This is a comprehensive summary of the book Company of One by Paul Jarvis (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get access to a downloadable worksheet.
Members-only printable. Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
There’s a core assumption that growth is always good, that bigger is always better. But that’s not always the case. Company of One by Paul Jarvis questions the form of traditional growth and explains the benefits of staying small. The book promotes a new business approach where you can have “enough” and still be satisfied.
The Core Idea:
You can build and maintain a company on your own. That’s the main point the author is trying to make. You can be successful and more importantly, remain successful, even if you’re a one-man army. The key is to focus on strong foundations, slow or even no growth, and extraordinary customer service.
- You don’t necessarily have to build a big business to be successful;
- More is not always better. A lot of times staying small and frugal will help you overcome financial ups and downs
- A company of one is about satisfying one particular niche;
5 Key Lessons from Company of One:
Lesson #1: What’s Company Of One?
The author says it perfectly in the book: “A company of one is simply a business that questions growth.”
A small organization, or a single guy, not tempted by the traditional way of thinking – that more is always better. Because more is not always better. More means more staff, more departments, more expenses, more meaningless meetings, more distractions, and eventually more dissatisfaction that can lead you to bankrupt, not more business.
A company of one is about becoming better at one thing. Becoming the best individual, or organization, by doing one particular task, satisfying one particular niche.
When the team is small and frugal, everyone will have a clear vision of where they’re headed. They’ll move quickly and they won’t get distracted by things like bureaucracy, HR, board meetings, complex infrastructures.
We tend to connect success with large corporations and formal dress code, but since the internet took over, and people can now work from everywhere they want. Dreaming about starting the new Goldman Sachs is no longer necessary. We can have a small portfolio, work from home, wear sneakers and jeans and be successful, and more importantly, happy. Like the author, Paul Jarvis.
Lesson #2: Start By Helping One Customer
“If you have an idea for starting a business that requires a lot of money, time, or resources, you’re most likely thinking too big.” Paul Jarvis
Your idea can be scaled down to the basics: How can I help one guy? How can you satisfy one type of customer?
If you’re thinking about opening a restaurant, you’re thinking wrong. Think about the core idea of restaurants – feeding people. Do you want to run a restaurant or do you want to make people feel good when they eat your dishes?
The latter should be your main focus. Once you get that, you’ll also get that in order to prepare meals for people – and potentially earn a good living – you can start with something small. One set of meals prepared for one specific set of customers. Don’t try to please everyone, it’s impossible. It’s what big corporations are trying to do. That’s why when you enter one of their places you’re lost and you don’t know what to order. Keep things small and focus on the core function of your niche.
In short, start fast with what you’ve got. Don’t invest a lot and act quickly. Later, you can iterate upon the process.
Lesson #3: If Scale Isn’t the Goal, What Is?
As the author states in the book, “There’s a real difference between growth as a goal and growth as a direct result of profit from sales of a valuable product.”
If you let growth control your decisions you’ll most probably start adding churn to your client base. People might buy once, but they’ll never become long-term customers if your goal is not clearly defined. Such types of clients (one-time buyers) won’t cover your investments. Won’t refer others to your products and they won’t assist you much to your pompous crusade for bigger market share.
The growth you can allow into your business, and chase, as a company of one, is getting constantly better, adapting what you’re doing so you can better serve the customer.
If you choose growth you’ll have to accept that you’ll have little room for much else. In contrast, if you tailor your company to have enough, you can choose how to live your life.
Lesson #4: Learn To Have Enough
You have to strictly protect your own schedule and workload. The only way you can do this is by setting a “enough” number. Enough working hours, enough customers, enough market share, enough money.
If you’re working a regular job, a 9 to 5 job, you’re basically doing what you’re told. When you’re running your own company, however, it’s hard to draw the line and say that you won’t work anymore. That you had enough money. The hustle mindset is popular these days and some actually feel bad if they’re not hustling 24/7. But it shouldn’t be like that.
If your normal working hours are 24/7, you’ll inevitably burn out.
Having an “enough” number for everything will help you set some healthy boundaries. At the end of the day, starting an online business is about freedom. It’s about doing what you love. Living a lifestyle defined by you. Not about constantly chasing the dollar bill.
Lesson #5: Stay Small On Purpose
Eventually, you might wanna grow. You might want the big office, a big car, and a bigger house. More staff and to open more stores in other locations. That’s normal human behavior. With our growing audience, our ego always grows. Тhat’s usually when the problems begin.
Generating higher profits is not something you can easily resist. That’s why you hire more staff, market your product more widely and dream about more customers. While this sounds and looks really cool and sexy, this strategy often leads to a lack of control.
Staying small on purpose can be a solution, though. If you’re one small unit, you can be more efficient and more durable. And this type of thinking can be your long-term strategy.
Rather than growing, automate. By implementing automatic systems for most of your processes you can have access to the resource that’s more sacred and important than money, and time. If you do things the right way, you’ll have more spare time which you can then devote to other things: supporting causes, world exploration, and your family. All things that are much more important than money.
- Productivity audit: For a week or two, record what tasks you’re working on. Track how long a particular task is taking you and also note the things that are distracting you. This way, you can create something like a “stop doing” list.
- Solve one problem: Start by solving one specific problem for a potential client. Once you figure it out, get to work. Lunch the solution as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.
- What type of life do you want? When you’re starting a business, emphasizes more on what type of life you want to create for yourself. The lifestyle you truly want. After that, you simply need to create a business around that desired lifestyle.
Commentary And My Personal Takeaway
For years I thought that one should constantly pursue more things. More money, fame and all the “good stuff.” However, after reading Company of One by Paul Jarvis, I no longer think that you should aim to dominate the market or flood the entire world with your product.
Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis is like a breath of fresh air. It shows you an alternative – and better – way to build a company and live your life. It’s much more than just a business book, it presents a way of living. A way of making enough money to support your business and staying true to your principles and goals.
By starting small and staying small, you’re doomed to succeed. When you’re big there’s a lot that can go wrong. When you’re small though, you’re just too small to fail. You’ll slowly progress and beat the big corporations thanks to your faith in what you’re doing.
“Launching isn’t a onetime, singular event, but a continual process of launch, measure, adjust, repeat.” Paul Jarvis
“All companies, of every size, should be “lifestyle” businesses, not trapped in the paradigm of how “real” businesses operate. In fact, every business, theoretically, is a lifestyle business, in that each represents your choice of how you want to live.” Paul Jarvis
“When you become too small to fail, you also become small enough to make your own choices about your work. Real freedom is gained when you define upper bounds to your goals and figure out what your own personal sense of enough is.” Paul Jarvis