I’ve spent my entire career at start-ups. I’m use to small. I once worked at a big
table with everyone else employed at the company, resulting in pure bliss. One company
that I started with three other guys got up to eight people before we were sold to
a company with close to 7,000
people in 40 countries. I am most comfortable working side by side with my colleagues;
unfortunately over the last 10 years it has not really worked out that way.
Ten years ago I started Corzen with my partner
Bruce. Our first office was the Starbucks on 6th and W 57th street in Manhattan. We
got geeky pretty quickly and moved to meeting in my apartment so we can huddle around
my desktop (this was before Starbucks had free WiFi). A few months later we took up
space in what was probably the first (and at the time only) co-work space in Manhattan
down in Union Square.
Very quickly we hired Bob, our sales, marketing, production, ops, product, project
manager, and all around nice guy. Overnight we went from Bruce saying “Steve, the
web site should have more blue over here and here it should be more red” to “let’s
have a meeting and discuss this with Bob.” We went from one communication interface
As you increase the number of people you work with, you increase the number of communication
interfaces pretty quickly. As you increase the number of communication interfaces,
things start to get bogged down, since
the human brain can only keep track of seven things at a time. So the optimal
size of a company is apparently four, since there are only six communication interfaces.
(You can calculate the number of interfaces by taking the square of the total number
of people minus the total number of people divided by two.) You are not going to build
the next billion dollar business with only four people; even Instagram had
13 people, with a communication interface of 78.
In year two of Corzen things expanded rapidly (it didn’t hurt that we were mentored
by the future rocks stars Fred and Brad over at Union
Square Ventures.) We hired some programmers in New York with five more in Pune,
India. After another year we had added a few more people in Cairo, Egypt. Altogether
the company was around fifteen people, not only having 105 communication interfaces,
but also multiple locations in three time zones.
A tiny company of fifteen people had some of the same communication problems of a
global conglomerate. We had to learn on the fly. What did we do?
While we still had some communication issues, we did pretty well as we continued to
grow. A few years later, we were acquired by a company based in the French part of
Canada with about 50 people. Overnight our communication interfaces went from 105
to 2080! (Plus I don’t speak French.) Luckily for me, the acquiring company was impressed
with what we did both with Agile development as well as with our remote offices (the
buying company was all located in one office), so they put me in charge of leading
this effort during the transition. After about six months and going to Quebec City
more often than any American should have to, eating too much poutine,
and countless meetings and sessions, we all were very happy with the new combined
As you start your new business, or are working at an established company, big or small,
make sure communications are part of your corporate strategy. You’ll be better off
Stephen Forte sits on the board of several start-ups including Triton Works. Stephen is also the Microsoft Regional Director for the NY Metro region and speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development including Programming SQL Server 2008 (MS Press).
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