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Why Be Big?

Nobody gets remembered for numbers.

Words: David Hieatt
Illustration: Olaf Ladousse

On your death-bed, you will not be thinking of numbers. You will not be lying there thinking about how much market share you achieved, or that you became number one in this or that market. Those are just numbers. Nobody gets remembered for numbers.

For me, the most important brands in the world change something. They know what they are fighting for, and they fight. Apple fought, back in the day, on behalf of simplicity. Complexity was the enemy. Patagonia is fighting for the planet, and we are grateful they continue to do so. Elon Musk’s mission at Tesla is to save the human race. When that is your mission, giving away your patents to other companies begins to make a little more sense.

The common element to these brands is they are driven by their purpose. They have a goal that is bigger than just making a profit, and they are skilled enough in communicating to make us feel something for the change they are making. And as we begin to feel something for their cause, we begin to feel something for them too. This is why these brands occupy a space in our heads and hearts normally reserved for our favourite people. They are the rarified few that hold meaning for us. They have a soul. And these are the companies that get remembered.

It turns out that people remember not how big you are, but what change you made. Very often in life we chase goals just because everyone else is chasing similar ones. ‘We have to be the biggest’ is a common rallying cry. But, too often, we don’t ask why. Why go very fast in that direction? Just because everyone else is? In my view, that’s not really a great reason.

"There will never be a right time to start. Accept it. So start now."

But there is another way to look at scale. Rather than a matter of size, scale can be viewed as a matter of influence. The influence you can have in the world is no longer related to the size of your business. For example, the restaurant Noma holds 45 people and yet is widely acknowledged for changing how Denmark’s cuisine is perceived throughout the world. Instagram had 13 employees when it was bought by Facebook. And its influence is felt all over the world. I remember seeing a video interview with Radiohead. And they made the point that ‘We don’t want to be the biggest band in the world, but we do want to be the most influential’. That was their intent early on.

One thing I know for sure is that having a strong purpose embedded in your company gives you a competitive edge. Yes, your purpose makes you strong. Yes, it supplies your inner drive. Yes, it helps fuel invention. And yes, when times get tough, it keeps you from quitting. For sure, it gives you a reason to fight like you have never fought before and to keep fighting. But it also does this other thing, which is the hardest thing to do. It allows people to feel something for what you are doing.

At Hiut Denim Co, we make fewer jeans than Rolls Royce makes cars. We are driven to make the best jeans we can, not the most jeans we can. So will we ever be the biggest denim company in the world? That isn’t our journey. But where we can achieve scale is in our influence. We endeavour to make our company one of the most creative, innovative denim companies in the world. That is our intent.

I will let you know how that goes.