Company of One by Paul Jarvis [Book Summary & PDF]

“It’s assumed that hard work and smart thinking always result in business growth.” The reality is, not all growth is beneficial – and some growth can actually hurt your life and business. Company of One examines an alternative approach to the blind growth-hacking frenzy, exploring how to build a company that serves YOU, and not the other way around! Let’s find out.

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INTRODUCTION

Who is this book for?

This book and summary is perfect for freelancers who want to upgrade their game, for entrepreneurs who want to make a living doing what they love, and for corporate business people who want to live a more meaningful, less stressful business life.

About the author

Paul Jarvis is a veteran of the online tech world, and over the years has had such corporate clients as Microsoft, Yahoo, Mercedes-Benz, Warner Music, and even Shaquille O'Neal. ​Today, he teaches online courses, runs several software businesses and hosts a handful of podcasts from his home on an island on the West Coast of Canada.

In this summary

“It’s assumed that hard work and smart thinking always result in business growth.” The reality is, not all growth is beneficial – and some growth can actually hurt your life and business. Company of One examines an alternative approach to the blind growth-hacking frenzy, exploring how to build a company that serves YOU, and not the other way around! Let’s find out.

BOOK SUMMARY

1. BEGIN

You can scale up revenue, enjoyment, loyal customers, focus, and autonomy while resisting the urge to blindly scale up employee payroll, expenses, and stress levels.

Defining a Company of One

A company of one is a business that questions traditional, infinite growth, because growth isn’t always the most beneficial or financially viable move.

Solving problems by throwing “more” also means more complexity, more costs, more responsibilities, and typically more expenses. “More” is generally the easiest answer, but not the smartest one.

There are four typical traits of all companies of one:

  1. Resilience – the capacity and fortitude to recover quickly from difficulties, like a changing job market, or being fired.
  2. Autonomy – gaining more control over your career path, without obeying to external agendas, like the one of an investor.
  3. Speed – questioning systems, processes, and structure to become more efficient and to achieve more with fewer hours of work.
  4. Simplicity – removing complexities that can detract from the business’s primary focus and result in more costs in terms of time and money.

Think:

  1. Whether growth is truly beneficial to your business
  2. How you could solve business problems without just adding “more”
  3. Whether you really need funding or venture capital for your idea, or are simply thinking too big to start

Staying Small as an End Goal

Sometimes long-term success means staying small.

For companies of one, the question is always ‘what can I do to make my business better?’, instead of ‘what can I do to grow my business larger?’

This means listening to, communicating with, and helping the existing people who are already paying attention and buying from you, working to improve your products and get better results for them, who in turn will continue to buy from you.

Think:

  1. Whether you are paying attention to your existing customers or to just your potential customers
  2. Whether you could make your business better (however you define that) instead of just making it bigger
  3. Whether your business really needs scale to succeed
  4. Where the upper bound to that scale might be, the place where profit and enjoyment have diminishing returns

What’s Required to Lead

Companies of one do require leadership. If you work for yourself, you’ve got to be a leader to successfully pitch your services or products, as well as maintain relationships with clients or customers.

If you work with a team of contractors or freelancers, then you’ve got to enable autonomy while providing alignment-setting processes and making sure there are common goals.

A leader in a company of one needs to provide clear direction, set up rules, tools and processes, and then get out of the way.

Not only do such leaders need to be masters at their core skill set, but they also need to understand how business works in general:

  • Psychology – why people buy your products or services
  • Communication – how to communicate clearly and effectively
  • Resilience – how to bounce back when failure strikes
  • Focus – how to evaluate & prioritise options quickly

Above all, leaders of companies of one need to be relentless in saying no to any opportunities that don’t fit, leaving room to opportunities that align with the values and ideas of their business.

Notably, for a company of one, workaholism is not required to succeed: research found that hustlers don’t outperform non-hustlers; the only noticeable difference is higher job stress, greater work-life conflict, and deteriorating health.

Think:

  1. Where you could strike a balance between autonomy and guidance
  2. What areas you could learn more about that would benefit your business and make you a more well-rounded generalist
  3. Steps you could take to strike a balance between hustlin’ and recuperation

2. DEFINE

Determining the Right Mindset

To succeed as a company of one, you have to have a real underlying purpose. You can’t fake your purpose. It’s how your business acts and represents itself and your values put into action.

Figuring out your purpose requires reflection on your own desires and the audience you want to serve. A well-integrated, shared purpose lets a company of one set its true direction, leading to easier decision-making, higher retention of team members, and greater connection to customers.

With purpose in mind, we must also question the idea that “a busier life, with a packed schedule, is a better life.”

