“Will it scale?” is a less important question than “will it ever matter?”

July 30 2014 – 12:39pm

The rise of automation and computing power has lifted vast segments of the population out of manual labor, thus freeing up their minds to pursue more existential concerns (such as making apps that make it so you can say “yo” to your friends with a tap of the finger).

But just because you can avoid “manual” labor, doesn’t mean that you always should. Having a system that does something quickly and easily is only worth it if you’re doing it often enough to merit building that system.

If you aren’t a big company, especially if you’re a single-person company like mine is, you need to find out if it matters whether something scales or not before you go through all of the trouble of making it scale.

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As you read this, at some hackathon somewhere in the world, wantrepreneurs are rubbing their chins and pensively asking “will it scale?”

The question they should be asking is “will it ever matter?”

(Thanks to commenter Ken Doman for pointing out this perfect XKCD cartoon.)

Wantrepreneuritis made me ask “will it scale?”

When I did my first product launch, as I struggled with my own wantrepreneuritis I tried to make everything “scalable.”

I had a customer login area for…well, just because I probably felt like I should.

I had to do a bunch of hacking so that my payment processor would integrate with my member portal, which would then integrate with MailChimp, so customer data would be consistent across all of the systems.

This stuff took me months to figure out! I researched dozens of different configurations, then finally built it.

I was waaaay too concerned with whether it would all “scale” or not – way too concerned with avoiding doing “manual” labor (and doing way more labor than if I had just done that “manual” labor in the first place.)

When I finally launched my product, it just did “okay.” It didn’t matter that I built systems that could scale. (In retrospect, even if it had been explosively successful, the systems still weren’t necessary).

I cured my wantrepreneuritis by asking “will it ever matter?”

Last week, when I launched the Design for Hackers Video Course, I did things differently. I didn’t worry about making every last thing “scale.” I even scrapped the system that I had already built! It was too much of a hassle, and would ultimately slow things down.

Here is a list of some of the things that didn’t “scale” from my launch. Some of them could be considered downright “ghetto.”

I knew that my launch would be relatively small (fewer than 200 customers), so these manual tasks didn’t worry me. Since I did a “windowed launch” (with a start and stop date), I don’t have to worry about being distracted by these tasks while I service my new customers, and collect feedback for the next iteration.

Still, the launch went much better than my previous one had. I made over $17k in revenues over the course of the 4-day launch.

gumroad-earnings

Manual labor != poor product!

This is not to be mistaken for delivering poor product. I (and my customers so far) believe the product is excellent, and in any case, there’s a money-back guarantee. This is about cutting out those things that don’t provide value for the customer, and not being afraid of a little “manual labor” if it helps you get your product out faster.

What do you do that doesn’t scale? Better yet, what are you going to start doing that doesn’t scale? Share it in the comments below.


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— David Kadavy (@kadavy) July 30, 2014

Related: Do the things that don’t scale by YCombinator’s Paul Graham is full of practical ways to re-think what needs to be scaled in an early-stage startup.

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This post is filed under Entrepreneurship.