This is how we scale

It’s possible for services business, too, you guys

Hi, everyone! Nothing gives me more confidence in our business than the fact that Josh got Boulder, Colorado; Jenny got Madison, Wisconsin; and I got Burlington, Vermont, as my “sound town” for Spotify Wrapped this year. And that’s on diversifying your leadership’s skill sets.

Today, I’m passing the mic to Jenna Movsowitz, our newsletter editor, to share her POV on how a services business can scale. 🎤 Let’s get to it.

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

Services Are Scalable, Too

I asked Jenny for help coming up with an image idea and this was the first thing that popped into her head. Keep reading to understand why outsourcing our graphic design needs has helped us scale, lol.

It’s only been two months since I joined Smooth, but I’m not entirely new to startups: Before I became Smooth’s newsletter editor, I worked with early stage consumer product brands.

So the idea of “scalability,” the engine that turns a business idea into a moonshot, wasn’t new to me. But my experience in scaling was primarily scaling products, not services—and it turns out I had a lot to learn.

Scaling a high-demand product is relatively simple: go from making it in your garage, for example, to manufacturing it in a warehouse. More products made = more products you can sell.

But scaling a services business like ours is a bit more nuanced. Our creator partners come to us for our time, attention, and expertise because we’re people who are really good at doing something. That can be difficult to scale.

Despite our best efforts, though, we can’t just clone ourselves to increase our output and do more great work with more talented creators. So…we’ve found alternative ways to grow (sustainably). Here are a few ways I’ve seen Smooth redefine scale since I started → 

1. Get really good at doing a few things. When I started at Smooth, I came in with a CVS-receipt-length list of things I thought Smooth could offer. Together, Kinsey and I brain-dumped the whole list onto a WeWork whiteboard. But once the Expo marker had dried, she took a step back and said, “Let’s focus on nailing the newsletter offerings first, then we’ll start looking into what else we can do.”

This went against everything I thought I knew about startups. It wasn’t very “move fast and break things.” More “move at an appropriate pace without sacrificing a single sliver of quality.” I realized then that focus is a growth lever. Smooth could go a mile wide, but we go a mile deep first.

The secret to scaling a product is getting really good at producing it, then producing it over and over again; the same applies to services businesses. We get good at one thing, we do more of it for more clients, and once we totally nail it, we bring on more people to tackle more offerings…then rinse and repeat.

2. Hire the right people. We all sometimes wish we could copy + paste our brains. But at Smooth, we know that hiring the “right” person doesn’t necessarily mean finding someone who can double the work we’re already doing. Instead, the “right” person does it differently—and better.

Two examples:

  • Ben Smith is our new creator partnerships lead. Before Ben, our CEO Josh was building relationships with prospective and existing clients—and he always wanted to put more time into it. Now, it’s Ben’s entire job. And as a creator himself, Ben understands the challenges and needs of creators. Ben doesn’t just fill the role—he redefines it.

  • Moy Zhong is a freelance designer who works with us on several newsletters. She’s a graphic design genius whose specialty is blowing what Ali, Jenny, and Kinsey were doing (editor’s note: taking forever to make so-so graphics for newsletters on Canva, please see above) out of the water in half the time it took them.

3. Operationalize, operationalize, operationalize. One of Smooth’s core philosophies (there are many) is “never start with a blank page.” In other words, we create templates for everything, from onboarding brand partners to kicking off newsletters. This helps us refine processes and maintain momentum so we can do more and more.

4. Overcommunication is key. Two favorite Smooth terms are “overcomms” (short for overcommunication) and “for viz” (for visibility). While much of our work gets done independently, it is all laid out on the table—big priorities, important updates, etc. Overcomms means we don’t waste time on status checks or tracking down who-sent-this-to-whom.

One more for the road: We do get some help increasing our capacity and efficiency from AI. A few ways we use it in our day-to-day:

  • We use a meeting recording software called Meetgeek to summarize all of our calls.

  • We use ChatGPT and Bard for research on market sizing and analysis for different niches.

  • We use AI to help generate job postings and find ideal dates for events.

  • “And last but not least, all major company decisions come from Grok.” —Josh (I’m told he was kidding)

Bottom line: The best companies are able to effectively scale the business that everyone perceives as “not scalable.” These strategies are a few of the ways I’ve seen Smooth do its best to accomplish just that in the two months since I joined.

  • An absolute banger from friend of Smooth Brian Morrissey (and no, he’s not paying us to keep linking to his work—it’s just that good). Today’s must read: Newsletters aren’t business models.

  • Jezebel is back from the brink. Music and culture publisher Paste Magazine bought the site from G/O Media.

  • “We’re actually getting into events!” —every publisher in 2024, probably.

  • Peter Kafka is leaving Vox for Business Insider, where his Recode Media podcast will become part of Morning Brew (the name rings a bell?).

  • Josh recommended this episode of Making Media to the team. Candidly I (Kinsey) have not yet listened, but as a huge fan of AD’s celebrity home tours I certainly intend to: Inside Architectural Digest.

  • Colin & Samir had Emma Chamberlain on their show—it’s a fun one.

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

Congratulations to Markos for closing his first deal as part of our partnerships team! And a second congratulations to Ali for making this masterpiece a mere 2 seconds after the fact:

Thanks for reading! We’re super excited for our Smoothletter plans through the end of the year—see you next week for another fun one! Don’t forget to say white rabbits on Friday morning!