a giant blah corporation, then eventually you’ll be just that. A giant blah corporation. Do things that don’t scale, not all the time but often enough to make you uncomfortable.