Do things that don’t scale

Episode 117:
Do things that don’t scale


This is an episode for: Presenters, founders, anyone running their own business and startup enthusiasts.

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan

Apr 18, 2024

Paul Graham’s blog post, “Do things that don’t scale”, has largely been heralded as the best advice given for startups—maybe ever? But what can we takeaway from it as presenters? 

As the founder of renowned accelerator Y Combinator, people trust Paul and are still talking about this post over ten years later. (A big deal for today’s Age of Information). 

Mikey and Molly dive into the many conversations around doing things that don’t scale, what that means, and how presentation people might be able to implement it into their day-to-day as well.

What's in the Spice Cabinet??

Catch up on Paul’s famous blog post “Do things that don’t scale” here

We love all these conversations about it

Need custom illustration

  • Our very own NoNo Flores that does our podcast episode artwork is amazingly talented

Paul’s walkout song (according to Molly and Mikey)

All brought to you by GhostRanch Communications. Send us an email!


Click here to see the podcast transcript

Michael Mioduski  00:21

Welcome back to presentation thinking, aka the storyteller Study Club. This is your co host, Mikey Madhu, ski founder, CEO of presentation design agency called Ghost ranch communications. And I'm here to nerd out on all things presentation with my friend, my co host, your favorite, Molly Geoghegan live out of Colorado. What's going on?


Molly Geoghegan  00:42

It's me. It's Molly, you guys. It's so nice to be here again, Mikey. It's been a maybe a couple of weeks since we recorded together, catching together and episodes. And I'm a Narrative Strategist over at ghost ranch communications, also a storytelling presentation nerd. And Mikey, what are we going to talk about today?


Michael Mioduski  01:02

Yeah, Molly, you've been going down this like startup school, basically, you know, like deep dive into all things early stage startup. And there's one name that is cited, often in that community. fella named Paul Graham, a PhD, named Paul Graham, I should say, very smart, you know, kind of thought leader in the space has been around for a while in the startup space. And I was listening to the Tropical MBA a couple episodes ago. And they covered a timeless essay written by Paul Graham that they thought was worth revisiting on their show. And they had heard it from another podcast, they listened to startups for the rest of us who was citing this Paul Graham essay. And if you Google, do things that don't scale, you'll see like almost a billion results in Google. So many companies from Forbes to Inc, to every accelerator, talks about and recites this essay that he wrote over a decade ago called do things that don't scale. And it's on his website, Paul You can check him out on Twitter, at Paul G. Yeah, he's pretty prolific there. He's been an active user for a long time. But people love what this dude writes. And you can kind of tell why Molly, I don't know if you'd heard of him before? Or if you know, this was a first encounter. Not


Molly Geoghegan  02:20

really no, this was one of the first encounters. But then as I was reading this article, from 2013, as you said, at some of these tenants of advice that he gives to startups, basically, is stuff I've seen before, repackaged in different ways. And so it's really interesting, because I think in this world of like constant information on the internet and different blogs and newsletters to follow, it's harder and harder. The Tropical MBA guys talk about this at the beginning. But like, yeah, they're like, the Bible has been around forever. And people forever always be you know, following that, but, but for information in today's Internet age to stick and like be quoted for 10 plus years, is already like a little testament that it's standing with standing the test of time. And I said that even with a Guy Kawasaki blog post for the with the 1020 30 PowerPoint rule, that's a blog post from 2005, that really shook up how pitch decks were supposed to look and kind of like a hot, edgy take maybe for VCs to want to expect in a pitch deck. And so I think it's been fun to kind of go down this rabbit hole of stories that stick. We've talked about that in the past, like, what makes stories stick. And here's some really helpful information for not only founders, but people that are part of a business and yeah, capacity. And certainly presenters will kind of throw our classic presenter twist on this as well. Yeah, and


Michael Mioduski  03:45

it's funny because it's almost like a hot take at the time. You know, I think like the co founder of Y Combinator, you know, one of the most coveted sought after accelerators to get into telling these founders who want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, you know, who wants to start the next unicorn, not to think about scaling, but to think about like, tiny detail, you know, super manual things when they're starting. And so it's very counterintuitive. And it's almost like, the thought is no, like, we can't do things that won't scale. And so yeah, it's really a reality check to encourage these founders to actually focus really early on the things that matter because only only by doing those right, can you actually build this sort of crank that's gonna keep going.


