Conventional wisdom tells us bigger is better, and that we’d all be happier if we had more—more growth, more followers, more customers, more money, more of everything society associates with “success.”
But what if we could do what we love, on our own terms, and make solid money, while remaining small? What if we could focus more on what we want to create and spend less time worrying about building a big business?
In this interview writer and designer Paul Jarvis shares a little from his two decades of running his own (very) small business, the key lessons he included in his recent book Company of One, and his assorted insights on creativity and success.
Paul has worked with professional athletes like Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal, corporate giants like Microsoft and Mercedes Benz, and entrepreneurs with online empires like Danielle LaPorte and Maria Forleo.
He currently teaches popular online courses, hosts several podcasts, and develops small but mighty software solutions.
2:56 Paul shares a little about his Business Insider article “Here’s How to Master Your Life in 19 Difficult Steps,” speaking to these three ideas:
- Be foolish and stupid as often as possible (the right amount of risk smart entrepreneurs take)
- Everyone is weird, awkward, and different (a defining moment in his writing career involving his pet rats; why your work doesn’t need to appeal to everyone)
- Expectations are inversely related to a sense of accomplishment (how to let go of expectations when you have a lot of hope wrapped up in your goal, and how to find accomplishment in simply moving forward, regardless of the outcome)
20:37 Why Paul decided to write his book Company of One now
23:02 Paul discusses the trappings of more when it comes to business and how businesses often fail because they grow too quickly
28:55 Paul explores the three simple rules the define the company of one model:
- Start small
- Define growth
- Keep learning
35:36 Paul shares a couple powerful stories from his book and challenges the version of success the media feeds us
45:58 Paul talks about introversion—how you can push yourself outside your comfort zone, pick the right opportunities so you don’t exhaust yourself, what helps when you don’t feel like “peopling” today—and how to recognize the difference between fear-based decisions and decisions based on what makes sense for you individually
53:38 Paul discusses the idea that creativity thrives on constraints, and which constraints he’s placed on his own work to boost his creativity
57:10 Paul’s advice for anyone who wants to be the next creator up in his field—beyond “start small, define growth, and keep learning.”
59:29 Lightning round questions included in the episode:
- What is the most important part of your creative routine?
- How do you know when an Idea is the right idea?
- What is something you do to ignite your creativity?
- What part of the creative process do you find most satisfying?
(Click here to subscribe for unaired lightning round Q&A!)
Paul Jarvis Quotes Worth Remembering
“Most of my life is going against the advice of others and doing things anyways.”
“Almost anything where you make strides to do better or be better, it’s mostly unknowns. You don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work until you try it.”
“I think a lot of people think that entrepreneurs are inherently risky, where all of the ones that I know that do well are only risky to a point. They’re willing to take small risks or iterative risks, but they’re not willing to bet the farm.”
“Your creative work doesn’t need to appeal to everyone. Not everyone needs to get it. It’s okay if you’re weird, because you’ll attract the kind of other weird person that enjoys it and that understands it and that gets it and that then will support you. It’s hard to make work that resonates with everybody, and I think that it would be very painful to exist if that’s what you were trying to accomplish.”
“For the longest time I thought I had to hide my personality, especially in business because I’ve got to be professional. But I feel like professionalism, it’s really a mask.”
“I don’t know how to be present enough to be creative if my expectation is that it has to do well or even that’s it’s going to do well… unless I’m present in the work, unless I’m present in the process, it’s not going to work out. And we control so little of the outcome anyways.”
“I don’t know any writer, or any creative, that has an easy time creating all the time because it’s hard work. That’s why not everybody does it. That’s why it’s a valuable skill to foster—our own innate creativity—because it’s tough.”
“Minimalism is the pursuit of defining enough.”
“We live in a consumer world, and that’s kind of pushed down our throats, where we always need newer, better, faster, but I don’t think we actually need those things. We would all be so happy and content in our lives if those things made us happy.”
“If you’re profitable and you’re covering what you need, do you need more? Do you need to keep focusing on acquisition? Or should you focus on retention?”
“The first time we launch we’re guessing on most things. We’re guessing at how it’s going to be adopted, who’s going to like it, if the positioning is right, if it solves a problem, because all businesses need to solve a problem for money. And so if we start small, we can get something out faster, learn a great deal, and then refine. And then launch again. And then refine.”
“We want growth in the beginning because it’s required, and then we want growth later because it feeds our ego or it feeds our social standing or it feeds our peer comparison.”
“We can’t stop learning. That’s one area where I think that growth is valuable forever.”
“The story we’re told in the media is that success looks a certain way, successful people look and act a certain way, and if you want to be successful you have to make all of these concessions in your life. And I think that that’s bullsh*t.”
“If you’re chasing someone else’s version of success at best you’ll end up with their life, and you better hope you like it. At worst, you’re gonna feel like you failed if you do fail at achieving someone else’s version of success—but you just failed at achieving something you didn’t really want.”
“Every opportunity has an obligation attached on the backend. And so I think it’s our job as creative people or introverts or whatever, it’s our job to determine what opportunities makes sense.”
“I think if we make decisions based on fear we’re never going to get anywhere. Because at least for me, I’m afraid of basically everything, so if just I said no to things I was afraid of I’d say no to everything, and I wouldn’t have any kind of career. But I know that I can exist in fear and take action in spite of the fear.”
“If we don’t set boundaries, other people are going to set them for us, and then we just have to hopefully be happy with where those lines are in the sand.”
Quotes Paul Jarvis Mentions
“We are only entitled to the work, not the fruit of the work.” ~Bhagavad Gita, interpretation
“Less is better.” ~Dieter Rams
Mentioned in This Episode
- Business Insider Article, “Here’s How to Master Your Life in 19 Difficult Steps”
- Paul’s Rat People blog post
- Paul’s Sunday Dispatch newsletter
- Paul’s article “I Don’t Care About Growth”
- Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
- Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Workweek
- Michael Pollen’s eat food methodology (explored in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto)
- Tom Fishburn and his work as a cartoonist
- We Are Bob, Sci-Fi trilogy (Paul’s highly shareable)
- Software founders book club current reads: Dark Matter and The Gone World
- (More books shared in the lightning round—subscribe here to get his recommendations!)