Book Summary: Company of One by Paul Jarvis

Quick Summary: Paul Jarvis’s Company of One (2019) compiles his expertise and the experiences of dozens of small businesses to provide a simple, straightforward guide to starting your own company of one. Jarvis provides a clear path to success, from developing your idea to collecting loyal customers and finding funding.

You will learn what to avoid doing from failed startups and what to remember from successful ones. You will understand what your business priorities should be and the distinction between growth and success.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

Company of One Book Summary

Lesson 1: Defining a Company of One

Tom Fishburne worked as the vice president of marketing for a major food corporation. He left his job in the fall of 2010 to pursue one of his lifelong interests, drawing cartoons. Even while working a corporate job, Tom continued to draw and share cartoons.

He decided to turn his hobby into a career once he had gained enough popularity and clients. In most cases, a business should expand, but Tom’s cartoon company remained small, with just him, his wife, and a couple of freelancers. This gave him more time to draw cartoons rather than manage cartoonists.

Tom is the epitome of a one-man show, allowing him to have a life outside of work while still earning more than most illustrators. A one-person business believes that expansion isn’t the most important or beneficial step.

A company of one can thrive within a corporation, though it is more difficult. The term “intrapreneur” describes this. These individuals typically concentrate on their objectives and use the company’s resources to achieve them without much assistance from others.

Companies with one employee typically exhibit four characteristics: resilience, autonomy, speed, and simplicity. Acceptance of reality, a sense of purpose, and the ability to adapt are all characteristics of resilience. Being competent in your field is the foundation of autonomy and control. The ability to work smartly and efficiently under varying conditions is referred to as speed. Knowing the difference between beneficial and unnecessary complexities is the essence of simplicity.

Lesson 2: Keeping It Small

Sean D’Souza, the owner of Psychotactics, is content with his $500,000 profit per year. He runs his business from a backyard office. Sean teaches businesses about consumer psychology. Instead of focusing on marketing and growth, Sean devotes all of his attention and time to his current customers. Focusing on existing customers rather than potential customers ensures stability.

Due to the amount of money that could be coming into their companies, startups are frequently duped by venture capital. Almost 86 percent of successful businesses did not seek venture capital funding. This is due to the fact that a company’s interests rarely coincide with the interests of its investors.

The desire for growth is natural, but it has a short lifespan. To keep up with the exponential growth, complicated systems must be put in place, necessitating more resources to manage the complexities. This ends up costing a lot of money and may eventually result in more losses than profits.

Attempting to compete with a larger market player will result in you following the player’s growth rather than your own. Setting upper limits for your business will help you stay grounded and realistic. Instead of trying to outperform larger corporations, learn to focus on their successes and failures and apply what you’ve learned in your own business.

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Lesson 3: What’s Required to Lead

A common misconception about leadership is that a leader must be an extrovert. That is not always the case, as introverts have better focus and listening skills. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a reserved leader who seeks the advice of COO Sheryl Sandberg on social and political issues.

Introverted leaders avoid speaking in front of large groups and instead rely on one-on-one communication to persuade others. Hiring freelancers who do not require management on your part can be extremely beneficial. However, in the workplace, a balance of autonomy and alignment is required. Too much autonomy leads to chaos, and too many rules limit creativity and foster a reliance on guidance. Your role is to provide clear direction and then step aside.

Specialization is less valuable than a diverse skill set. You must understand how others think, how to communicate effectively, how to recover from failure, how to focus on better opportunities, and how to make smaller decisions. Pushing yourself to the limit on a daily basis will not improve your company; it will only exhaust you. Stop hustling, take time away from work to relax, and encourage your coworkers to do the same. Work quantity is not as important as work quality.

Power comes with leadership, and power tends to kill empathy, transparency, and gratitude. Be honest about your difficulties at work and discuss them with others. Being aware of your stressors and triggers will help you maintain a positive mental state.

Lesson 4: Avoiding Unnecessary Growth

Avoiding Unnecessary Growth According to Kate O’Neill, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, using data to improve user experience is more rewarding than hoarding customers.

