The hidden cost of fast growth - do you know it?
Plus a framework for sustainable growth
The hidden cost of fast growth - do you know it?
I’ve noticed one common pattern in every:
Entrepreneur striving to make things work
High-flying corporate employee
Compassionate community builder
Self-proclaimed "high achiever"
Individual chasing fast growth.
They assume that more is always better.
More customers. More time. More money. More compassion. More results. More impact.More ROI.More freedom.
Furthermore, they've been hoodwinked into believing that fast growth is the best path to achieving more.
It's not always the best path. I found this out the hard way.
In June 2020, I committed myself to a 30-day pushup challenge. Each day I increased the number of pushups by one. Cheered on by my accountability group at the time, I made it to day 30 and felt like a superhero.
Despite my wife's warning, silly me did not have any rest days during the challenge, resulting in me injuring myself.
For the following month, after the challenge was over, I had pain in my right shoulder and struggled to lift things. I tried to continue working out, but it only worsened the pain. I had to stop and rest.
It was a frustrating experience because I felt like I had taken two steps back instead of one forward.
So how does this relate to business and other pursuits?
We often forget to take care of ourselves in our pursuit of growth. We work long hours, sacrifice sleep and healthy meals, and neglect our relationships.
We push ourselves to the limit in the name of progress, but we don't realize (or simply forget) that this comes at a cost.
So if you want to enjoy life more, instead of feeling like you're always chasing the next goal, keep reading.
Why chasing fast growth is a problem
It's common in the VC/startup world to talk about "growth hacking." The idea is that there are shortcuts to growing a company quickly, and if you can find them, you'll be on your way to success.
But what people often don't talk about is the cost of this growth.
So why is chasing fast growth problematic? Let's take a look at a few reasons.
1. It can lead to burnout
In 2005 I burned out while working a 50-hr week corporate job, which landed me in hospital with brain surgery. After six years of hustling to build my own service-based business and navigating my way through pandemic life, I hit burnout again in 2020.
You will eventually run out of steam if you constantly push yourself to your limits.
Burnout is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It's characterized by feelings of cynicism, disengagement, and ineffectiveness.
Burnout is caused by stress that builds over time. According to the World Health Organization:
“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.”
According to studies, there is a link between burnout and reduced cognitive function. There's also a correlation with coronary heart disease. So yes, prolonged stress can be deadly.
Joel Gascoigne, CEO and co-founder of software company Buffer, wrote a very honest account of his experience with burnout. Here's how he described what he felt at the time:
This is how I’d describe my experience of burnout: I lost motivation. I just didn’t care. I knew I cared deeply, but I had nothing left. I couldn’t get up in the morning. I felt very sensitive and emotional. It was like anything could set me off, and make me well up. I cried a lot, by myself and with people close to me.
Burnout can have a serious impact on your health and well-being, and it's something you should avoid at all costs.
2. It can result in low-quality products and services
If you're constantly trying to grow quickly, you might cut corners regarding the quality of your products and services.
You might release a product before it's truly ready or put out a subpar service to save time and money.
But this can backfire in the long run, as unhappy customers are unlikely to stick around or recommend you to others.
Even WhatsApp realized that growing too fast would cause significant issues to its user base.
Here's another shocking example of how things can go wrong when the focus is on growth at all costs:
JPMorgan Chase is suing the 30-year-old founder of Frank, a buzzy fintech startup it acquired for $175 million, for allegedly lying about its scale and success by creating an enormous list of fake users to entice the financial giant to buy it.
3. You become susceptible to “get rich quick” scams, taking shortcuts, and shiny object syndrome
You might make impulsive purchases or waste time on activities that don't actually aid your company's growth because you're so intent on developing it fast.
Like paying for business cards that you never use, that expensive website, or FB ads that brought you zero qualified leads.
You may take shortcuts that could result in trouble later on.
Or, you might fall for get-rich-quick schemes or pay for shiny objects that promise easy and fast results with little to no effort. I've certainly been guilty of this countless times.
