Fast Company

The Desirability of Staying Small in Business

Some time back, someone asked me why we at Indian Maid want to stay a small business, rather than try to take over the markets for our products. Let's take a look at Indian Maid Products, Inc. first in order to answer this question. Indian Maid came to be an incorporated for-profit entity in 2000, at the urging (pushing, even) of Legislators in ND. Some of them lent us their names for our Board, believing that doing this would make us a shoo-in for grant money from APUC, the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, (the state's only grant-making agency) to develop the company and get it producing quickly. As I related in an earlier posting, they quickly learned the degree of bigotry entrenched in ND government, when I was called a liar - in public hearings - about being incorporated, about having Legislators on the Board, about having been in business for most of my life, and about having run a crew of 17 men for nearly 20 years, during which I lost only 6 people; among other things. In the case of incorporation, the APUC people said they didn't 'bother' to check whether we were incorporated on the premise that "Indns wouldn't know enough to, let alone how". In the case of having Legislators on the Board, the APUC people said they didn't bother to check "because we all know there's no such thing as an Indn, let alone an Indn female, who would know Legislators well enough for such a thing". In the case of having been in business most of my life, the APUC people said they didn't bother to check "because we knew Indns aren't smart enough to be in business". In the case of my having run a crew of 17 men 'at all' in my first "substantial" (ie, for me) business - the APUC people said they 'knew' that "no Indn, let alone a female Indn, could possibly get 17 men to work for her". They flatly called my "claim" of having only lost 6 men to firing and/or quitting a lie and repeated their anti-Indn-female 'reason' for their belief. Obviously, those billboards ND used to put up along the interstate at the east & west borders of the state were accurate, & still working - they showed people in pioneer garb & announced, "Welcome to North Dakota! Set your clock back 20 years!" Apparently they should have read, "120 years". They're gone, but the attitude isn't. Regardless, Indian Maid didn't fold. We haven't been in the market other than to test-market during the intervening 8 years, due to lack of credit score in me, mainly; and secondarily due to lack of ability to raise enough money in the usual ways of the majority culture to jump-start the company because we ITI aren't part of the majority culture. We have special needs, and the majority culture's money people don't want to hear that, let alone deal with it. Actions speak louder than words... Indn Maid's arrangement is that the members of the Board lent us their names, but not their white-culture financial connections, in order to learn what we could accomplish and how we would get there. The result is, we have tested our products thoroughly as each has come to be, and we have progressed slowly due to the need to fund from within in order to survive at all. This is not a complaint - it is a recitation of fact. We each have jobs of one kind or another, and we can then only use 'spare' money to develop Indn Maid. This makes for slow going. It is typical for any minority business, but especially for an Indn business. There is one huge plus in all of this, and that is that our very smallness has kept any larger entity from 'bothering' with us. Or, from bothering us at all. They don't even see us. In the ITI way of seeing, this as a big advantage - we can sneak up on our market and corner our share. We don't care whether or not we corner the whole thing, because that's not in our Traditional view or m.o. After all, what you 'own', ALSO OWNS YOU. If a market is too big for your comfort zone, or if it requires you as a company to consider treating your employees as numbers rather than as people, I don't think it's worth going after, and that's a Traditional ITI view. It is also a Darned Good Reason for a business to stay small. After all, the U.S. (only) market for Indian Maid's food product is $70 Billion. 1/10 of 1% of 1% is still $7 MILLION.. That's not small, in our minds at Indn Maid. The U.S. (only) market for Indian Maid's non-food agricultural product is at least $40 billion. 1/10 of 1% of 1% of that is another $4 million. Not small, either. And the U.S. market for our Ancient Technology's non-agricultural products (all 2 of them) is growing so fast we can't keep track of the market, so we have no idea to what size we should project our growth. Such a delightful problem! Instead of seeing ourselves as being in a dilemma about this, we have instead chosen to see this as a terrific opportunity. We have chosen to look at our market(s) as state-by-state opportunity's, rather than trying to look at the entire U.S. We have the option to grow only at a rate we feel comfortable with. In short, we can stay as small as we are comfortable with AND STILL have plenty of money to do the things we want to do. We are a social entrepreneurship, not a me-first, profit-only - oriented, business, after all. We think in terms of providing rewards for good behavior, for example, such as living wages with profit-sharing for Indigenous People who do not use drugs including alcohol. To insure clean people, we practice no-notice sn-site testing. Should anyone fail, they are taken immediately to our provider for 'official' testing. We think in terms of helping support family farmers, and that means we pay them a profitable price for whatever they supply us with. We must remain involved with their world in order to do this. Everything is a co-operative effort - we can't produce without them and they can't supply us unless they make a profit. Thinking in circles of these kinds is core to the Indn Way of Seeing. And lastly, there is the fact that we believe it is a myth that any entity can completely corner any market. It isn't so in nature, and there is no escaping that we are all part of nature - there is no such thing as true isolation. Isolation is one of the myth-conceptions of this world. We don't put all of our eggs in one basket because Nature doesn't do it. We take a share, and then we spread it around in a merit-based fashion. That's the ITI Way, and we see no reason not to follow it. We sleep well at night; we don't have concerns about conniving to destroy anyone; we set a good example for young and old alike; and we work to operate so that we feel that we are reasonably comfortable with what we do with our share of the market. These are just a few good reasons to stay small in business.

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