Molly Geoghegan  04:29

And that kind of turns it's I'm sure it was still trivia in 2013. Mikey with the word scale, if you're in the startup space at all, I'm sure is like, your biggest enemy for enemy because people are always throwing out the words like scale and all the startup jargon that I think can get a little bit lost for what it actually means. So I think for his title to say do things that don't scale is like the perfect clickbait honestly, in titling, yeah, that just flipped it on its head. So people would immediately intrigued because they're like, all you've been maybe talking about in your startup space is how to scale. And so to hear from Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, you know, oh, the Tropical MBA guy say like, if you have an invitation to go to Harvard or Y Combinator people might choose, well, Combinator, it's the Ivy League, startup accelerators, for sure. It's a big deal. And I think that's just an interesting way to kick off the blog.


Michael Mioduski  05:25

Yeah. All right, well, we don't have to go through, you know, the full essay, it's worth a read if you haven't checked it out. But Molly, you know, just kind of starts off with a little overview. And then he breaks it up into something like 10 Mini sections, refers to some of the founders he's worked with at Y Combinator over the years. And really like the big high level takeaways, like, This is advice, they commonly give Y Combinator founders. And it is that you need to do things that seem like they won't scale. Startups take off, because the founders make them take off. You know, it's not like you build it, they will come kind of thing, which is often what we think we're going to build this amazing product, people are going to flock to it. No, no, no, that's not what happens. And so, yeah, so Paul goes into a list of ways that you need to overcome and think a little differently.


Molly Geoghegan  06:10

Exactly. He says, a good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. So once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going. So for me, I was just thinking, yeah, the parts that make a hole, you have to do a lot of work individually with little mini processes before it creates a bigger one. Yeah. Even if those feel silly, dumb, lame. He even says at one point in the essay, and yeah, Mikey, what's Yeah, do you want to go through a few examples of like, what those are for? Yeah, like, well, lucru, my favorite overview so that you don't have to hear again, let's go into all 10. But it's stuff you wouldn't expect.


Michael Mioduski  06:51

I loved Yeah, the idea of recruiting the story of stripe who he said like they actually had a product so hot that people actually probably would have flocked to it. But these founders invented something or that YC terms, the collision installation, I forget if the brothers who started stripe with the founders, or one of their last name is collision, but it's more like, they're not gonna sit back, like a lot of times founders will be like, I validated the idea. I asked my friend if they would use this. And they said, Yeah, and so stripe was like, no, no. Will you install this on your computer? And they're like, Yeah, I probably would. And they're like, Okay, give me your computer. And they they manually installed stripe on these people's computers to make sure it was there. And that is like that next level step that he says like, whether it's shyness or laziness, just a fear of actually asking and doing that most founders don't do.


Molly Geoghegan  07:38

Yeah, I he also has that example with manually aggressively recruiting. That's the first point with the Airbnb founders going door to door in New York City. And literally just asking people if they would host there explained to the visitors and asking if they would be a host. And I'm reminded of shout out to Jay Sassani of meal sharing who I believe we've had a conversation with together Mikey, who always be in Chicago, during his like, when this startup was just beginning, he would tell every Lyft driver he got into the car with and by consequence, I even like I would start to tell people were that I was helping out at this startup and the Lyft drivers already knew who I was talking about. They're like, Oh, Jay, I work with Jay. And so he really immersed himself in, you know, meal sharing was kind of part of a little corner of the gig economy and Lyft was just become like becoming a big giant in the gig of gig economy. And yeah, that's manual recruiting. For sure.


Michael Mioduski  08:32

Yeah. He says don't underestimate the power of compound growth. Any other Yeah. What else? Molly? There's he talked about fragility almost like being okay. And like expected.


Molly Geoghegan  08:43

Yeah. Yeah, this. The second point, fragile, I think is kind of like his just quick nod to founders to be like, hey, like, it's okay. If people dismiss you, like, don't let those get you down. But it's more than that. You don't dismiss the growth yourself. So even though you might feel a little silly and yet overly analog or manual with some of these things I'm suggesting, like, that's, you need to put yourself through that mud and the awkwardness, because you'll see, it has to be small. First, I'm reminded of Austin Klingons creativity advice, where it's like, every artist was bad when they started out, like no one's putting out their best novel first. You can't just expect to get from like the beginning to the best seller you have to be bad. And you have so this like moving through this awkwardness moving through the motions. Like don't dismiss yourself for that. I was like, Ah, thanks, Paul. I think that seems super simple. He's the word I thought this was funny Mikey larval, a lot larval, like as in like these really like in like that. Grow spots. I don't know if that speaks to his like interest and biology or something. But he just just thought that was a funny detail that was a constant descriptor of startups like this really, like just super fragile, kind of gross, like Yeah, spot to be in a Then you can't quite see what it's going to become. Yep.


