I had an interview at a startup downtown this last week. This company has revenue and is selling stuff. At one point I asked the Director of Engineering: “So, is the company profitable?”. Apparently this wasn’t the right question to ask. His response was they weren’t trying to be profitable, they were trying to grow. As I was pondering this later it seemed odd to want growth over profitability. But apparently in the topsy-turvy world of venture capital funded startups this makes some kind of sense.
But still, I kind of wonder about this idea of growth for growth’s sake. Isn’t that kind of how cancer works? Or maybe kind of like the growth caused by high fructose corn syrup?
The thing is, these VC funded startups seem to be getting all the press, whereas companies that aren’t obsessed with growth tend to fly completely under the radar. My wife worked for a small software company for most of the 90’s that made scientific visualization software for the Mac. They primarily sell into Universities & Government research facilities. It’s a small niche, but for the last 20 years or so they’ve employed between 5 and 8 software engineers. They still employ about that many people and probably will for another 10 years or so. They’re not worried about growth, they want sustainability. And they always seemed to be having a good time. Most of the people working there have been there for close to 20 years now. It’s interesting, steady work that seems to pay well. Sure, they could have gone out and tried to get VC to “expand into new markets”… but it’s probable that if they had done that, they wouldn’t exist now. They may have been bought and rolled into a larger company and most of the people working there would have left soon after that or rapid growth could have caused it to crash and burn. No, instead they’ve chosen the sustainable path. Good on them.