Playing ‘Big’ Can Look Small

June 13, 2013

I’ve seen it time and again… the desire for growth can kill a company.

Friendster was set to take over the world. It was based on a simple concept – rather than online dating, people could meet each other through friends of friends. It became the first major social network, and now it’s all but disappeared. How could this happen with a huge market lead and a new a team of silicon valley’s best and brightest?

As Friendster grew, the site’s founder saw the site load time was getting slower. The board didn’t think much of it because it was not a long page load delay. But where there’s smoke there’s fire. The founder pushed for resources to fix it, but the board was obsessed with growth, partnerships and revenue models. By the time it was a full blown fire (a 10-second page delay that had everyone running to Myspace), it was too late. Friendster became a ghost town.

It’s easy for a company to get drunk on growth. It’s fun, everyone feels good, the momentum is amazing. But when you’re drunk, your senses are impaired. And God knows how awful it can be when someone believes their senses are still in tact, and steps into a car. You may have driven correctly a thousand other times. But one disconnected moment could end it all.

Leaders are at the wheel of the company and the best leaders consistently look out for smoke (to mix metaphors!). Take Richard Branson. This CEO of Virgin meticulously reads complaint after complaint. And he loves it. He’s cultivated a sheer joy in tackling problems in customer service. But unfortunately many companies are looking to reduce customer service. They want to spend less.  And most company leaders feel they can’t be bothered with trivial customer complaints.

Customer service is only one example of how the wheels can fly off the machine when it’s running faster than the frame can handle. But whatever the area, it’s in the tiny details.  Big vision is what guides the company, but the smallest errors are where the mighty fall.