Monday, December 1, 2014

You Can't Scale People

"When growing up, Christmas was always about me... then later, I enjoyed giving, so it was about you... Thanksgiving, however, has always been about us."
                                          ~ Rosecrans Baldwin

Last weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with some friends to watch a play at a local theater. 

I hadn’t seen these particular friends for some time so we decided to begin our evening by having dinner at a nearby small restaurant called "The Everything" to catch up and socialize a bit before the show.

Having made reservations, we were quickly seated and given a menu. 

I had never eaten at this restaurant, but what amazed me was the sheer breadth of the menu.  There were at least ten pages of different items and combinations available to the restaurant’s patrons.  This restaurant was aptly named as it seemed to offer everything.

After a short time, our waiter came over to our table to take drink orders and present the specials of the day.

He then rattled off another ten items the chef was preparing especially for that night’s clientele.

As I sat there trying to come to some sort of decision, I wondered about the actual quality of the meals being offered... with "everything" on the menu... can the chef actually cook "anything" well... or were there just a lot of mediocre dishes?

When I questioned our server as to why there were so many dishes, he replied that this restaurant was located very near to the convention center which brought in a wide variety of people. The owner, looking to satisfy everyone’s individual tastes, thought it was best to have a little something of everything on the menu.

"Our restaurant can cater to a large audience of potential customers, especially if they go out in groups.  No longer would the group need to decide on Italian, Japanese, Thai or any other specific type of cuisine.  We have it all under one roof", he said with a boast.

I thought to myself, that it was certainly an original hook, but I still thought back to the inefficiencies that must exist at this restaurant... needing to stock and prepare so many different types of foods.

In the end, I ordered one of the "special" dishes ... which, in fact, was pretty ordinary and not very special at all...

In stark contrast to this restaurant, there is a very successful regional fast-food hamburger restaurant that has been in business since 1948 called "In-N-Out".  

For more than 65 years, they have offered the public the exact same menu: 
  • Hamburgers
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Double Cheeseburgers (Double Double)
  • French Fries
  • Shakes (was added to the menu in 1975)
  • Sodas
The owners of this restaurant chain decided a long time ago that they wanted to offer only a few items, but prepare those items extremely well.

They only serve 100% beef hamburger on a freshly baked bun, with real American cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes and hand leafed lettuce.  Their French fries are hand cut in the store only a few minutes ahead of frying and are fried in 100% vegetable oil.  Their shakes are made with 100% real ice cream.  

If you stop by any In-N-Out restaurant close to mealtime... you’ll most likely find a line out the door.

They don’t offer turkey or bacon burgers, chicken or fish sandwiches, tacos, cross-cut fries, a breakfast menu or desserts.

They know that their menu doesn’t appeal to everyone...

They only do a few things but they do those things extraordinarily well... and you can’t argue with their success as they prepare to open their 300th restaurant sometime next year...

So herein lays the classic debate... do you do a few things really well... or do you do a lot of things in order to serve a greater audience.

I believe that the answer lies in the idea of scalability.

Does adding more... products... services... customers... bandwidth... or seats on your airplane dilute the customers’ experience with a company and its brand?

In some cases, having more users actually increases the value of the brand...

This is the case of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other types of social media... as well as companies like AirBnB and Uber.  If there wasn’t anyone using the network... then the network is useless.  In this case the company needs additional users to actually make the network actually work... the bigger the network... the more opportunities there are to connect.

Other businesses are also scalable. 

A writer or recording artist does the exactly same amount of work to create something regardless if one copy or a million copies are sold. Adding more users does nothing to diminish the quality of the product.

The same thing is true of certain e-commerce sites such as Amazon or E-Bay.  It takes very little additional effort to add another product to the existing infrastructure.  Adding more products doesn’t dilute the customer’s experience but probably enhances it as there is a greater offering to choose from.

Some businesses though are simply not scalable.

Adding more customers only dilutes the service to those using the service...

This might be the situation with a small service provider such as your accountant or attorney, where if they acquire too many clients, your personal attention from these service providers gets diluted and you no longer have access to them as you perhaps once did.

Many airlines have significantly reduced the legroom once offered in order to add more rows of seats, and thus diluting even further their customers’ experience (as if airline travel could possibly sink any lower).  Airplanes simply don’t scale very well...

My friend Jack Daly is a sales consultant and public speaker.  He is the best at what he does so his current and new clients want to hire him to do more and more speaking... so much so... that his calendar is now booked a full year in advance.  

He understands that if he tries to add more speaking engagements, he will not have enough time to properly prepare for each one... diluting his performance... and cheapening the experience of his clients.

Jack has simply run out of time... regardless of the growing demand for it...

He simply can’t add anymore... so at some point... he learned that he needed to start turning business away... (which just kills him when he thinks of how hard he has worked to build his successful business over the course of 40 years... )

Turning people away is just not in his DNA... but he also realizes that if he doesn’t do this... everyone will get less in the end.

Which brings me to people...

We, as human beings, are simply not scalable (although many will try)... we have a finite amount of resources that we can offer...

I currently have 515 "friends" on Facebook, 2,496 "contacts" on LinkedIn and 9,097 Twitter "followers"... so there are simply not enough minutes in the day to have any real connection with most of these people... yet every day I receive more invitations to connect...

I see more and more of their "updates"... and more and more family photos and videos of cats doing stupid things...

Unfortunately real friendships are not simply not scalable...

I want dearly to spend time with everyone I know but it’s an impossible task... and I feel a certain amount of guilt knowing that I am not doing a better job keeping up...

...but in the end... those close friends I do maintain relationships with and I are grateful for the quality time we do get to spend together...

Spending time together always seems to create laughter and joy and the want to do it again really soon.

Great friends and the experiences we share are certainly some of the things I’m thankful for today...

What is it that you are thankful for?

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we understand that our product offering is scalable but the relationships we have with our customers isn’t.

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