Fewer, Bigger, Better: A Lesson in Time Management

When Saying "No" is More Important than "Yes"


Here at SoapBox we make a lot of mistakes. It's the reality of startup life for entrepreneurs - mistakes are going to happen. I often make the analogy that starting a company is like being a Roomba (that robot vacuum that zooms across your floors), because the robot often hits the walls and has to course-correct constantly to achieve its cleaning objective.

We recently brought in a seasoned industry executive to provide consultation, and he pointed out one mistake in particular that that had turned into a habit. Instead of making a one-time bad decision, this Roomba wasn't turning after hitting the wall the last 43 times.

What was the bad habit? Trying to do everything, and do it all at the same time.

In the early days, like for many scrappy startups, SoapBox had to beg, plead, show up at retailers' offices unannounced, and offer our first-born (well, this might be an exaggeration) to get our products on store shelves. After years of operating like this to grow our sales, we suddenly started to get calls from vendors asking us to sell into their store... A change we welcomed!

Elated and honored to be approached, we said yes to every new business who wanted SoapBox. We grew rapidly and our products started popping on the shelves of grocery, drug, mass, natural, specialty, college, and various other types of stores.

The Problem of Trying to Do Everything
At first it was great, but the costs of supporting this fragmented approach started to add up and we realized that we had expanded too fast and in too many channels. In other words, our Roomba lost control and went after the dog.

I know too many startup founders who share this same problem. After the years of swimming up stream, the moment your market embraces your venture, your first reaction is to open the throttle and step on the gas. This is where saying "No" is more important than saying "Yes."

A Valuable Lesson Learned:
Our executive consultant taught our existing leadership team that by expanding so quickly, we couldn't adequately support each channel with the marketing dollars, personnel bandwidth, and the day-to-day support they needed to succeed. In other words he said, "you need to focus on doing 'fewer, bigger, better."

This idea has started to seep into other activities at SoapBox, including marketing initiatives, operational activities, and the amount of snacks we keep in the office. It reduces stress by trying to juggle a million things at once and allows your employees to optimize the activities and projects they are in charge of so your dollars and their time get the most return they can.

Take a look at your startup. Take a step back and ask yourself, are we saying yes, when we should be saying no?