The social badge of honor for always being busy has no place in the company-of-one mindset. What you should be bragging about is figuring out how to get your work done quicker and more productively.

Think:

  1. The true purpose of your business and whether it shows up in your actions (not just in your marketing material)
  2. How you could align your day/schedule to be focused on single-tasking

Personality Matters

While skills and expertise can be replicated, it’s near impossible to replicate someone’s personality and style.

Especially in a company of one, where you aren’t the largest player in your niche and probably not the cheapest, using your personality and standing for something can be how and why you gain customers’ attention.

How can a company of one, operating with the idea that less can be better, grab the attention required to profit and thrive?

The key is to unlearn being boring.

Learn how to elicit a strong emotional response to your business and the personality of your brand, because it’s easy to forget information, but it’s much harder to forget strong emotion.

Think:

  1. How you could infuse your own distinct and unique personality into your products and company image
  2. Where you could lean on what makes your business or product quirky or different to garner attention in the market

The One Customer

Treating customers well, as if they’re your one and only customer, drives value to your bottom line. Loyal customers, on average, are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.

As a company of one, avoid blind user growth and concentrate instead on retaining, pleasing, and helping your customers. Renewals is often a far more important metric to measure. In the long run, this approach costs far less and aids your company far more.

If you serve your customers well, they in turn become brand evangelists for your company: basically an unpaid sales force that reduces your need to hire more staff. Your support centre can become the main source of referrals.

The first step in treating customers exceptionally and empathetically is listening to their needs. The more you understand your customers, the more you can tailor and position products that provide real value to them.

You will also gain a bigger-picture idea about the types of questions and requests that are coming in – it helps identify patterns and organise all feedback and suggestions in a central location.

Think:

  1. What you could do to ensure that your existing customers feel both happy and acknowledged
  2. Where you could exceed expectations with your customer service
  3. How you could create opportunities for word of mouth and referrals
  4. How you own and then fix mistakes
  5. What you could do to ensure that your customers end up with wins

Scalable Systems

When growth in profit, customers, or reach is needed, companies of one can turn to simple and repeatable systems to facilitate scale, with no need for more employees or resources.

For example, social media and newsletters create a one-to-many relationship, so that the company doesn’t need more staff to reach more people. They simply need to improve their messaging and positioning through personalisation, segmentation, and A/B tests in their email and paid ad campaigns.

Think:

  1. Where you could use automation and technology to scale so your business doesn’t have to
  2. How you could outsource tasks that require massive scale
  3. How you could add personalisation and segmentation to your one-to-many communication channels

Teach Everything You Know

To stand out and build an audience as a company of one, you have to out-teach and outshare the competition, not outscale them.

For example, if you sell mailing list software, teach your clients about the importance of email marketing. If you sell luggage, teach travel hacks.

This approach has several positive outcomes:

  • Creating a relationship with an audience that sees you as a teacher sets you up to be perceived as the domain expert on the subject matter.
  • Out-teaching your competition is the chance to show an audience the benefits of what you’re selling.
  • By educating new customers on how best to use your product or service and become successful with it, they will likely become long-term customers and tell others about their positive experience.
  • Being transparent while running your company can only help build trust with your customers.

Teach everything you know and don’t be afraid to give away your best ideas.

If you can consistently give your audience useful, relevant, and timely knowledge (through your mailing list, speaking events, website, and so on), they’ll begin to turn to you for more information, instead of choosing the competition (which is usually the larger, cheaper company you’re trying to out-teach).

Think:

  1. What you could begin to share with or teach your customers or audience
  2. How you could focus more on executing ideas than on protecting them
  3. What investments you could make in consumer education as a marketing channel
  4. What you could share that would position you or your company as an authority in a niche

3. MAINTAIN

Properly Utilising Trust and Scale

A trust-based company of one begins with creating something that genuinely solves a problem; then the company rigorously tests the product’s validity before honestly communicating its benefits and outcomes to customers.

There are three aspects of trust:

  1. Confidence (“I believe what you say”)
  2. Competence (“I believe you have the skills to do what you say”)
  3. Benevolence (“I believe you’re acting on my behalf”)

For a company of one with a smaller customer base, trust is more easily established because you can stand out as an expert or gather referrals from other industry experts in your niche.

Strong word of mouth creates trust by proxy: when a friend recommends a product that is worth buying, you pay attention because you trust your friend; some of that trust is then passed on to the product they’re recommending.

Create a schedule for following up with happy clients: talk to them a few weeks after a project is finished and collect testimonials or success stories based on the real results they’ve seen.

You can then ask them if they know of other businesses/people that could benefit from your services the way they have or if they’re interested in arranging another project with you.

