How do we get bigger? Get more money? Grow the team? Get bigger office space? More clients?
My three year old daughter has been literally dreaming of going to a magic show. So we went to the first one that crossed our path and seemed relatively kid-appropriate.
I regretted going immediately.
The tickets were general admission. We got there early just to wait in long line. The heat was cranked up. I had to lug around our winter gear while trying to entertain my kid as her boredom progressed.
Sitting in the theater made the regret stronger.
A larger ballroom had some of those temporary moveable walls inside to make smaller rooms. We were in a smaller room.
I’ve been doing and watching magic my whole life. I’ve seen the David Copperfield and Penn & Tellers. This wasn’t any of those.
It felt claustrophobic.
And then there was the stage. There weren’t many rows of people. We were in row 8. But there’s no way we were going to see this magician with the heads in front of me.
A woman in the next row had already pulled out binoculars.
Here’s hoping my three year old would cooperate because getting out of our seats was going to be a very public ordeal.
I had dreams of my first startup getting huge. I had created Inkling with Y Combinator back in 2006 and my vision was that everyone would want to use us to help make decisions.
It didn’t turn out that way.
It turned out that gathering the wisdom of the crowd is most valuable to people who have really big crowds. Banks. Conglomerates. One of our best customers was the US Government.
So we didn’t get the crazy amount of customers I imagined. But I knew our customers extremely well. We’d travel to visit their offices. We’d have a meetup where we’d hang out for a couple days and have intimate meals together. One customer came over to my partner’s house and we brainstormed all day together. And if I remember right, that customer slept on my partner’s couch that night.
We don’t have those same relationships with customers at Highrise. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I try. I converse at length with many customers who email me, or comment about something we’re doing on Twitter or YouTube. I’ve had talks with customers not just about work but about their families and struggles. And I’d like to have a meetup soon.
But because of the scale of people, it’s hard to concentrate the attention like we did at Inkling.
At one point early in the magic show the doors to the room opened up again for some late comers. It distracted everyone. The late comers were stuck standing near the door instead of trying to find seats worried they’d cause even more interruption.
But here’s an example of how different his show was.
The magician, Ivan Amodei, paused and asked his staff to make sure the standing room crowd got seated in empty seats he spotted on the other side of the room.
This isn’t something you’d see most magicians, or any performer really, handle gracefully in larger shows with these types of distractions.
My fear about the magic show was replaced with, “Woah, this guy is doing something different.”
He bounded through the center aisle talking with people. It didn’t matter you couldn’t see the stage great because he was constantly on a chair or in the aisle showing off things. He had all of us standing up as part of various tricks.
Then my worst fear about my daughter started. 3 year olds don’t have the same social graces as we do. She began to squirm and talk about leaving.
But she snapped out of that when Ivan came through the crowd asking everyone for loose change.
When Ivan saw my daughter holding out her fist with coins, he stopped and conversed with her about her age. She was shy and not talking and I thought he’d leave quick.
But he kept at it. Getting her to finally tell him her age. Then he started giving her some of the coins he’d already collected making sure her tiny fists were as full as he could make them.
He then mentioned her multiple times later in the show.
Even the stories behind the magic had a personal touch that included stories of his kids.
It finally dawned on me why the name of his show was “Intimate Illusions”.
Ivan wasn’t in this small room because he was still hoping to be this bigger magician. Ivan was small on purpose.
He used that small room as a tool.
I look at the fun my daughter has at three.
The freedom she has to explore and experience that she won’t have when she’s 30. And I remember the strengths we had with just a handful of customers at Inkling that are much more difficult to recreate at Highrise.
Also note, Ivan isn’t just getting started. He’s been winning awards for his performances in 1995. His current show alone has been going on for over 8 years.
He could easily sell out larger crowds. But he’d lose the feel of this show.
Ivan isn’t small because he can’t be big. He’s small because Ivan uses small and intimate as a strength.
If your business is small or just starting out, don’t let these days of small pass through your hands in your desire to get big. Just remember how much you’ll lose too.
P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups, try Highrise.