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DBC - "Small Giants" by Bo Burlingham

Druid’s Book Club

Quick Take: Great book. Real-world examples of businesses fighting against the myths of "grow or die" and “bigger is better.” How purposefully staying “small” can lead to greatness.

Longer Take:

I bought “Small Giants” shortly after it came out in 2005

but just got around to reading it. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m not sure; I buy more business books than I can possibly read. So, this book sat in the queue for about 17 years. Luckily it stands up incredibly well.

I’m a big fan of Inc. Magazine. At the time of the release of “Small Giants,” Bo Burlingham was the Editor at Large of Inc., so picking up this book was a no-brainer. I’m glad I did.

In “Small Giants,” Burlingham details 14 successful businesses that made concerted efforts to limit their growth to achieve greatness (e.g., Clif Bar, Anchor Brewing, Zingermans, Union Hospitality, Righteous Babe, etc.). Each of these businesses strove for greatness in areas other than growth and revenue. Instead, they fought for mastery of the value they were providing, which led to more opportunities for growth and revenue.

Burlingham uses the stories of these “small” companies to illustrate several key business lessons. My favorite lessons include:

  • It is always your choice as to what type of business you want.

  • Don’t give up too much ownership.

  • Strive to create connections within your community.

  • Work to make employees, customers, and suppliers feel part of the “family.”

I thoroughly enjoyed “Small Giants” for 3 main reasons:

  • It largely follows a narrative format. Burlingham is a talented storyteller.

  • I learned about businesses that don’t typically get a lot of press (As opposed to reading one more article about Apple, Tesla, and Amazon).

  • I was reminded that you’re not an entrepreneurial failure if you are not the biggest.

I highly recommend “Small Giants” to anyone striving to run a successful business.

Some of My Favourite Quotes:

“The companies in this book have a message for every person who sets out to build a business, and it’s an important one: If the business survives, you will sooner or later have a choice about how far and how fast to grow.”

“If you constantly hear about the need to grow or die, if everybody seems to be trying to get to the next level, if the only companies being celebrated—or even taken seriously—are the biggest, or the fastest-growing, you may never even think to ask about options other than growing your business as much as you can and as quickly as you can.”

“If you want to have the choice, you have to fight for it. All successful businesses face enormous pressures to grow, and they come from everywhere—customers, employees, investors, suppliers, competitors—you name it. …those forces will make the choice for you if you let them, in which case you will lose the opportunity to chart your own course.”

“…your growth is absolutely limited by your capital … This is what forces companies to sell out. They can’t finance their own growth. You sell a piece here and a piece there, and pretty soon you don’t have the controlling equity anymore. And success just makes things worse. If you have the only widget in town and customers are beating down your doors, you’re riding a rocket ship. That’s how many people lose their company—because they’re too successful.”

“Successful entrepreneurs have a demon they have to get rid of … For me, it was having to do as much as I could. I always worried, Am I missing an opportunity here? Am I leaving money on the table? How do you turn that off? How do you keep the success bug from turning into the success disease?”

Druid’s Top Entrepreneurship Lesson: For every decision you make, you need to ask yourself, “Will this hinder our ability to do what makes us great?”



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