These are all pitfalls you'll need to avoid if you want to be successful in the long run.
4. You lose sight of what's important
When you're chasing growth, losing sight of your core values and what's truly important to you is easy. This can lead to making decisions that are out of alignment with your values, which can be damaging to both your personal and professional life.
There are countless examples of leaders of companies making poor decisions because their eyes were on rapid growth, and things ended up moving too fast for them to handle.
Here are a few:
In March of 2012, during a phase of rapid growth, social-gaming company Zynga (creators of Farmville) paid $228 million for a San Francisco headquarters, and then a year later, they were letting go of 520 employees
In the below graph, you can clearly see how the leaders of coworking company WeWork totally mismanaged funds between Q1 2016 and Q4 2017 and why the company was on a one-way track to crashing. The crash did come in Sept 2019, when WeWork went from a $47 billion valuation to talk of bankruptcy in just 6 weeks.
(Side note: Apple TV+ revently released a television miniseries called WeCrashed based on the insane WeWork story! I've yet to watch it as I don't have Apple TV+ but the trailer sure looks good.)
5. It can damage your relationships
In the quest for growth, you might start to alienate the people who matter most to you, like your family and friends.
This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can have a negative impact on your mental health.
The hours and stress of running your own business can bring out the worst in your character, and your physical and emotional fatigue can leave your partner feeling isolated. - Fred Decker.
It's important to remember that your relationships are important, and you need to nurture them to maintain them.
6. It's not sustainable
Ultimately, chasing fast growth is not sustainable. At some point, you're going to hit a wall, and you won't be able to maintain the same pace. (Just like I did with my push-up challenge 🤦♂️)
This can be frustrating and lead to setbacks, so it's important to focus on sustainable growth instead.
What has led to this fast growth obsession?
Silicon Valley culture has played a big role in this, as the tech industry is known for its "move fast and break things" mindset. This has also been expressed as "fail fast, fail often."
Even in 2014-2015, when I worked as a community manager at a top coworking space in Sydney, this mindset was common. So we Aussies are not immune from it either.
The idea is that you should move quickly and try new things, even if it means making mistakes along the way. This can be a good approach in some situations, but it's not always the best strategy.
Venture capitalists encourage rapid user acquisition instead of profitability, as they want to see companies grow quickly so they can make a return on their investment.
Here's a little known fact that might surprise you (as it did me):
In the following video Chamath Palihapitiya, an early senior executive at Facebook until he left in 2011, refers to venture capital as a "Silicon Valley Ponzi Scheme". This is very telling.
The media also love the fast growth stories as they make good headlines. But what's not often reported is the price people pay for this rapid success.
Social media also plays a role as people are constantly bombarded with overnight success stories. We see people who have managed to grow their businesses or careers very quickly, making us feel like we need to do the same.
What's the alternative to chasing fast growth?
Slow growth is about balancing meeting your goals and caring for yourself. It's about growing at a pace that you can maintain over the long term.
While it might not be as exciting as chasing fast growth, it's ultimately a much more sustainable strategy.
Six benefits of slow growth
1. Improved mental health and wellbeing
Slow growth is a more sustainable approach and can help you avoid burnout. It's also been shown to improve your mental health and well-being by lowering stress levels.
You are intentionally choosing to prioritize and schedule time away from work to do things that give you energy, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
2. More focus on quality which leads to improved retention + advocacy
When you're not chasing fast growth, you can focus on other things, like improving the quality of your product or service. This can lead to more satisfied customers and better long-term results.
For instance, I recently signed up for software (Group Leads) to help me automate the step of adding new members that I accept into my private FB group to my email newsletter.
As part of my customer onboarding, I was invited to jump on a 15-min zoom call with the founder & developer of the software. They checked that I had installed it correctly and showed me how to use it.
This entire experience was delightful, and it left me feeling cared for. I know that if I ever encounter any issues or have any questions, I can reach out to them, and they will help me.
