A Billion Dollars isn’t Cool

“A billion dollars? That’s not cool. You know what’s cool? A million dollars.” –Derek Sivers

Quite some time ago, I read this post by Chris Brogan about attention management. Chris is an author and consultant and has written many great articles on marketing-related topics. But even though I enjoy many of his writings and thoughts, I found myself scratching my head after reading these lines:

“…attention is finite.

With that in mind, it becomes a matter of budgeting and management. How much one-on-one can I invest, because that’s where the real value of social media kicks in. How can I get more information to more people in a one-to-many format, because that’s my only hope at scaling. This is what we have to ask ourselves daily.”

Chris is right of course: Attention is finite. Still, his conclusions puzzle me: Why should we have to ask ourselves daily about how to optimize our time usage? Why should we see every “one-on-one” meeting as an “investment”, and try to get the word out to “more people in a one-to-many format”?

I for one have never been a friend of aggressive proselytizing. Because… who are we? Jesus? Or are we just trying to sell a product? If the latter’s the case, what’s all that hype about scaling? Why not just forget scaling and chill the fuck out for a while?

Business, the “Staying Small” Way

A different approach was taken by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, as outlined in this interview with Michael Ellsberg:

As CDBaby was growing, once you get beyond say 10 or 15 employees, all of the sudden you’re on the radar of business-to-business services that start pitching you all these things you “need.” I.e., “You need to use our business metrics…” etc.

We’d even get people coming by in person, in suits, with clipboards, to say, “Well of course, you need to have an employee review policy.”

And I’d say, “Need? OK, so if I do not do this, will I be thrown in jail?”

And they’d say, “Well, no, no, no, but you really should. . . ”

And I’d say, “OK, we’re done here.” Unless I’m actually going to be thrown in jail for not doing it, then I don’t need it. [Laughing.]

Sivers wasn’t crazy about scaling. He certainly wasn’t against growth, but from what I can tell after reading that interview, he didn’t freak out about it. His company grew faster than he had planned, anyway.

Here’s the (real) billion dollar question: Can’t Chris Brogan live quite nicely with the money he’s making right now? If he can, why does he have to scale?

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to single Chris out. Nor any of the other “growth” bloggers, like Gary Vaynerchuk or whoever. For me it’s fine for them to grow as much as they want to. It can certainly be thrilling to build a larger company.

I just don’t agree with everybody painting the picture as if growth was mandatory. And that’s really about a much bigger issue than just building a marketing company: Ultimately, do we all really need evermore money? Do we really need more growth? Do we really need to scale?

Here’s another quote from Derek:

…I realized, you can just opt out of all of this. As long as you’re able to keep your living costs low—if you can live on $1,000 a month, or better yet, $700 a month—you don’t need to do anything for anyone, you can just do the occasional little odd job, and say no to the rest.

This chimes with me: Personal frugality pays higher dividends than any scaled business could ever do. It’s not about living miserably, but about living smarter: If I ever reach the point where I have to “budget” my quality time, ceaselessly worrying about getting the word out to evermore people, I’d be tempted to simply shift gears and take a walk for a change.

If I was Chris Brogan or Gary Vaynerchuk, the only thing I’d wish to do was to scale down. Degrow. And chill out for a change.


Our society is looking for growth like a crackhead for his next fix. Thankfully, there are better ways to lead a business, even if it might make us just a couple of millions instead of billions.

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