Two worlds colliding: Small and nimble versus Big and efficient

January 19, 2010

Two worlds colliding

While running Synop I’ll never forget bidding for a project in partnership with Telstra. We’d worked through a lot of the details and then were asked “Who should we contact from your legal department?”. Given Synop had two employees at that point and we were both in the room, Peter quickly responded “It’s probably easiest to just route everything through us as a single point of contact.”.

Traditionally, small and large companies have enjoyed inherent advantages:

Today, these worlds are colliding and the boundaries are completely blurred.

A natural change for small companies

Small companies can now leverage shared infrastructure like Amazon Web Services or Google Apps to drive down costs and enjoy economies of scale beyond what even large companies can imagine. Small companies can use services like oDesk or 99designs to access unique talent and expertise on demand and at low cost. Small companies can compete for consumer attention in small doses through Google AdWords and learn rapidly through metrics avoiding huge, high risk media spend.

A powerful ecosystem is working to solve these problems for SME’s. That elusive market has offered so much promise yet been difficult to capture and service until today’s models of engagement like SAAS emerged. Expect to see rapid innovation and adoption in this space.

Small companies are naturally hungry for savings and simple solutions to non-core activities. Moving to these new solutions won’t always be technically easy, but it will be culturally consistent for many organisations.

Cultural shift in big companies

Unfortunately for big companies, the changes are more cultural than technical.

Adopting new infrastructure solutions / meeting external benchmarks threatens existing organisations through giving up control or creating order-of-magnitude improvements to existing services.

Social media provides big companies with a unique opportunity to build customer intimacy beyond call center boundaries, but requires fast response and 1:1 service. Internal processes and standards need to change to perform on par with community expectations. Layered decision making through complex policies will almost always be too slow.

Finally, the agility and pace of change required will be slower than proponents expect and faster than resisters can believe. Agility and embracing change are internal cultural parameters notoriously difficult to alter.


Traditional boundaries and advantages between small and large companies are being eroded. Rather than small companies trying to grow up, large companies will try to reach small company standards for cost and intimacy (also see Small is the new big from Seth Godin).

The winners will be those that can iterate change and learn the fastest.

Meanwhile, consumers get increasingly intimate services at lower cost!