Michael Mioduski  10:02

I love these next to delight and experience. I think they kind of go a little bit hand in hand. But he says I've never once seen a startup lured down a blind alley by trying too hard to make their initial users happy. Yeah. Like he says go to extraordinary measures to do so he then he then cites Steve Jobs like around the the idea of experience and just like, the need to be insanely great, right? It were Steve Jobs phrasing of it, not like very, but like, I think he really made like, be insane about it. No,


Molly Geoghegan  10:30

totally. Yeah, he's like, I think he's actually talking about like, a point of neurosis there. Yeah. The delight I really got where it's like, yeah, these first initial customers, like you should give them so much attention, like abandon all boundaries, and like, answer their questions at 9:10pm at night, etc. And then as far as the experience, like the attention, like the user experience is kind of what I took that for, and that should be extreme like, yeah, the way that you and I can't quite differentiate this from a little bit later, when they're talking about the konsult. One, I'd be curious to see your thoughts on that, Mikey. But this should be over engaging with early users, he says, is not just a permissible technique for getting growth rolling. For most successful startups. It's a necessary part of the feedback loop. So keep that feedback loop, like super open so that you know all the kinks in the beginning. Because if you don't do that, in the beginning, it'll get bigger and then you'll have like a harder time catching up on it, basically. So delight customers and get in the weeds with experience. I liked this next one, he has fire. Yeah,


Michael Mioduski  11:29

I love it. Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It's like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs. And then he cites how Facebook started just with Harvard, right? And then slowly added a couple more colleges, but like, I think it's brilliant. I love starting small I love I love focus. We know what it's done for our business. And yeah, I think it's a better way to build word of mouth is by zoned in on that that one persona or that one niche or industry and then you can always expand from there. Exactly. He


Molly Geoghegan  12:04

is reminded, or maybe the Tropical MBA guy said this, give them lots of credit here. But um, the Amazon started with just selling books, I totally forgot about that. Just books. And I mean, Netflix was just DVDs. And Uber was just driving cars and before it was delivering food. Yeah, treated like kindling. Precious, powerful.


Michael Mioduski  12:26

The Mirage, what they call the pulling them Rocky is assembling the parts yourself like so when you're, I'm sure you can find a metaphor or an analogy for your own niche. But in the hardware type of a startup, to have to commit to a massive amount of like inventory before actually getting to QA it is a scary proposition. So I guess what Meraki did was like, we're gonna assemble it ourselves to make sure we're building these the right way. And yeah, obviously that doesn't scale. Well, right, Molly, but like, they were closer to the development of it. And then yeah, the T MBA guys say, I think Elon Musk, like slept in the factory, you know, in the early days of Tesla to be like, right up in it, you know, for the development of those early cars,


Molly Geoghegan  13:07

being a startup founder is more and more overlapping with the Venn diagram for me of like, like totally committed professional creatives in that, like, you know, they say, if you're, if you want to be an actor, if there's anything else you want to be like, go do it. But this startup like this has to be the thing that you have to pursue, because you'll wonder for the rest of your life if you didn't, yeah, and I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. It's like, but that is sometimes what it takes this like, total abandonment of normalcy in a job like this is not normal. But yeah, the commitment really does pay off, you know, so yeah, I liked the Meraki. Even though I'm unfamiliar with exactly what this application was with the Meraki ultimately, like micromanaging that supply chain. Super, super important. Yes. Interesting. Okay, so number seven might use console anyway. So we're gonna go through them all now. We're just totally doing it yet. But yeah, what's too good? Console versus experience kind of that? They say with console, pick an anchor client? And like, Yeah, almost use your software as if you're the client, uncover those bugs. But I see this is so similar with experience, what do you think makes them different? Yeah,


Michael Mioduski  14:14

I think in software, there's a, you don't want to get into the trap of like, becoming one customer's like, fix all you like. So if they they're finding bugs, they want these certain features built for their one specific use case. I think a more mature software company will be like, great. Finally, you know, we're gonna think about that in our roadmap. But the larval state, you know, might say, man, if you got this one customer, this client, and they're sending you great ideas and and they are really using your your software. Why don't you just like prioritize those and just treat them as if they're a paying client, because other people will probably need the same things. So it is something that if you were to tell like a software engineer, or like Head of Development You know, I think they would get a little gun shy about this because it's like, no, we have to stick to our vision, this and that. And he does call out like you do start to cross a line, when you start to take money for this like, then you really are turning into a consultancy rather than a software company, which makes its money from subscriptions and, you know, licenses, which is a better business model, consulting, you get in the trap of like, time for money, right. And so that is not something that Y Combinator or like big time Sequoia is going to invest in because it's there's smaller multiples all that but, but if you can treat the first ones, like the consultancy, build custom features for these clients, you'll probably roll them into your bigger product set, and it could pay off for others who might have similar problems, right? Yeah.


