Small can be beautiful in start-ups. Take no venture capital, build an eight-figure business, put the profits all in your backpocket. You can end up having a villa in Italy full of Pagondis, like the Basecamp guys. Boom.
The thing is, if you don’t have a legacy, how much will it mean to you in the end?
I started to think about this a lot recently when Adobe integrated EchoSign into Acrobat. The first integration was Reader, which has a much larger footprint (1 billion+ devices), but because it’s free, isn’t really a customer commit per se. But integration into the $800m-ish Acrobat suite means a 10+ year customer commitment. That means, almost no matter what the future holds, EchoSign is guaranteed a longer future ahead of it than it’s already had. Millions and millions of users for at least a decade to come. 10 years is almost forever in internet time. It’s as permanent now as any web service can be.
This permanence is something you really have to Go Big to get.
The first start-up I worked at was BabyCenter.com in the Web 1.0 days. While BabyCenter has gone through a number of changes over the years, and now is part of Johnson & Johnson, it’s still in the Top 350 websites on the web — after 15 years. 15 years in the Top Few Hundred web sites. And luckily, now that I’m older, and most of my contacts and peers and friends have kids — they’ve all used it as well. So that’s a nice little legacy to have been a part of.
The first start-up I co-founded actually, from a Changing the World perspective, did more than anything else I’ve ever done. At NanoGram Devices, our technology has gone on to save hundreds if not thousands of lives. We also delivered a 600% return in 13 months and made good money. And the founders have gone on to found 3 more industry-leading start-ups. But, the brand, the product, our labs, and much of what we “did” is gone, rolled into our acquirer. Despite Changing A Little of the World, there is no legacy.
I have no bias on going big or small. But if you want a legacy, you have to Go Big. Though maybe that’s best to think about in your second start-up. Perhaps it’s a luxury.