Company of One is a unique business book. It’s about the what, why, and how of running a business for your sake rather than for growth’s sake. It’s about making a profit now rather than growing and making a profit later. It follows the similar vein of Anything You Want by Derek Sivers and Small Giants by Bo Burlingham and Enough by John Bogle.
Here’s the official description –
What if the real key to a richer and more fulfilling career was not to create and scale a new start-up, but rather, to be able to work for yourself, determine your own hours, and become a (highly profitable) and sustainable company of one? Suppose the better—and smarter—solution is simply to remain small? This book explains how to do just that.
The book covers what it means to avoid growth in order to maintain the size that you want for your business. It runs contrary to nearly every other business book on the market that all celebrate “scaling” or “finding your North Star of growth” or “becoming the next Jeff Bezos / Elon Musk.” But it’s also not a book that’s reactionary or judgemental – it’s simply a book written for business owners like myself who have other priorities in life, and business is simply there to fund those priorities.
What I Liked
I liked the camaraderie of the book. The author has a ton that implies that he knows why you are reading the book – almost just to meet another person in business who is trying to building a Company of One. From my own experience, it’s nearly impossible to go to business events, tradeshows, workspaces, podcasts, etc and not feel incredibly awkward and isolated. The nature of business in a hypercapitalist economy is to make as much money as you can, as fast as you can. While I appreciate the ambition of people trying to scale their brand, it’s not how I want to run my company. And that can be hard to communicate. This book is amazing in that the author is just like, “Yeah, this is a valid way to run a business. There are a lot of us out here in the business world. You’re not alone, or crazy, or doing it ‘wrong’ somehow.”
I liked the tactics of the book on how to make your business better without necessarily making it bigger. In some ways, thinking solely about growth can allow you to miss so many details about how your business runs – and how your business impacts your life outside of work.
I liked his exploration of reasons behind keeping a company small. On on hand, most are pretty obvious, but it’s refreshing to read another person’s perspective.
What I Did Not Like
Like most business books, it could have been probably half the length. I skimmed several sections.
I didn’t really like some sensationalizing that a Company of One was the “future of business” or could be for everyone. I think that’s a bit ridiculous and unfair to people who enjoy being part of a team or growing a large companies. I wished the author had stuck more with “this should be a valid business option for some businesses” tone throughout. Then again, it may have just been a marketing angle.
A business does not have to grow or die – it can just exist and focus on being better. As long as you keep your clients / customers happy and keep your expenses in line, that’s all you need.
Companies use systems, automation, and planning to scale up and become bigger and bigger. You can use those same systems, automation, and planning to reduce your workload without having to become bigger. It’s the same message from the 4 Hour Workweek – if you can become 10x better then you can take either work 4 hours per week with the same output or you can get 400 hours worth of work done in the same week. Either way is valid.
There are always tradeoffs. The point is to be aware of the tradeoffs.