There are four primary reasons why businesses want to expand. The first is inflation, which is natural. The best way to keep up with inflation is to raise your rates slightly each year. Investors are the second reason. They want to see at least a threefold return on their initial investment in the company. When you start small, it is easier to concentrate on the quality of your business rather than its profits. Churn is the third reason.

Companies prioritize reducing churn by focusing on acquiring new customers rather than retaining existing ones. It costs roughly five times as much to add a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. The fourth, and most difficult, reason to overcome is ego. Focusing on the reasons you started your company helps; keeping the quality of your product and customer satisfaction as the core of your company is also important.

The first step in starting a business should always be figuring out how to make the smallest version of your idea a reality. Customers don’t care if you’re profitable; they care if you can assist them in becoming profitable. Growth should never be a goal, but rather the direct result of profits generated by a valuable product. Initially, Google and Facebook were only intended to be university projects.

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Lesson 5: Determining the Right Mindset

Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, believes that the company’s goal of producing less clothing is what has made it so successful. Instead of the product, his customers support the brand because of its environmental and social goals. It takes a lot of thought to figure out your company’s purpose and make sure it resonates with customers.

You will become more invested in your company if you fully align your purpose with it. There is, however, a distinction between passion and purpose. Passion is not based on a set of values, but rather on how much you enjoy doing your work. It assumes that work will always be enjoyable, which isn’t always the case.

Contrary to popular belief, passion is not the source of good ideas; rather, it is a result of them. Before diving into something, skill should always be present, and just because you’re passionate about it doesn’t mean you’re skilled at it.

According to a Microsoft Research study, having multiple priorities and attempting to focus on them all at the same time reduces productivity by 40%. Single-tasking should be introduced into the workplace. To increase productivity, you must be able to manage your time and tasks effectively. This includes communicating your workload to your peers, identifying what consumes too much of your time, and allocating a set amount of time each day to work on your company.

Lesson 6: Personality Is Important

People notice a company’s personality as one of its most important characteristics. Traditional business has taught us that suppressing personality is necessary for growth, but people connect with personalities. People will do it for you if you do not assign one to your company.

Gaining attention is equally important, and best-selling business author Sally Hogshead believes that delivering strong emotion and personality with the company’s brand can capture people’s attention better than delivering just information. Taking a stand, expressing strong opinions, and being different, quirky, and unique are all important factors in attracting future customers.

With a bland universal image, you should never try to appeal to everyone. Polarization is what you should look for in your company, and there are three ways to achieve it. The first is attempting to persuade those who oppose your brand to change their minds. The second is attempting to antagonize haters, which may convert neutral customers into supporters if they agree with your divisive stance, and the third is relying heavily on a contentious aspect of your company.

Lesson 7: Building Customer Relationships

Customer service is, as one would expect, one of the most important aspects of a business. Simple gestures, such as remembering a regular customer’s usual food order at your restaurant, are greatly appreciated and will almost certainly entice them to return and recommend your business to their friends.

Instead of viewing customer service as an expense, consider it an investment. Building a good relationship with your customers and making them feel important is the best way to get them talking about your company. These kinds of referrals are effective because they foster trust by proxy, which is essentially someone you trust telling you to trust something.

To better serve your customers, you must first understand their needs, desires, and motivations. Following their feedback, you can begin implementing services that will keep them satisfied and wanting to return for more.

Regardless of the circumstances, things will go wrong at some point. It is equally important to own up to the mistake and be honest with your customers, whether you are the one at fault, your suppliers, or your partners. When your company is in a slump, transparency will be greatly appreciated.

Learn to turn complaints into opportunities to get closer to your customers as a one-person business. Pay attention not only to direct complaints, but also to those made online.

People are less likely to buy your product if they notice unanswered complaints on any website. Consider what you say to your customers; strive to under-promise and over-deliver. People will be upset if you fail to keep your promises about your product, so start thinking of your conversations as binding social contracts.

