The Minimalist Entrepreneur

Staying small and the disciplined pursuit of less

At the beginning of this year, I put my nose in a book called Company of One.

It highlights the idea of staying intentionally small and avoiding growth. I must admit, it felt a little uncomfortable and counterintuitive in the beginning but it led to a personal question.

In what business do I want to work in?

This post is a reflection of the question and me elaborating a personal answer. So let’s start with the idea of a company of one.

The core idea

A company of one sets limits. It questions growth and stays small on purpose. It’s a company working towards growing smaller, smarter, more efficient, and more resilient. In short: achieving more with less.

It’s limited in revenue, limited in employees, and limited in invested time. It’s designed for simplicity, profitability, and life outside of work.

The idea is going back to a simpler form. It's not about disconnecting from everything or living like a hermit on a remote island. It's about applying "less but better" to how we live our lives.

It’s a company that fosters mental health, wellbeing and allows for time for other interests, leisure, time for family and friends. Or time for doing absolutely nothing.

The undisciplined pursuit of more

In his book “How the Mighty Fall”, Jim Collins explores what went wrong in companies that were once great but later collapsed. He finds that for many, falling into the undisciplined pursuit of more was a key reason for failure.

And actually, we’re primed for more. More stuff, more revenue, more products, more customers, more employees, more office space. We’re exposed to the idea that we can have it all.

The resulting social pressure creates an unintentional but endless craving for more. Leading to busywork, blind growth, and unsatisfaction.

There's a point — and it's different for everyone — where you realize that having more won't affect your quality of life or create more resilience for your business. When your own 'enough' happens, it’s liberating. At least it was for me.⁣ - Paul Jarvis

What if it’s not about the undisciplined pursuit of more to the disciplined pursuit of less? That is what Greg McKeown asks in his book, Essentialism.

Setting Constraints

To set limits is actually quite a bold thing. But the more I think about it the more I believe that we need a framework that protects us from our cravings. A system designed for enough.

“Companies of one work best under constraints—because that’s where creativity and ingenuity thrive.” Paul Jarvis

Here are some effects of setting constraints compared to having an open door and open calendar policy.

  1. Demand: Limited availability can make for a waitlist of people who want to enter. This increases demand and in turn, also the value that people and organizations are willing to pay.

  2. Engagement: Om Malik is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur. He’s going to trim his newsletter list down and make a rule where it’s only the 10.000 most engaged people. The subscribers that don’t read or engage are going to be left out so that there is room for another hundred more highly engaged people.

  3. Essentialism: Effective > Productive. By putting a time box around our work we force us to focus on the important things with major impact. One way to get more done is to have less to do.

  4. Time Off: A company of one is about finding more of your time unoccupied and open for other things besides work. Time for leisure, time for family and friends. Or time for doing absolutely nothing.

Build the house you want to live in

There are multiple concepts for running a business and a wholehearted life means something different for everybody. Right now I feel we’re idealizing better, faster, wider way too much. Well-being, satisfaction, enoughness need a bigger piece of the conversation cake.

We need to talk about intention vs. blind growth. And about what feels right to us as opposed to “supposed-to”. Not only for our personal wellbeing but because our personal preferences mirror the world economic scale and the big decisions.

In our business, Daniel and I figured that autonomy and control are what we value most. We enjoy having Fridays off, building assets for the long-term, and not working longer than 17:30. It’s a work in progress but a start in becoming intentional about our idea of a good life.

When it comes to food, the author Michael Pollan has a simple rule: Stop Eating Before You’re Full. I love this as it’s intentional about setting limits proactively.

Maybe setting limits is our only way to realize that we have plenty.

Happy Sunday.