No, We Don’t Want to Scale. We Want to Grow.

Is your startup looking for organic growth, or a fast exit?

A few years ago, I watched this fantastic talk on education innovation. Although the entirety of the talk was amazing, one particular tangent stood out to me:

Is your startup looking for organic growth, or a fast exit?

“There are Chinese restaurants everywhere, but there is no Chinese restaurant chain. Yet, everyone knows what is a Chinese restaurant. They know what to expect, even though it’ll be subtly different and the colors will be different and the name will be different. You know a Chinese restaurant when you see it. These people work with the Chinese restaurant model — same principles, different applications and different settings — not the (franchise) model. The (franchise) model scales. The Chinese restaurant model spreads.”

Although the example doesn’t resonate so well in Asia (as there are several different chains of ‘Chinese restaurants’), the idea behind it has stuck with me ever since — that we should be growing our projects instead of scaling them.

( Case in point — Xiao Long Bao. Source: Daniel Go)
( Case in point — Xiao Long Bao. Source: Daniel Go)

Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about scaling, it is an amazing process that requires a lot of capability and skill to execute, and when done right — can benefit a lot of people. A good example would be the polio vaccine — a process that needed to reach billions of people in as little time as possible. After years of this, we are now on the cusp of becoming polio free (to put that in perspective, the only other disease that we’ve eradicated in all of history has been smallpox). And this has been the in thing since the invention of the conveyor belt — think of any big company you know, odds are they started very small and scaled up exponentially.

Once you scale though, innovation becomes very very hard. There are very few large companies that can pull it off consistently and successfully. Since most people who become entrepreneurs are in it for the challenge and the innovation, ‘exits’ are very common thing after a certain amount of scaling. Most times you hear about a company acquiring another, this is what’s happening.

But this isn’t the only way.

There are many other projects and processes which benefit a lot more from growing — like education. The majority of us are still stuck with a school system that has been modelled after factories of the industrial revolution. By taking ground-up solutions from communities and letting them grow, we have a much better chance at making education more beneficial, and more enjoyable.

This is what we want to do with Gone Adventurin’, and why we’re in this for the long run. We don’t want investors, we want clients who believe in our vision, and are as excited about us on giving every project everything we’ve got. Cookie cutter solutions don’t work. Crafting projects and mutually beneficial partnerships between companies, social enterprises, and non-profits is something that grows, not something that scales. Which is why we’ve focused on being mindful and growing our impact one step at a time.We aren’t architects, we’re gardeners.

This enables us to spend time with each organisation that we work with — to identify and understand their needs, and create sustainable partnerships that are, in the words of the late Mr.Covey, win-win or no deal. This is what has powered us to do the work we do.

We’re not a startup, we’re a business. We don’t want investors, we want clients. And we most certainly don’t want to exit, we want to build something that will last longer than all of us.

The world is obsessed with rapid growth and the planet’s resources cannot keep up with it forever. We’re already feeling the everyday effects of this — the haze across south-east Asia and the effects of sea-level rise in Bangladesh are just two examples. For this to change, we need a movement of people who want to grow projects and companies sustainably instead of only thinking about scaling and exiting shortly after.

I look forward to seeing how more people grow to #DiscoverPurpose in the years ahead.

This article was written by Abishek Balasubramanian, originally published on Gone Adventurin

Started in 2011, social enterprise — Gone Adventurin — is a B Corporation certified Consultancy Agency & Program Execution Partner on a mission to unlock business opportunities from post-consumer waste in Asia. They enable companies and government bodies to design business strategies, deploy Circular Economy projects & contribute to the Global Sustainable Development Goals. They have previously been working with different companies such as Unilever, P&G, Dole Food, P&G but also government bodies such as the Singapore National Environmental Agency across Asia.


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