A Gluttonous Saturday and the lure of Infinite Scalability

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Last Saturday, while roaming Charleston for some of it’s heralded gluttonies, Melissa suggested we go to Butcher and Bee for a burger.

What attracted her to the restaurant is something quite remarkable.

Everything is handcrafted.

Besides a few cuts of meat from a very local farmer, they literally make everything else onsite. They bake their own bread. They make their own ketchup and mayo. They even harvest all of their own vegetables in a garden behind their shop.

Everything is made by the hands of a human who cares deeply about what they are doing. And because of that, anyone who buys anything from them, including me last Saturday, leaves with a deep sense of appreciation.

Scalable? F*ck no.

Rapturously enchanting and worth gushing over in a blog post? You bet.

Maybe this restauranteur regrets having only one shop, maybe they regret having an ever-changing and adventurous menu and selling handcrafted buns and ketchup and vegetables that matter so much to them, that don’t scale and that make other people’s day … but somehow I doubt it.

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It’s interesting that we are taught as business people, as entrepreneurs, as corporate professionals and as creators to value nothing more precious than infinite scalability, as if somehow all the ills of the planet have been cured by the Walmarts of the world.

Sure, Ray Crock may have found a way to get his unremarkably average burgers in the face of every middle class person in every developed country on the face of the globe, but as long as I have been using Instagram, I have yet to see one person take a snapshot of their Double Cheeseburger. They’re not special. They’re not unique. They’re just prevalent.

The reality is that the greatest Chefs in the world don’t actually create chain restaurants. In fact, many (like Frank in my home neighborhood) work diligently at obliterating any potential economies of scale by handcrafting different restaurants with different themes for different people.

So what’s the point, AJ?

That although we may drink a Starbucks coffee from time to time, none of us brag about it. It’s just not an exceptional experience. It’s available, it does the trick, but it’s just not worth noting and it’s certainly not worth talking about.

And that matters. Especially as you are planning your next fundraising campaign or presentation or art exhibit or summer menu.

Because in many instances there may indeed be an inverse relationship between what scales infinitely (or almost infinitely) and what delights the people you are trying to reach with your next project.

Thinking about publishing another eBook? How about a very limited edition print run.

Thinking about launching a 100,000 piece direct mail campaign? How about 750 absurdly custom pieces baked in.

Thinking about hosting a dinner for your clients? Why not rent out a local warehouse, decorate it yourself & hire an up and coming local chef to cater.

Thinking about finally using the twitters to reach out to local customers for your new bakery? How about sending one fan a trial cupcake each week?

Thinking about producing a conference? Why not limit it to 30 people and host it in Fargo. ;)

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Last week I launched a Kickstarter project to publish my upcoming book.

Myself and my traveling circus of Misfits will edit it, design it, print it, publish it, market it and distribute it ourselves. A very unscalable enterprise, if ever I’ve launched one.

Everything about this project is simultaneously a labor of love, and a horrendous affront to scalability as a virtue.

There are still 20 days left to this campaign, and I’m already spending 2 days each with four early backers (sorry, this reward is all sold out.), doing 1 to 1 video calls with 34 people in twelve different time zones, and even personally delivering books to 27 people in 26 cities.

Is this scalable? Holy sh*t, no.

But you know what?

Within 5 hours, the project was fully funded.

Within 72 hours, it was triple funded.

The video has been watched over 3,000 times. The project has been tweeted about and shared and emailed thousands of more times. A few hundred people have graciously come out to bat for me and deliberately chosen to become a part of it’s creation.

And I have a sneaky suspicion that they enjoyed the fact that most everything was limited and made exclusively with them in mind.

Could I have gone a traditional route? Sure. But I doubt that you would have cared as much. And I certainly wouldn’t have had as much fun.

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Never allow infinite scalability to be the litmus test of whether an idea is worth pursuing. Because the truth is that by the time most ideas reach infinite scale, they are typically only sanitized versions of their original glory anyway.

There was a time when all we could do was dream of scale, of getting bigger for bigger’s sake. But now that we live in an age where creating art, where inspiring others, where connecting with a like-minded community and developing handcrafted work is easier than ever before, it seems like a squandered opportunity to do any different.

In the end, be deliberate about what you are trying to create.

If you want to build the next Starbucks, go for it. Me? I’m happy running the hipster-filled corner coffee shop of the web.

And I have a feeling you may be too.

From Lufkin Texas
Your Fellow Misfit,
AJ

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Ps – There are still 21 days left to my Kickstarter campaign. You can back it here. This is not a donation. You will receive MUCH more by backing this work of art now before it’s inception, than by simply buying a copy of the book this summer. Yes, it’s fully funded. But every new backer will help me do two things. 1) Make the project even more artisan and handcrafted than I ever thought possible and 2) Prove the broader point that we no longer have to wait to be chosen. Also, I’m writing the name of each and every backer in The Pegasus, so there’s that. ;)

Pps – If you have 10 seconds to spare today, would you consider helping me share the project? I’ve created this dead simple share page. 3 Clicks. I promise. I see each and every share and they all make me smile. As always, I am eternally grateful for your support.

Written from: a small hotel room in Lufkin, Texas.
Image: That Way

I NEED YOUR HELP. WILL YOU BACK A FELLOW MISFIT?

Two years ago, I canceled a book deal with a major publisher because I realized that I had sold out for an advance and the desire to be chosen. Today, I am deciding to choose myself instead. But I need your help.

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