With a single interaction, I became a fan. I've even mentioned the software on my recommended tools page on my website (under the "sales" section).
3. You focus on the most critical elements to achieving your goals in your business or profession.
When you create time and space to breathe and reflect, you can more easily identify the most important things you need to work on.
This allows you to focus on activities that will help you achieve your goals rather than getting caught up in busy work or things that are expensive distractions (like get-rich-quick schemes).
4. More alignment with your values
You feel more fulfilled when acting in alignment with your core values.
For example, one of my values is freedom. This means that I prioritize working on things that give me the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world and to design my own schedule.
This value has influenced many of the decisions I've made in my business, like choosing to be a digital nomad and working remotely.
I currently enjoy living in Danang, Vietnam, with my amazing wife. Every morning, I wake up at 5:30 am to catch the sunrise from our apartment's rooftop and then take a swim. I am filled with gratitude for this life that I've created.
5. More time for important relationships in your life
Prioritizing slow growth can help you improve your relationships because you're not as focused on work all the time. You're not chasing after success at the expense of your relationships.
You have more time to invest in your personal relationships, leading to improved communication, connection, and intimacy.
6. More sustainable and profitable growth in the long term
When you choose the slow growth path, you're not at the mercy of external investors or the ups and downs of the market.
You're also not sacrificing your long-term vision for short-term gains. This leads to more sustainable and profitable growth in the long term.
This gives you greater control over your life and business and more enjoyment of the journey.
You're not beholden to anyone else's timeline or goals. You get to decide what's best for you and your business. This can help you avoid making decisions out of fear or desperation.
When you're focused on slow growth, you can enjoy the process and the relationships you build along the way. The journey is just as important as the destination.
Oh, and you can experience nice wins too...
A framework for slow growth
Achieving slow growth is a personal journey, so there are no one-size fits all approach.
But, if you're interested in pursuing slow growth, here's an 8-part framework that can help you get started:
1. Identify your core values
Your core values are the guiding principles that influence your decisions in life and business. When you're clear on your values, they can help you make better choices about how to live and work.
To define your core values, ask yourself these questions:
What's important to me?
What do I believe in?
How do I want to show up in the world?
What kind of legacy do I want to leave?
If you like quizzes, here's a recommended tool: Dr John Demartini's free values assessment
Incidentally, here are the results I got from doing the assessment:
(Not sure if my wife liked that being the best husband ranked 7th on my list, but hey, at least I was transparent with her! and this was a fun couple exercise for us to do together on one of our date days 😂)
2. Set growth limits (lower & upper)
Once you know your values, you can set goals that align with them. This will help you create a life and business that feels good to you.
Think about what you want to achieve in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. What would make you happy and fulfilled?
Additionally, it's pretty common to set lower limits on goals such as "we aim to generate $10,000 monthly revenue in the next 30 days", but this can be problematic when trying to achieve slow growth.
One tip that I picked up from Company of One by Paul Jarvis is to set an upper limit on your growth goals. By being honest about what you can handle, you maintain the quality of your work and avoid burning out.
You might, for example, set a goal to reach $10K - $20K monthly revenue in the next 90 days if you knew that generating an additional $20K per month would mean hitting your capacity to deliver quality service but going over that would cause a drop in service.
Growth is important, but it's also necessary to set limits so that you don't become overwhelmed.
Rand Fishkin, who helped his mum build and eventually left (or was forced out of) Moz, is now building Sparktoro. Here's what he recently had to say about his approach to grow the software startup:
3. Focus on positive habits, not magical numbers
At the start of the year, I had set a goal to lose 10 kgs within 8 months.
To assist me with this weight loss goal, I downloaded an app called Noom. I would get daily lessons that would take less than 5 minutes to listen to after my gym workouts.