Molly Geoghegan  15:47

And assuming like you don't have a ton and ton of users yet, this is like much more realistic to do. Now, pretty much one of the only opportunities you'll get to see exactly, similarly with the next point is called manual. And it's basically saying that you should do things by hand that you plan to automate later. Again, like I think this is such a software specific stuff. But even still, I mean, even the processes and the user experience that someone gets from a service, or as we'll talk about in a second here, presentations, there's so many ways you can do things by hand, that so much is automated, whether it be AI, or a template, or whatever it is. So like, there's a lot of benefits to getting in those weeds. And seeing it when you have the time to do it. Before you automate like a bot that might end up glossing over an issue or a


Michael Mioduski  16:33

bug. It's such a good way to differentiate even like, do you remember the story of Zappos, and they're, they're commonly associated with great customer service. And in that book, by their founder, Tony, say, they talked about how like, they actually let their customer service agents pretty much just do their thing. Like, there wasn't a script to follow. There wasn't like, you know, try to get them off the phone as quickly as possible kind of stuff. It was like, you know, treat them how you'd want to be treated and solve their problem. And they didn't put any, like hard parameters on that. And I guess there's some like story of a customer service rep at Zappos, like who sells shoes online? who spent like something like six hours with a customer on a call one time, just kind of like, you know, sorting something out? Yeah. And those are the things that build the ultimate word of mouth, ultimate loyalty. And certainly, they don't seem like something that would be profitable. Yeah, yeah. But they're playing the long game.


Molly Geoghegan  17:30

You know, one time I got with a really small skincare company, good light, I'll just say, oh, free cloud for the girlies is I got like a, the wrong product and my subscription, and I let them know. And they were like, oh my god, we're so sorry. So they sent you know, they were like, keep it and let us know what you think. And now those guys now I ordered that one, too. You know what I mean? Yeah. And so, but they send what I what I wanted as well with an extra freebie. And so it was like this really quick correction. They're like, Oh, so sorry. And said something else with like a little bit of swag. And now, you know, and I got to try. I'm like, did that do that on purpose? Like, swap in different product on but the customer service was easy to reach? And very human, human human? And did not? I don't think it was automated


Michael Mioduski  18:13

at all. It stands out these days, you know, for sure. Yeah. I don't know, the last couple points. Like, basically he talks about, like, how a lot of founders think they have to like, roll out this massive big launch all at once. And then world is just going to be jaws dropped? Oh, my gosh, you see that? And what does he advise instead?


Molly Geoghegan  18:33

Yeah, he's like, almost like this lady's like little launches here and there as you grow and get more users is better in the long term, because you're just gonna spend all this time and energy and likely money into a big launch and getting like, you know, six, or a handful of journal publications, and maybe an interview or whatever. And it's like, it's not going to be as big of a splash as you think, especially in today's market. This is I think, even more relevant now in something like this has become more salient in the 10 years since it's been written, is because the markets are so crowded, and it's way less likely that you're inventing something brand new, and unless you are unless you already apple that is established. And we've like even covered a product launch that Apple did, right, Mikey? Yeah, on the pod. But that's because they've already established themselves. So it doesn't make sense to have a big hurrah unless people know who you are, or there's something brand new going on. And I don't think there's I don't think this is common. Well, yeah,


Michael Mioduski  19:26

I think there's so much written on this article. This one essay, you know, has legs and I'm sure like so many founders have been influenced by it in a positive way. I think it's amazing. There's, there's another podcast masters of scale from Reed Hoffman, who's the co founder of LinkedIn partner, Greylock, I highly recommend, you know, Googling that one masters of scale with Brian Chesky of Airbnb, and Chesky talks about their early days, how they actually got into Y Combinator and had a very like fortuitous encounter. with Paul Graham, who is like, alright, hearing about this Airbnb idea. And so the founders moved out to California to do the Y Combinator thing. And Paul is like, Alright, where's your business? And they're like, Well, yeah, we have these apartments out in, in New York. And he's like, Well, what are you doing out here? You know, and he's like, told them like, you need to go. And so for the first couple of years, they they started like commuting, basically, back to New York, just to have interviews, they would knock on doors, they would ask the owners of the Airbnb ease, if they could come in, ask them questions. And then they're like, well, that's creepy. So they're, like, we'll take professional pictures of your house, you know, like, that you can use to market it, and they're like, Okay, and, but yeah, they just got all up in it. And they just sort of cracked the code, through these very manual conversations with customers and the hosts about how to make the most delightful, you know, like, 11 star experience, you know, and they very much credit that hard, laborious work upfront for the big payoff. So,


