One-on-one attention vs. automation

Paul Graham, founder of accelerator Y Combinator, wrote a famous startup essay called “Do things that don’t scale.” Give it a read, I’ll still be here. 🙂

Graham said that in order to get your startup off the ground, you need to do things that might take a lot of time – like engaging your potential customers one-to-one and building your own hardware – and eschew automation and outsourcing.

He cited companies like Airbnb going to door-to-door to recruit users, or hardware startup Meraki assembling their own routers, in the early days.

Talking with your customers in person, via Skype, or on the phone is so much more valuable than sending them a link to a survey.

I think automation is a powerful concept that can lead to increased efficiency, productivity, and scale.

But it has to be used in the right context.

If automation isn’t natural, it can backfire.

Sales automation is a hot topic these days. Sales reps and account managers have tools that help them automate their emails to prospects in order to move them closer to a deal.

I get a lot of emails that come from these automation programs and I can see right through them.

I would have welcomed a single phone call instead of five perfectly-timed, unnatural emails.

Anyway, that’s my rant for the day. Like I said, automation can be really powerful, but many times doing something with a personal touch that doesn’t scale is the better way to go.

What are your thoughts about doing things that don’t scale? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at

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