Entrepreneurs love all things big. We idolize big names, applaud big disruptions, and chase big numbers. Of course, such love is only natural. Unfortunately, it's also deadly.

"Big things happen because of small things, which means that if all you do is 'go big,' you'll never actually get to your goal."

That's according to Jeff Rodman, co-founder and chief evangelist of Polycom, whose shareholders voted just this month to accept a $2 billion acquisition deal from Siris Capital Group.

In the face of such a massive number, Rodman's insistence on going small might seem like a contradiction. It isn't. "Small" has been the cornerstone of his approach to building a global telecommunication brand used by everyone from NATO to Pied Piper from HBO's Silicon Valley.

That's why I connected with Rodman to ask him about what founders and business leaders alike can learn from his love of going small.

Polycom's $2 billion acquisition

Polycom's story started in 1990 when Rodman and Brian Hinman founded the company in their San Francisco basement with the dream "to transform the way people communicate when conducting business."

Originally a VC-funded startup, the company went public in 1996 and by 2008 reported its $1 billion in revenue.

Earlier this year, Polycom entered into a merger agreement with Mitel for $1.96 billion, which would have kept the company public. Then, amidst what the New York Times called "valuation quirks," Polycom terminated the deal to accept a superior offer from Siris Capital Group, LLC for $2 billion in cash and go private.

Why?

Because as Rodman puts it, "We believe that as an independent private company, Polycom can stay true to its small, agile roots in a rapidly evolving industry."

Going public is many founder's dream. And yet the pressures of it forces you to sacrifice small, long-term innovation for big, short-term financial wins.

Having lived on both sides of the divide, Polycom's choice to "go back" is a signal of just how committed they are to the ethos of small, a practice that's been part of their success from the beginning.

How "going small" played a part in Polycom's success

Thomas Edison is famous for many things, including his saying: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

"Edison's 'one percent inspiration,'" Rodman explains, "is the big idea upon which all great companies and products are built. The other 99 percent are little things. What continually surprises me is how so few companies actually put in that last 99 percent to make a product exceptional."

He even wrote a song about it called "Shipping Sh*t and Passing Trash."

In Polycom's case, these small things ranged from a 95-cent-pamphlet Rodman bought from RadioShack to endlessly tweaking of algorithms to selecting the right finish on fastening screws.

The end result of all these small things is profound simplicity. Iteration shakes out hidden complexities that shouldn't have been there in the first place. Great ideas have to start with a grand vision, but their execution entails the meticulous and the miniscule.

The danger of "going big"

Embarking on a project with broad scope and aggressive goals is exciting. So too is filling your visions with billion dollar valuations and exits.

According to Rodman, this focus on "big" burdens founders with the two dangers.

First, the belief that they themselves have to create everything from scratch. Often, others have already made pieces of what you need. You just need to put those pieces together.

The second danger is a costly obsession with doing everything right from the very start. Especially at the beginning, "good enough" probably really is good enough. As long as your product is functional, you can always add updates later.

This approach enables even enterprise-level businesses to build from the inside out, establishing a firm foundation of rock-solid "little things" that add up to big wins.

Small things...

$2 billion is a massive payoff, but don't let that number fool you. The key to Rodman's twenty-five-year success is rooted in something altogether different and counter-intuitive.

"Do not despise the day of small things," wrote a Jewish prophet two and half millennia ago. Wise words.

Far from despising them, "small things" are exactly what your business should love the most.

Published on: Sep 21, 2016