Think:

  1. How you embed trust and honesty as a marketing strategy in your company of one
  2. The relationships you could foster with your customers to incentivise them to share word of your business with others
  3. How to ensure – whether through email, support, or social media – that you’re always honouring social contracts with your customers Launching & Iterating in Tiny Steps

As a company of one, you need to reach profitability as quickly as possible.

Since you’re not relying on massive influxes of cash from investors, every minute you spend preparing is a minute when you aren’t making money or getting customer feedback to improve.

Get your product or service released as soon as possible – a quick release can also serve as a perfect learning experience.

With the continual process of launching, measuring, adjusting, repeating, data starts to pour in. How are sales going? How are the reviews? Use this data to further refine your product.

You should aim to hit your MVPr (Minimum Viable Profit). Profit happens when the business is making enough money to cover a full-time salary for the owner(s). This is the “minimum” part of MVPr. Viability is when MVPr either continues to support that one person long-term or increases with time.

From there, you have choices: to grow, to stay the same, to take more time off, to scale systems…

Think:

  1. A new business or product you could start right now by executing the smallest version of your idea
  2. How to determine your MVPr, the steps that could be taken to achieve it as quickly as possible, and what could be scaled back to reach it faster
  3. A product or service that would be the simplest solution to a problem your customers are having
  4. Whether you could start your company of one without capital and what that would look like

The Hidden Value of Relationships

To create an audience of people who are keen to support your business by purchasing from you, a real relationship is required first – one that includes trust, humanity, and empathy.

Companies of one don’t growth-hack, because the true north of growth-hacking is, of course, growth. The true north of a company of one is to work toward being better, not bigger, and the way to do that is by building long-term relationships with its audience and customers.

Developing these relationships requires three types of capital: financial capital, human capital, and social capital.

Think of social capital like a bank account; you can take out (ask people to do something that benefits you) or put in (educate and build trust, value, and reputation). If you’re always asking people to buy your products without providing value first, your balance will hit zero and your audience will tune out.

Most businesses fail at building relationships: they drop off because they can’t “find the time” when the business benefit seems to disappear. Try to maintain the relationship over time, even with customers who haven’t financially supported your business in a while.

It all comes down to this: what can you do as a company of one to make your customers happy?

Think:

  1. How you could get to know your customers as real people with specific problems
  2. Where the true north of your business lies and what actions you could take to stay aligned with it
  3. How you could build relationship wealth by increasing your value and thus your social capital
  4. The ways in which you could empathise with your current customer baseStarting a Company of One

People want the job title of founder or CEO, but they overlook the daily rigors of running a business of their own. Brilliant ideas or passion are not enough.

If the author had to start a business tomorrow, this is what he would do:

  1. Find people who are looking to hire freelancers around his skillset.
  2. Offer to help with their questions for free to gain insights into why and how they end up choosing to hire professionals like him.
  3. Notice definite trends where people are having issues.
  4. Build and foster relationships with these people so he could continue learning from them and vice versa.
  5. Through a blog, he would write publicly about what he learned and eventually compile these posts into a book, or use this newly acquired knowledge to create his own services. Maybe both.

Ok, you’ve done all of that. Now what’s next?

  • Separate yourself from your business (it should be its own legal entity)
  • Reduce any of your expenses to do less work to be profitable
  • Get an initial version of your product to market quickly to build revenue
  • Ensure that you’re making enough profit to cover your living expenses.
  • Save enough for a runway buffer if things get slow.
  • Reinvest money in your company. Alternatively, invest any extra money in index funds.

Finally, build your lifestyle around your company of one, optimising for both profit and your own happiness.

Think:

  1. Your purpose or reasoning in starting your own company of one, and whether it will hold up over time
  2. How you could start your own company of one right now, with some first version of what you want to do
  3. What you need to do to set up your company of one correctly and responsibly, both legally and financially

CONCLUSION

Key takeaways

  • Companies of one question blind growth
  • Turn down investor money; bootstrap your business instead
  • Build a business around purpose that supports the lifestyle you want
  • Reduce expenses to hit profitability faster
  • Launch fast, measure, refine, repeat
  • Invest your time on building relationships with your customers and listen to them, so you can improve your product/service
  • Out-teach your competition and share your best knowledge publicly

Further reading

The 4-Hour Workweek By Timothy Ferriss. Whether you are an overworked employee or an entrepreneur trapped in your own business, this book is the compass for a new and revolutionary world.

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. Inspired and guided by Chris's own story, you can devise your own plan for world domination-and make the world a better place at the same time.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  1. Think and answer the questions at the end of each section.
  2. Visit ofone.co for more resources.
  3. Follow the practical steps of the last chapter to start your own company of one.
  4. Download the complete book on Amazon.