One of the lessons that stood out to me, especially when I experienced a plateau or saw kilos being added to the scale instead of being lost, was this:
"It’s also important to note that not all of your health goals need to be weight-related.... There are a number of other habits that might not directly contribute to your ability to lose weight, but can improve your health and help you feel great. Try drinking plenty of water each day, meal prepping, getting quality sleep, and hitting the gym four days a week. " ( Read more on their blog post)
This applies to business metrics too.
In an interview that I did with Jeroen Corthout, CEO of Salesflare (the CRM tool that I use and recommend), he talked about why you should organize your team around habits, not goals. Turns out his team was able to achieve better sales performance as a result of this shift in focus.
In a Twitter thread titled "what I learned about podcasts: from developing a show to promoting it," content marketer extraordinaire Amanda Natividad shared the following:
4. Simplify your life + work
One of the best things you can do for slow growth is to simplify your life and work.
Eliminate distractions, simplify your schedule, and declutter your space.
Learn to delegate and automate as much as possible. This will free up your time and energy so that you can focus on the things that only you can do and be present for the people that matter most.
5. Invest in relationships
Another key component of slow growth is investing in relationships. This includes your relationship with yourself and your personal and professional relationships.
When you invest in relationships, you create deeper connections and build a support network that can help you achieve your goals.
Incidentally, not staying in touch with friends was #4 on the list of top 5 regrets of the dying (this list was compiled by Bronnie Ware when she was a nurse working in palliative care).
6. Focus on quality over quantity
In our fast-paced world, it's easy to get caught up in the mentality of needing to do more and achieve more. But, when you're pursuing slow growth, it's important to focus on quality over quantity.
Rather than trying to do everything, focus on doing a few things well. This includes your work, as well as your relationships and leisure pursuits.
7. Do the unscaleable
Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator (one of the most successful startup accelerators with companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit in their portfolio), has a famous essay called "Do Things That Don't Scale."
In it, he argues that the best way to achieve fast growth is to do things that can't be replicated or scaled.
For example, when Airbnb first started, the founders didn't focus on growing their user base. Instead, they focused on getting people to list their homes on the site.
To do this, they went door-to-door in New York City to persuade people to list their homes. This was a slow and labor-intensive process, but it helped them get the critical mass of listings they needed to grow their business.
Doing the unscaleable has worked for founders who were not part of any accelerator too.
In one Twitter thread, Convertkit founder Nathan Barry shared how his SaaS business hit $1,500 MRR and then got stuck and the exact steps he took to scale to $100k MRR in the next 12 months.
What I observed is that all the steps consisted of unscalable actions. Like step 5:
The end result?
Here's one more example from one of the most amazing community builders I've encountered.
8. Be patient + Enjoy the journey
One of the most important things to remember when pursuing slow growth is to be patient. It takes time and consistent effort to build lasting relationships and create a life and business that you love.
Finally, remember to enjoy the journey. Slow growth is not about depriving yourself or working hard all the time.
So, take the time to celebrate your accomplishments, enjoy your relationships, and savor the journey. Before you know it, you'll be exactly where you want to be.
If you're currently chasing fast growth, it's important to remember the potential cost. This isn't to say that you shouldn't try to grow quickly, but you need to be aware of the risks involved.
Make sure you're taking care of yourself and don't neglect your health and well-being in the pursuit of progress. Also, be mindful of the quality of your products and services.
Finally, remember that your relationships are important, and don't let them suffer in the name of growth. If you keep these things in mind, you'll be well on achieving slow and sustainable growth.
What's new this week
I've officially launched my new newsletter format (you're looking at it) and switched from Convertkit to Beehiiv! If you're curious about why I've switched email providers after six years, stay tuned for my weekly behind-the-scenes update for Authentic Marketer Plus subscribers.
My new website + rebrand is finally live! Thanks to my amazing sustainable graphic and web designer Colleen Keith for getting us here. It's been a crazy journey to get here, especially with me relocating to Vietnam and Colleen preparing for a new baby in Dec (congrats again, Colleen!).
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