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Lesson 8: Scalable Systems

A company of one isn’t against growth, but it is against growth that isn’t in line with its mission. This is why they use scalable systems for orders, such as prepackaged software, and social media for marketing. Need/Want is an example of a company that thrives by utilizing scalable systems. Their entire team consists of only nine people, and they generate $10 million in revenue per year. For online orders, they use the prepackaged software Shopify and outsource freelancers as needed.

Slow fashion is advocated by some clothing and jewelry brands, such as Arthur & Henry, who encourage customers to get the most out of a clothing item until it’s worn enough to be used as a garage rag. The environmental and social message behind this creates a scalable, ethical system.

Connection is another scalable system that requires little effort. Even something as simple as a mailing list will suffice. Customers, on the other hand, are far more likely to stay in touch with your company if your personality shines through the emails, so personalized emails are the most effective.

You should not have to work alone as a one-person business. Collaboration is essential for success, but a recent shift to corporate messaging tools like Slack has harmed productivity. Collaboration that is focused and only occurs on occasion is more effective than collaboration that is available 24/7.

Lesson 9: Teaching Everything You Know

Brian Clarke was an attorney at a law firm, but he didn’t want to practice for a long time. He launched CopyBlogger as a side project to teach businesses about content marketing. It began to thrive, was renamed RainMaker Digital, and now brings in more than $12 million per year.

This is an example of how many people are drawn to a company whose primary goal is education. Using education to advertise your product is effective because you are genuinely teaching consumers the value of what you’re selling and how it will make their lives easier. You will also be able to teach customers how to use your product most effectively and successfully. This ensures that they will return for more, resulting in long-term customers.

Ideas cannot be treated as currency because an idea without execution is worthless. Put your thoughts out there. Discuss them with potential customers; their feedback will be beneficial to you. There are very few completely original and completely new ideas, and most revolutionary ideas today are simply applied improvements to an already existing service.

Many companies use marketing to trick consumers into making impulsive and uninformed decisions, and while this used to work, more people now ask a lot of questions about any service or product they’re thinking about purchasing. The natural consumer instinct is to go with the biggest brand in the market; however, if you build your brand around educating and providing accurate information, people will see you as a knowledgeable and trustworthy figure, and will choose your brand instead.

Lesson 10: Properly Utilizing Trust and Scale

For the past twenty years, author Glen Urban has been researching trust between consumers and businesses online, and he has noticed that as the internet has grown in popularity, consumers have gained more power due to the availability of online reviews. Verified reviews can either build or destroy trust in a company. Car dealers are an example of how trust affects business.

Car dealers can no longer defraud customers because they share information about their vehicle specifications, safety ratings, and prices. Customers can now walk into dealerships knowing more about their vehicles than their dealers. Because most things on the internet are uncontrollable, some car companies have chosen fixed prices over negotiated ones. This keeps customers satisfied, builds trust, and generates profit.

Trust by proxy should be important to you as a one-person business. According to a study conducted by Verizon and Small Business Trends, referrals and recommendations are the most common ways for small businesses to acquire new customers.

Customers trust you and have a good relationship with you because you already have a good product and good customer service. Following up with them after a purchase to see if they are satisfied and to request that they share their happiness with others will appear natural. Customers, on the other hand, prefer incentives that are double-sided, offering a perk or discount to both them and the person to whom they recommend you.

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Lesson 11: Taking Small Steps

Jeff Sheldon, the founder of Ugmonk, began with only four T-shirt designs. After repaying his father’s $2,000 loan, he began slowly producing more T-shirts and became profitable almost immediately. He took small steps, not aiming for grandiose scale, and the scale came naturally.

While you don’t want to aim for rapid growth, you should focus on becoming profitable as soon as possible. Releasing your first product, no matter how small, gradually begins to build your consumer network, generates some profit to keep you going, and is the best learning experience.

The minimum viable profit is the best indicator of your company’s long-term viability. Make decisions based on actual profit, not potential profit, and try to cut costs first. Begin with a low MVP, just enough to cover your own salary, and gradually increase it based on your profits. Make your product predictable and accessible to ensure a quick, simple, and successful launch. Predictability makes your product and message simple to understand and navigate, whereas accessibility backs up your product with facts rather than exaggerated claims.

