When You’re Building a Company, It’s Great to Be Weird
Hi, my name is Allan Branch. Almost six years ago, Steven Bristol and I founded the coolest company you’ve never heard of, Less Everything. In reality we’re actually not that cool. I like to think we are cool, but we’re just weird. Being a little weird is okay; if you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re probably also a little weird.
Let’s stop thinking like we’re still in high school, trying to act normal just to fit in. My business partner and I reject the idea of trying to be like everyone else, and I think that’s probably what’s kept us in business. Let me explain…
In the past six years, our company has launched products and hosted events. We never accepted funding; it just didn’t feel right for us. Doing what “feels right” is not one giant decision — it’s thousands of tiny decisions.
Everything we’ve done as a company that I’m proud of started with someone saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we…” or “Wouldn’t it be funny if we…”
These tiny decisions come in all shapes and sizes. Normally, when we have a “good idea,” we talk ourselves out of it. Seth Godin calls this “the lizard brain.” The lizard brain stops your creative ideas because it’s scared of being judged.
See, Steve and I are fat, sweaty, gregarious guys, and we hug people when we meet them. We make no excuses for being ourselves. We’re confident people, but not so arrogant that we don’t doubt ourselves. When we’re doubting, it’s our inner high school freshman scared shitless of being judged and thought less of. The only way not to be judged is to never been seen. For a business, not being seen is the kiss of death.
So what does this voice that kills your weird, interesting, funny ideas sound like?
About six years ago, we launched Less Accounting, a bookkeeping software app. We realize that bookkeeping will always suck. Our app tries to make bookkeeping tasks better, but they still suck. Unfortunately, bookkeeping will never be more fun than Instagram or Pinterest. So we adopted the tagline, “All accounting software sucks, we just suck the least.”
When we thought of that tagline, did I worry that others would think it was stupid, silly, unprofessional, and/or would possibly hurt us as a company? Hell yes. Did I have a part of me saying, “Allan, people will think this is funny, and they’ll respond with a smile and enjoy you poking fun at the software?” Yes, that too. I almost talked myself out of publishing that tagline, but in the end, I didn’t.
The best blog posts we’ve written are always the biggest struggles emotionally to overcome because the things we’re writing about are close to the heart. Openly talking about how “Business is hard as shit” was mentally difficult for me to release.
We do what feels natural and right and sincere. It feels right not to fake it, not to succumb to what everyone else is doing, and not to act like people think we should.
In 2009, we decided to host a conference for people building small startups. So, how do you market a startup event with seven weeks of lead time and no marketing budget? Well, you make sock puppets and do your best Mr. T impersonation. Yes, being weird doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it doesn’t have to. Being your true self will attract the right people — others that seek authenticity.
We still continue to not follow traditional conference “marketing” efforts —and that includes the promotional video for the conference we threw in 2012. Instead of shying away from being ourselves, we embrace being weird and stand brave in the face of the judgment from others.
Every day — almost every hour — I’m faced with a battle against my inner weird-killer, telling me my tweets aren’t funny, my articles are not insightful, and there are other more talented designers out there. I’m always fighting back the urge to turn tail and hide. The truth is, the more you silence the lizard brain, the less control it will have over you. You’ll slowly free yourself from that burden.
Today, tomorrow, and next week you’re going to be faced with a decision. You’re going to have an idea, a spark. You’ll have to make a choice, take that spark, and light a forest fire — or, you can allow yourself (or someone else) to dumb it down to a level where everyone is happy not offending anyone, being “normal,” and not embracing their inner weirdness.
It’s your choice and it starts today. Will you be brave enough to be weird?