Molly Geoghegan  20:58

so true. Yeah. And I think yeah, the fact that it's been covered so much, we there's a cool YouTube video about this, too. So I let's link in the spice cabinet. Mikey, let's link like our favorite cover, Paul Graham's thing that got us to this point anyway, because if this resonates with you even a little bit, then it's worth hearing some other people's thoughts. And certainly, yeah, Chesky is Trotsky Chesky is experienced this kind of just quintessential iconic startup story, right? Yeah. So cool. Yeah. The last note there is called vector and this is a this really shows his PhD level. I think Paul Graham and the Tropical MBA guys were really making fun of it too. Because it's so if physics related talking about scalar versus and basically I just think this is like you gotta have two dimensions to this long term run like do these little things in the upfront for your long term vision right? That's what I took away from things


Michael Mioduski  21:53

that don't scale. I did we wrote that into the the lens the world of us we presentation, crafters, presenters. I tried to come up with a couple that I think maybe they're hot takes, maybe they're, you know, counterintuitive like this, but I think maybe they're worth considering to stand out with your presentation. Yeah,


Molly Geoghegan  22:12

I love this. When you brought this up this morning. I was like, I don't know what you put on the list in full but one of the things that I thought is on your list so I'm giving you complete credit for this. This is by Mikey Madhu ski things that downscale presentation edition what to do for you. Okay, so what's uh, yeah, what's number one?


Michael Mioduski  22:30

All right, Molly. Number one, customize your presentations. Is that is that a bold, hot take these days? I think it is. And that's sad, right? Yeah, I think this is a huge opportunity. So I think the general principle rule of thumb, hey, we got to make this scalable is, look, we've got this, this big tech company, we have all these products and features that we could sell, we have like 20 different personas. So instead of making really custom presentations, we're going to try to make this one first call deck that kind of covers everything. And we're gonna give it to our sellers. And they're gonna talk and give this genericized pitch, that won't alienate anybody. And it's kind of gets to the point, but boom, we don't want them spending time customizing it. That's, that's the general status quo. I would say, would you would you disagree with that?


Molly Geoghegan  23:20

I think that's so good. When we talk about audience first messaging, like there's some way you can customize your presentation every time you get it, whether it be the opening line, even if it's not like the actual slides themselves, right? The way you give your talk and the way you open it and engage with the people you're talking to, has to shift because otherwise, if you're just doing the same size fits all, it won't land in the way that you want it to every time. So thinking of audience first messaging, I think, yeah, you wrote, you know, spend an hour customizing a few key slides. But I also think just like even a few key lines, you know, yeah, to check in with your audience. If it's a bigger, maybe it's a bigger place you're presenting to maybe it's a new industry, so you need to like yet tap into Yeah, what might be their priorities and their their problems that they'd want to be hearing from? And I think, yeah, that's just, that's just, I mean, that's what you're paid to do. So even if this amazing, successful talk that you've done again, like lots and lots of times and you have good experience, it's worth spending that extra time so that you can get asked when keynote speaker come on, right? Because yeah, presentations seems I mean, yeah, even like opening up your PowerPoint file. You might be like, Oh, God, so and do this every time. Yeah, like, you need a little version. Save. Yeah, yeah. Score. Score. Phoenix, Arizona, wherever you're going. Do it.


Michael Mioduski  24:39

I mean, Jay Baer, world famous, you know, he's in the speaking Hall of Fame. He's told me, he's never given the same presentation twice. Right. Yeah. It's always customized and yeah, like, maybe 90% is the same, but he can repackage it for the right occasion to make it feel like this was meant for us, you know, and yeah, I think for a seller look like, you know, I love that Dale Carnegie quote Molly, like the sweetest sound in any language is that of like someone's own name, right and cheese, even if it's just like, alright, Jessica, Jessica Jessica here, like use their name or what's what's Jessica's title, like, maybe you can slip that into your deck somehow, like make them feel heard, make them feel seen. If all things are equal, you're pitching against your competitor, there's product parity, it's a mature market, I think this the person who gets the more tailored sale is going to feel a little more seen. And I think the presentation customization is, is a great way to do it.


