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If The Shoe Fits: Growth At All Costs — Unsustainable AND Unethical

by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

This is a short post, aside from the quotes, and I honestly don’t care if you skip my part and just read the  main links, especially the last on from DHH.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s exactly two years since I saw a successful lifestyle business founder, Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab and Flow, loudly and publicly say that he would rather be a horse than a unicorn.

Meaning, he would rather build his businesses organically and self-funded than take outside investment.

I wondered if his attitude was a harbinger of returning sanity.

Ha! Wilkinson’s attitude was an outlier, as opposed to a trend.

However, early as he was I see more successful founders following a similar path.

A few days ago I read a Medium post from Mara Zepeda, Co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, and Jennifer Brandel Co-founder and CEO of Hearken, coining a new term, zebra, to denote a sustainable approach to growth.

A year ago we wrote “Sex & Startups.” The premise was this: The current technology and venture capital structure is broken. It rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity. It chases after “unicorn” companies bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses that repair, cultivate, and connect. After publishing the essay, we heard from hundreds of founders, investors, and advocates who agreed: “We cannot win at this game.”

Adam Eskin, founder and CEO of expanding restaurant chain Dig Inn and a former private equity associate at Wexford Capital puts it this way,

“Having a background in private equity, we don’t just want to grow this business for growth’s sake, lose passion for what we do, or the reasons why we’re here. I think that’s what some folks can end up doing when they raise this kind of capital.”

As a tech person, who has been seduced into believing that valuation is everything, why should you listen to an outlier or non-tech founder, let alone a couple of women?

Perhaps you’ll be more inclined to listening to the guy whose tech generates raves and may even be the source code of your company.

DHH (David Heinemeier Hansson), creator of Ruby on Rails, Founder & CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), writer of best-selling books and winning LeMans racecar driver.

There is no higher God in Silicon Valley than growth. No sacrifice too big for its craving altar. As long as you keep your curve exponential, all your sins will be forgotten at the exit. (…)  The solution isn’t simple, but we’re in dire need of a strong counter culture, some mass infusion of the 1960s spirit. To offer realistic, ethical alternatives to the exponential growth logic. Ones that’ll benefit not just a gilded few, but all of us. The future literally depends on it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

 

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