Start Small, Have Patience

April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Image Source: Joao Vicente, Flickr

I seem to be discovering online sites just as they’re becoming “the next big thing.”  Case in point — I became aware of an engaging online destination called Lists of Note (and big sister Letters of Note) via Mark Bittman, who, in one of his tweets praising the site, called out Nora Ephron’s list, What I Won’t and Will Miss, published after her untimely passing in June 2012.  In addition to Ms. Ephron, there are lists from Julia Child and Johnny Cash and John Wayne, to name just a few.  I was hooked.  Alas, Lists of Note is on hiatus while creator Shaun Usher readies his book of Letters of Note for publication.  An overnight success almost four years in the making.

Riffing on the idea of Slow Food Movement, I have been thinking about about what I’d like to call the Slow Growth Movement.  With so much news (and hype) pushed at us 24/7, and star-making machines for just about every aspect of business and entertainment known to man, it’s difficult not to take notice of every company/artist/site that makes it big and to want to be there, today: Fab, Moda Operandi, Rent the Runway, Kickstarter, The Man Repeller, Carrie Underwood, Stephanie Meyer.  We forget that J.K. Rowling was a single mother writing the first Harry Potter book in a cafe and Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso launched her vintage resale business in 2006 out of her step-aunt’s cottage near San Francisco.

There’s so much pressure to make the first thing a success, and soon.  We need to learn to give things space and time to grow.  To start small.  Begin at the beginning.  Stay focused.

Fred Wilson, investment guru and principal of Union Square Ventures, recently blogged on this topic as part of his MBA Monday series.  In the post, “Tenacity and Persistence Pays Off,” he described Meetup founder Scott Heiferman’s thinking when he launched the now ubiquitous social gathering site over 10 years ago.  It was right after 9/11.  Mr. Wilson recounts that Mr. Heiferman intended from the outset for it to be a longterm project, “He said that it would take at least twenty years for Meetup to achieve all that he wanted from it and possibly a lot longer. And that he was patient and committed to that timeline.”  Needless to say, this thinking is nearly unheard of in the technology space.

When you have the guts to start small and take it slow:

  • You get to figure out you should (and should not) be doing.
  • You have the opportunity to feel around and see who your customer/audience is.
  • You take the time to perfect your offering and the customer experience.
  • You can make mistakes.

Like Meetup, there are others who have started small and focused, and put in the hours to achieve a level of success.  Here is a survey of some of my favorite sites, people and brands that did the slow burn, until they caught on:

It’s tough when the bills are coming in and you’re trying to not panic, and when you see others around you seemingly getting there faster than you.  So, if you find yourself getting frustrated at the pace of things, remember the words of the wise Seth Godin:

Art almost never works as fast as you want it to, and the more you need it to work, the slower it happens.

Your work is art.  Slow is good.

Even a garden needs a year to grow.


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