Molly Geoghegan  25:35

Quicker close. So number two,


Michael Mioduski  25:39

number two, Molly, this is this is gonna just set you know, presentation, Twitter, LinkedIn on fire, but don't use a template. I know even Steve Steve sheets on our team is gonna just flip a table when he hears this, but I think there's my little secret is like, I actually start with a blank presentation, like the blank PowerPoint theme, almost every time I create a new deck. And I know there's the work smarter, not harder kind of thing. But as I see them, you know, sometimes I feel like templates are unhealthy, they kind of put blinders on to what the actual content should be, or like how it should feel and come across. When I think of like really good art direction, I think of magazine articles in some of the the high end, the best publications in the world, every article, the good ones are stylized, and are directed to the content, like whatever the substance of the story is, you know, it might have that feel pulled forward. And it doesn't fit in with the rest of the magazine. And that's fine. It's like this one piece is about this one thing. Maybe it's about music concerts, and it's directed like rock and roll, you know, whatever it is, or fashion. And it's super fascinating. I love seeing presentations that were built for that one specific talk and reason and everything about the design and the visual story comes to life and enhances the copy the content, everything about it. Yeah, completely.


Molly Geoghegan  27:06

Yeah, I, I agree, I think and even like, even if you're really intimidated by the design, and you do, you know, maybe import a template to get started. There's so many ways in which you can break away and make sure that the content really, I think you'd have a two things open, I think you have that you have your entire link skeleton deck with the content, first and foremost, and then figure out how to implement that within elements of a template of design if the design is truly what you're leaning on a template for. But I think prove your point, Mikey, like it can really like obscure some of the content that needs to be shining in the store, aka the story. Come on. Yeah, it's a harder thing to pull off these days. But depending on what the purpose of the presentation, is it almost certainly for a keynote. Yeah, certainly for something that is trying to inspire people. Yeah, I just think there's many instances in which templates are overused. So they can


Michael Mioduski  27:57

be limiting. They can limit what our creativity can do. Yeah, I think pretty soon this conversation is going to be, I'm going to I'm going to start saying like, don't use AI for your presentation. I know, it's easier. I know, it's more scalable, because it's going to like, spit out 15 slides that you can build your presentation for you. But I worried that then you lose the creative act, Molly, like it's the process that I think helps a lot of presenters know what they want to say. And so when something is telling you, very abrupt boom, say this, I think something is gonna get lost. And it's I think there's something about those evolutions, and doing the hard work to get to that more fluid, natural story. Yeah, I think only a human can do it and work through it. And I think, sure, you know, I don't think this is gonna be a popular take. But I think build by hand until you can't is it was the mantra from like, do things that don't scale? And I think I think it can pay off to make you a better thinker in the end is doing some more manual work.


Molly Geoghegan  28:54

And once you have that good that could that one good presentation really nailed down. And then maybe there are a few variations of that. But you've done that one by hand. And you can duplicate that and then customize the path in which it might take differently for a different product or a different audience or something. Like there's different ways in which you can scale that manual NIST once you've done it, but I feel like you've got to do that legwork upfront and yeah, and really get it. Get it right. Do things by hand until you can't Yeah, Mikey. I think you


Michael Mioduski  29:21

know, I think I was ripping that off from Reed Hoffman. Hey, Dan was probably exciting, Paul. Okay, number three, Molly, presentation, things that don't scale, but maybe you should consider doing asked to talk with your attendees about your session. Yeah. So I think you'd have this the easy way to go. The more you know, natural, safe route, is like you'll get some feedback from the session, right people, you know, they're like, Oh, here's a QR code. Tell us what you thought about the session. Then the Event Manager will give you your your feedback via written form. And that's that right? You could take that I think the do things that won't scale, pay off approach again. into like, hardcore recruiting users would be all right. After that event manager, can I get a list of everyone in my session? Maybe it's 100 people, right? Doesn't seem like that scale, they do one to one outreach to each of them. But it might be worth it if you can glean. If you can get on a call with them, just to be like, Yo, can I have five minutes of your time? Can you tell me what you remember from my session? If you can ask like 20 people what they remember? And if everything is different, then they're gonna be like, the clearly maybe you didn't have that red thread or that big idea really centralized or hammered. But if everyone's like, Oh, I remember Read, read read, or I remember like, yeah, just do it. Demos. Yeah, then you might have something there. And your Northstar concept might be coming through. So yeah, again, it's like it's more manual to have these these one to one conversations. But I do think people speak a little differently than how they write, you might be able to extract a little more insights on what could you have done better? What was getting lost? I think it's just a different experience, Molly? Yeah.


