Your idea needs to be able to scale up

There are certain cases where you can get around this, but generally speaking, in the large majority of cases, scaling up is the right way to go. You start with a first version, and then you try to get more and more and more customers. So:

  • You start your web site, and you try to grow the audience until you have millions of unique visitors per month
  • You start with one restaurant and then you try to build copies of that restaurant across the country
  • You begin selling your product off your web site, and then you put it on Amazon, and then you scale up to the point where Walmart and Target will carry it
  • And so on…

There are two things that can prevent scaling:

  1. Not very many people have the problem you are addressing
  2. You can only produce so much of what you want to sell

As an entrepeneur, you generally want your product to have a big audience, and you want to be able to satisfy the needs of a big audience.

Let’s say you are an artist, and you are producing original paintings. There are only so many original paintings that you can produce, so that limits things for you. How do you get around this? If you are fortunate to become a famous artist, you can raise your price for your original works. You can’t make any more than before, because at least you are receiving more money per work. Maybe some of your audience would accept a print rather than an original, and prints scale nicely.

There are some companies that make a virtue out of lack of scale. Lamborghini comes to mind. They only make a few thousand Lambos per year [ref], and then charge a high price for each one.

But generally speaking, you want to focus on ideas that can scale up. There are two ways to approach it:

  1. Think big, start small, and scale up. Walmart is a great example of this process. Walmart started with a single store that Sam Walton created in Arkansas. Read a biography of Walton – it is an amazing story. Any chain restaurant is another example: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Applebee’s etc. all started with one restaurant and then replicated it across the country.
  2. Think big, and go straight to national scale. Usually this takes a lot of money. Nest is a great example with their thermostat product. The company raised perhaps $100 million [ref] to fill nationwide inventory pipelines and run a big nationwide ad campaign. They sold 800,000 or so thermostats in the year of release, and then they got acquired by Google. Perfect execution. If you have access to $100 million, go for it. Generally speaking you get this kind of money from VCs.

Almost every famous web site that you know and love today started small and then scaled up primarily through word-of-mouth resonance.