Once your initial product is on the market, you can use it as a foundation for future releases, while constantly improving and updating in response to customer feedback. In terms of funding, crowdfunding is becoming increasingly popular among new businesses. You pitch your idea to potential customers, and if they like it, they invest. This way, you not only get funding, but also customers.

Lesson 12: Relationships Have Hidden Value

Smaller businesses often try to act like larger corporations. Customers are unhappy because what they want from large corporations is connection. Large corporations cannot send personalized emails to millions of users, but as a one-man operation with 1,000 customers, you can.

Glide, a video chat app, is a prime example of what not to do. Glide employed a growth-hacking technique known as “spamvites.” When you first started using the app, it would send text message invites to all of your contacts.

While the app initially had a large number of users, the hype quickly faded, and it is now barely used. Meanwhile, Kiva is a company that promotes and tells the stories of small businesses in developing countries. People who read these stories may be able to offer the companies a loan, which will be repaid in the end. Kiva thrives by emphasizing interactions between lenders and borrowers.

Long before you start talking about sales, you can start building relationships with your audience by delivering your message. You must ensure that your customers understand that your top priority is their happiness and satisfaction, not their money. Social capital is typically what makes or breaks a business.

Consider it like a bank account: you must make deposits such as your message, personality, and goals before you can begin withdrawing by asking for sales. The essence of social capital is two-way relationships. One-third of your social media posts should be for business updates, one-third for other people’s posts, and one-third for personal interactions with people. Being relatable and sharing your expertise generates a lot of social capital.

Lesson 13: Personal Experience with a Company of One

Working for yourself isn’t always about doing what you enjoy. Marketing, legal issues, bookkeeping, and dealing with customers will take up half of your time. To pull it off, you must have a well-balanced ego and a strong sense of purpose.

Prioritize expenses over revenue. Make every effort to reduce your costs, research your MVP, and consider covering your own expenses as your first accomplishment.

Companies with only one employee are easily exploited. Separate yourself legally from your business by ensuring that all revenue goes to the company rather than you. Familiarize yourself with common legal issues and, as time passes, consider hiring a company lawyer. When it comes to accountants, look for someone who is familiar with your industry.

An accountant will direct your attention away from figuring out your finances and toward improving them. Don’t be afraid of medical coverage; if you do your research, you’ll be able to join groups that offer bulk discounts for you and any employees you may have.

The best thing about starting your own business is that you can build it around your schedule. Decide how you want to run your business, what your goals are, and always put your own well-being first.

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Company of One Review

Paul Jarvis goes into great detail about how to successfully build a loyal audience and backs up his arguments with examples of successful and unsuccessful companies. He tells the stories of many companies, including some of his own personal experiences. Jarvis simplifies the complicated aspects of running a business and makes his advice accessible to everyone.

However, perhaps the book would have been better as two books. One on business and the other on relationship marketing. Although they are related ideas and both reflect how Jarvis runs his own business, they are also separate. In this way, one could discuss how companies like Basecamp work to build relationships with customers and how one-man companies can run their businesses.

About The Author

Paul Jarvis is the founder of his own one-man company, providing online courses and advice on how to start your own brand. He has also worked as a web designer and an internet consultant. He has worked with professional athletes as well as large corporations such as Microsoft and Warner Music on their online presence. He also writes and creates software in his field of expertise.

Company of One Quotes

“From an evolutionary point of view it is explainable why we wanted to gather more and more: with more food, more water, more protection against predators, we may be less likely to die. But today, growth feeds our ego and social standing.”


“In saying no to anything that doesn’t fit, you leave room to say yes to those rare opportunities that do fit—opportunities that align with the values and ideas of your business.”


“There’s nothing wrong with finding the right size and then focusing on being better. Small can be a long-term plan, not just a stepping-stone.”


“He believes that companies need to focus on becoming better instead of simply growing bigger.”

View our larger collection of the best Company of One quotes.

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