Molly Geoghegan  31:00

I think it's important to like develop a process for that in case there's, you know, sometimes after a keynote, specifically, there might be like a break Reverend goes into the coffee or is at the bar, and you can talk to people organically. And that could work to get just truly as people might be tempting just to peace out. But I think that's a really useful opportunity. But if that doesn't exist in a helpful process that isn't just the QR code, like you said, and like a truly one on one outreach, we'll be like, Hey, you were there in the audience? How did it go and harass the people that hired you? You know, like, there's a reason that you might or might not get called back and it'd be worth knowing the feedback. Don't be afraid of it. Yeah,


Michael Mioduski  31:37

it's useful. All right, number four. Molly, I think you do a great job of this one it ghost ranch with our webinar series, and forcing this. But what I don't I don't see a lot of corporations implementing these, in a lead up to their big corporate conferences, surprisingly. So this is rehearsals. I know it sounds obvious. But I think it's often overlooked is a formal rehearsal. I'd say just like, from my hip, I bet 5% of the companies we work with actually have they budget for and implement a formal rehearsal process that is like, a couple of weeks before the big event. And holy cow, are they effective? Right? Like, they'll there's only a few where we've actually they'll fly out the ghost ranch presentation designer to be there for two days of rehearsals, while all the executives and breakouts, like run through their, their keynote. And a lot can happen. Like when you force people to thrash early, get in front of a room with like at speaker coach. And you know, the C suites are like looking over you. It's good to get the nerves out there. And if you just like vomit on your shoes, it's better to do it there and get their input than to go up on stage and think that you had it figured out and you don't because Yeah, speaking something out loud is so much different than like looking at it in your notes, right, Molly? Oh,


Molly Geoghegan  32:57

for sure. I encountered this every time I started to, like, have a talk track. And I think I'm gonna say it one way, and it's the first time I say it out loud. I'm like, why would I ever? Why would I ever can write that down? Because writing is so much different than speaking aloud. And again, you're always trying to keep this human to human messaging audience first, and if it doesn't, if it sounds like something that people don't say in conversation, not in every sense, I think sometimes there's a time and a place to be more formal presentations, I guess. But if you want people to truly just remember he was like a human and stuff. I don't think I've seen rehearsals and just reading from your top drag is gonna fly. Yeah. And it's funny because something like with the podcast, right Mikey, where it's like, we just do this off the cuff. We never rehearsed. And I think that's such a different presentation style than what it is with, with slides and pitch decks and sales decks and demos. And so it's funny to have experience in variety of things where they are and do people think we rehearse these every day.


Michael Mioduski  33:56

Obviously not well, helps a lot. Thank you. W camera audio. Yeah, human nature helps. It's just human nature to like, want to delay and procrastinate when especially for something as scary as a keynote, right? And so, I think the savvy event planners, it does not seem like something that would scale because executives are busy. It's hard to get everybody together. But by gosh, the people who can pull this off, they are doing they're doing it right and it really comes through in the final production. Yeah, and similar similar vein last but not least things that don't scale with better presentations, but maybe we should think about them. Treat your breakouts as speakers you know, I always say breakouts or speakers to I feel like they always get shafted Mali like yeah, event planners always have budget for like, ghost ranch will come in will dress up the C suite, their general session, big stage keynote, and then these poor breakout speakers. There's like 30 of them. That's like, all right, you're on your own. You know, I think we've seen some event planners who shove off some budget to either help coach breakout speakers on what is better storytelling, give them a better template easier to use template, or supply a little bit of some hours for a presentation design expert to come in, and actually help them elevate their slides. So that's, that's the rare air. But for those who actually do it, I think it's important because breakouts are actually, I think, where most people go to actually get the real, the real presentations about like, what they're working on. I think more people take away, like breakout presentation, like information because it's a little more like direct and hands on. And I think like those power users just drink it up. Whereas they might see the general session stages, like it's lofty, you know, Will Smith's coming in cool, you know, but it's like it's a little more abstract and ethereal. I don't know, it's what


Molly Geoghegan  35:51

people get to choose. So like the keynotes, people don't really choose, they're just like, yeah, and hopefully it's something that excites them or inspires them. But it's what people get to choose how they spend their next hour or a couple of hours during during each day of a conference. And so for them to miss that one on one time. Yeah, like and haven't be super mean mean as meaningful as possible. When these conference tickets are 1000s of dollars a pop, right, you know, that's worth it that's worth putting your budget in that. And even if someone that doesn't have slides, just like if you're a breakout speaker, like how are your presentation skills, hurry facilitation skills, you know, like, I think that's worth that. That's something that doesn't scale either something that like, is like, Do you need a presentation coach for an hour and a half or something? Yeah, let us know. But like I think that's just something that you can't do every every time and certainly like jogger nuts don't think to do that, you know, but yeah, yeah, breakouts are important. I just went to a conference in the roundtables was one of the best spots. Now this wasn't like a breakup presentation. But throughout the table, like giving, providing some more one to one conversation where you can actually like, talk about be like, Hey, this is problem I'm having or I really relate to what you just did there for that project. Can we talk about that? And you get a little like deeper insights than just the amazing keynotes that are hopefully awesome and fun and memorable.


