June 3, 2020

Right-size your business based on your desired lifestyle

There are a lot of questions to ask when you start a business. What are our costs? How big is the market? What is our competitive advantage? Taking time with these and other common questions can help you identify risks and possibly avoid failure.

One question is often missed though. It is: What kind of life do I wish to live? I argue that this question is greater than all the others. If your lifestyle and business objectives don’t align, you’ll struggle. So, you need to first figure out what’s essential to your life, and then build upon that.

For what it’s worth, I don’t mean to imply that this question is easy to answer. In fact, you’ll likely feel different about it depending on the day. Still, asking this question early and returning to it often is a useful exercise. I’ve wavered on this question for decades, but I do feel like it becomes clearer over time.

Some want an exciting business. Others want to test how big they can make theirs. Yet others want autonomy—and some want to make something beautiful. There are other reasons for starting a business, and yours are yours. I’m not here to judge anyone’s motivations. However, I have witnessed (and participated in) the folly of trying to achieve all of these objectives at the same time.

Knowing what kind of life you want to lead can help you remove some business possibilities. This is useful because you’re more likely to get jammed up by too many options than too few. (This seems paradoxical, but I’ve found that an abundance of choice tends to be overwhelming.)

Let’s say that you (like me) don’t deal with stress all that well. Maybe you like working on your business more than asking others to do so for you. It could be that you abhor making sales calls, and reviewing HR policies. If this sounds like you, perhaps you should avoid starting an agency. Admittedly, this is an obvious conclusion. People like me made this mistake, though—because we didn’t properly reflect on what kind of life we wanted to live.

I like to compare businesses to boats. Some want to captain great ships. Others are happy in a canoe. Both are entirely viable options, but you ought to choose the one that’s right for you.

In my experience, determining what you want involves progressive reflection. For example, at some point, Shelkie and I recognized that we wanted to build our own products. That was one important decision. It took a lot longer to realize that the scope of the product we built was equally important.

Turns out that not all founder-types are suited to all SaaS products. Sure, we knew we should avoid massive enterprise products. However, we didn’t realize that the middle is also pretty tough. Certain products demand many developers, support teams, enterprise sales, and infrastructure. So, while you might technically be able to build a better Salesforce, you might not be suited to grow it as such a business must be grown.

For this reason, it’s worth starting with the question of what lifestyle suits you. With that in mind, you can explore which business types match your desires. If you want excitement and the thrill of making something big, certain business types will be more viable than others.

In doing so, try to fill in what that business might practically look like. There’s a reason why Adobe has 22,635 employees. There’s also a reason why some in-demand design studios involve only 1 or 2 partners. The question isn’t whether one of these is better than the other. It’s simply a matter of which one is most suitable for you.

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