Here we are at every cocktail party, kids’ school event or extended family gathering. I can tell when it’s about to happen. <Don’t get defensive. Don’t get defensive.>
“What do you do for a living?”
“I design and market software systems for container port operators around the world.”
“Cool. What’s the name of your company?”
“Never heard of it.”
Aaaaand, there it is.
I can mention we serve a niche market. I can let the inquirer know with a calm degree of assurance we’ve been an industry leader for over twenty years and get this, I even named the company. And still there will be a quick pivot to the others around us until a more familiar employer is represented. I’m in Seattle. There are plenty of companies even my twin 8-year olds can rattle off with a sense of regional pride. Certainly, the nice person from Starbucks is more intriguing and relatable. “Are you guys really opening a store in Milan, Italy?” or “What’s up with all the freaky Frappuccinos?”
With me they say, “Oh…the big cranes. Right. Have you met Chris from Amazon? I just saw the giant spheres? Aren’t they amazing?!”
No, I’ve not yet met Chris or seen his “spheres” in person. The pictures are cool. I want to go inside and look for monkeys.
At Tideworks, we don’t have massive terrariums. I can’t even recall any actual plants. There was recently a batch of plastic palms and ficus trees in the far corner of our main office following a big remodel with a sign that read, “Free for the taking.” Maybe they were envious of Amazon. Maybe they’d just given up.
Well, I’m not giving up. Our staffing and our numbers will never be comparable to some of our Northwest technology company counterparts, but you know what, our brand is strong, only getting stronger, and yours can too.
Small isn’t little. Small can be nimble, responsive and as true a partner as any Goliath in your marketspace and then some.
When did it become a crime to prefer steady, stable, organic growth for your enterprise? When your numbers are right for your business model and you benefit from a consistent revenue trajectory, you can enjoy all the culture of a small business offering. When I pass people in the hall I don’t know, I make it my responsibility to learn their name and more importantly, really learn who they are. I say that’s more important, because I forget names, but I never forget a smile. I never forget the way some of our new hires gain incredible mastery of our challenging domain in such a short period of time. I never forget who we are is who we hire.
I recently paid a visit to one of the largest IT employers in our area. Holy smokes! Without question, the community, the pulse of the business…it was all palpable. I saw hundreds, thousands of employees engaged in their day-to-day business among fantastic workplace amenities. I saw team spirit, I saw team colors, I saw a BAND! And then something familiar about the experience washed over me like a fresh déjà vu.
Maybe it’s the fast approaching March Madness that has me thinking of college analogies. When your school is one of the top seeds in your respective bracket, you probably know the power of “Big”: a big athletic department budget, big alumni boosters, and all the trappings that go with a big, rich legacy of tournament experience and championship banners.
I attended small schools with big hearts and no invitations to the Big Dance. And yet, I bet I know how the tournament Cinderellas feel.
When you’re small or when you’re the underdog, you’re fully aware very few people know your name, let alone where you’re located and all your specialties. But, you do know every player on the team and you know them well. You know you have each other’s best interests and competitive spirit in your own nervous, beating heart. You know your competition can only underestimate you once. You know you can run with the big dogs while still maintaining your scrappy determination and grit. You know even when you’re small you can still have a powerhouse brand.
Not one of these schools has more than 5,000 undergraduates, yet I bet you know their brands. (Here’s some context for you, there are more than 47,000 employees on the Microsoft Redmond campus alone. That’s big.)
Let the quality of your people speak volumes. When you’re small and striving for excellence, you simply cannot tolerate boorish or toxic behavior in your office. You work hard to hire the kind of people who can grow your business as the bold brand ambassadors you wish everyone to be. You can more easily demonstrate real, authentic care for your customers and your colleagues, let them know how valuable they are to you and your organization. And yes, for the tiny and mighty there are also great pitfalls. When you’re small, your colleagues and your customers can more easily see your true colors and even your most embarrassing moments or biggest failings. In a small company there is no place to hide. There’s no such thing as “quietly going about your business.” Just as in a large company, people may battle for recognition; in a small company, no one has to say a word. You know your leaders and your leaders don’t have to look very hard to see you and the impact you have on your culture and customers.
Maybe you’re small with dreams of one day being the largest player in your league. Maybe you’re small and go to bed each night grateful for the chance to do what you do, hoping you never get too big for your britches.
Your brand doesn’t know how many employees are behind it. Your brand makes your customers stronger, faster, and a lot better looking. Your brand is you.
Never heard of Tideworks Technology? That’s okay. I’m working on that. When you do recognize our brand, thank you. In return, we’ll be exactly the company we want to be with just the right people making every day exceptional, if not big.