Michael Mioduski  37:07

Molly, did you hear that? I think we're in the spice cabinet.


Molly Geoghegan  37:11

And Poppins snack. You


Michael Mioduski  37:12

editor will.


Molly Geoghegan  37:13

Okay. Yeah. Okay, here we are.


Michael Mioduski  37:16

I'm glad we finally got into this things that don't scale. Super excited. You know, what doesn't scale probably is custom illustration for each of our podcast episodes that we've ever done. But I wouldn't change it. I love No, no Flores artwork too much.


Molly Geoghegan  37:31

Yeah, yeah, totally. Every week, there's a new Yeah, in the same style. I'm sure I'm sure you've seen if you're listening, but I mean, no, no Flores if you need some custom illustrations, look, are there and there are a lot of things about producing a podcast that don't feel that I could could get into but I think it's fun to reflect and see what's worth but the numbers grow up, you know, so compounded growth, let's go compounded growth, but it's worth it. It's worth it. Especially because it gives us so much social media content to use. No, no.


Michael Mioduski  38:04

Have you thought about what Paul Graham's walkout song might be? I've given a


Molly Geoghegan  38:09

sliver of thought and I need to sit with a little more. See, I wanna see him in an interview kind of hear what he talks like. Yeah, get a further I'm always here with these on the nose punny, kind of walk out song. So I'll say that one first just to just to get it going. But I'm thinking of zero to hero from Hercules. Good because not that startups start at zero necessarily but they start at this like kind of rough, awkward toddler larval growth stage as Paul would say. And you know zero to hero that's kind of a rags to riches situation. And it's an inspiring becomes a very fast paced, and I think there could be a good things that don't scale. pulgram. Look at some specific,


Michael Mioduski  39:02

please lovely. Yeah, I like it a lot. I don't think I can do much better than that. I was thinking maybe, maybe Fleetwood Mac, like being a Brit. You know, I think he's got dual citizenship, maybe but singing like, Go your own way.


Molly Geoghegan  39:21

Yeah, like look,


Michael Mioduski  39:23

most most founders are gonna just they're gonna try to do the easy thing. But not you if you want this to be the next big thing. You're gonna you're gonna go your own way.


Molly Geoghegan  39:30

And then what else is in the spice cabinet Mikey? I love this trap. i We both listen to this Tropical MBA podcast. Thanks. Thanks to you guys. If you're listening for the inspiration, definitely tune into their pod. It's weekly right? Isn't it like


Michael Mioduski  39:43

it is every Thursday morning? 8am. Eastern Standard Time.


Molly Geoghegan  39:47

How would you describe them?


Michael Mioduski  39:48

They were digital nomads early. And then they turned into their middle ages. And like had one had a kid one settle down, but they still they still try to embrace that YOLO Um, you know, pack up a suitcase work from Barcelona for the summer. So yeah, the appeal to people who like are into the lifestyle design thing, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, that kind of stuff. But yeah, I've listened to it for like over a decade. Yeah.


Molly Geoghegan  40:13

Great, good. You're always sending me some links. And every time I tune it, and it's it is fun, and I think they cover some really great variety of topics. So that link cool YouTube video on this on this topic as well, in addition to of course, Paul Graham's original 2013, blog post, things that don't scale, do things that don't scale. If you don't know what Y Combinator is, we'll link that to Yeah, and anything else we need in the space? Ghost


Michael Mioduski  40:39 dedicated our partner visual storytelling presentation design agency. Yeah, give us give us a look. You might know someone who's struggling with PowerPoint or Google Slides. And now yeah, you can send him a lifeline. Yeah, yeah. Until then, Molly, presentation nation. Thanks for listening. Send us. If you want to talk about anything related to storytelling presentations, give us a shout. And until then, keep on pitching

About The Author

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan is a writer, organizer, and film school dropout. She hikes frequently with her dog, Guinness, and signs up for too many email newsletters. Having lived in Chicago, Paris, Dublin and Galway, Molly has made her way back to the Rockies and calls Denver, CO home.

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