Just like the living organisms, internet projects have their own life cycle. It goes through different stages – idea, planning, development, success, decline, and death.
In the idea stage you come up with the idea about the website – it is developed, improved, simplified, made more complex… sometimes the life-cycle is suspended yet at the first stage for many reasons. Analyses can prove that an idea may seem good in theory but absolutely unrealizable in practice. In the best case, this stage may take from just a few weeks to several months. If it is protracted for years, probably your project will be morally obsolete when launched.
The planning stage is connected with many emotions around the creation of the design and programming, testing, correcting the mistakes, and, in some cases, changing the design. This stage is rarely correctly planned by designers and programmers but you should do your best not to protract it for more than two or three months, no matter what your idea is. If something cannot be planned within three months, you should simplify it. If you let the planning stage continue for one or two years, you will be definitely too late and if the market used to need your services a couple of years ago, you must be sure that now this need has been already satisfied by another project that was faster than yours or this need has disappeared because of the dynamic changes in technologies.
The development stage is of crucial importance for the project. Even if the previous stages were trouble-free, fast, and of high quality, if you decide to skip even a bit of the necessary work or any other resource in this stage, there may be irreversible consequences for the project. The development stage, depending on the type of a website and financial means for advertising, may take between 9 months and 2-3 years. An average internet project starts working at full blast after the second year.
The success stage comes the moment your project starts working at 100% of its potential. This stage may take months, or years. The length of the success stage of an internet project depends entirely on good management and, to some small extent, on accidental factors. After realizing satisfactory revenues, many internet projects start groundlessly expanding their team, which pushes them to the decline and death stages faster than expected. This is the fourth of the popular Parkinson’s Laws, which says: “The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.” In addition to it, we have the third one, which says: “Expansion means complexity; and complexity decay.” Although they may sound funny, Parkinson’s Laws are fundamental, especially for online business.
If during the hardest times there were 5 people working on a certain internet project, there is no logic in needing 25 people to work on it during the times of success when the work has not really increased. The reason for such a move is explained by the experience, psychology, and greed of the manager in charge of the project. They think that if 5 people have achieved incredible success and revenues, it means that 25 people will do miracles, while 50 or 500 people will turn them into Rockefeller’s neighbor and best friend.
In fact, it is just the opposite. If with a team of 5 people the manager can observe and control everything that happens with their business and is acquainted with every single process in detail, with the rapidly expanding team they start losing control over the big group of people and that is why they start appointing intermediate units to control smaller groups of employees. Usually, the five people working in the company since its beginning become heads of bigger groups of employees, called departments.
Over time, these departments start appointing more intermediate heads and deputies to the already appointed team leaders. This way the hierarchical organization of the company is changed from a flat to a pyramidal structure and, if in the past any of these five people could have solved a certain case in minutes by going and consulting with the other four people, now they have to go through a long process requiring communication with tens of employees and several departments, while in the meantime the internet business will be suffering serious pains carrying the burden of the company on its shoulders.
You will hear numerous arguments justifying the need to hire more people. One of them is that the small family project that your website used to be is now on its way to becoming a corporation. That it used to be just an adventure, while now it is a profitable business that requires great efforts so as to continue meeting the consumers’ needs. And last but not least, there is always an expert, who will tell you that you have achieved much but definitely this is not the website’s full potential but only about 30% of it. This is more than enough but why should you content yourself with 30% when you can get 50% or 60%, or why not 90%?
This is the moment when the manager’s greed can push a good internet business to the steep and crooked road of constant “growth for the sake of growth”.
The truth is that you do not need any more people. Hiring a few more people, who can speed up the work process and take up part of the work off of the overloaded employees’ shoulders is a good idea and can really boost productivity.
However, you should be very careful because hiring a few more people is one step away from hiring tens or hundreds of more people. It may seem strange, but with the internet business, things do not develop like with the offline business. If you open a restaurant, you will need several people to service it – a cook, a waiter, and a manager. If your business expands and you need bigger premises, you will have to hire more waiters and cooks. If the expansion continues, you may open a restaurant chain in which to improve the quality you will need teams of bar staff, waiters, cooks, managers, and suppliers. The same is valid if you open a bank – every new branch will require a certain minimum number of employees to service the clients.
However, if you have an online media in which five people maintain a women’s website, it starts developing, the advertisers like it and start investing more and more money to advertise their products. The traffic is increasing, the consumers are happy, the advertising agencies love you. Oh, what a bliss! What would you do, if you want your website to develop further? Increasing the team will not lead to increase in the traffic, neither will it increase the advertising, nor the quality of the services. With 10 more people, you will probably be able to write three times more articles a day but are you sure that your consumers will read three times more a day? Are you sure that there will be three times more information to offer them a day? What is more likely to happen is that if you used to have five people creating 20 articles a day in the past, when you hire a team of 15 people, the number of articles produced will be around 30 instead of the expected 60 articles a day.
Over the past 11 years, the team of TeenProblem.net has been comprised of no more than two people. Even after its acquisition by Investor.BG, I did not give in to the proposal to arbitrarily hire more people with the purpose to “boost the revenues”. In fact, any extra employee would have rather turned into an expense. In the website’s best days, when we used to realize 180% growth in the attendance, year-over-year, there were only two people behind the project – an editor and myself. This way, with a minimum team the website reached 98% market share in its segment, according to Gemius data.
The No 1 tourism website in Bulgaria (according to Gemius) – NasamNatam.com, used to have one single employee during the first three years of its establishment, while over the past few years the team increased to three people.
During its strongest years, another very popular website in Bulgaria – Gyuvech (www.gbg.bg), was managed by a single person – Pavel Kalinov.
There are small and cohesive teams behind most of the successful online businesses not only in my country but also throughout the whole world. The only reason for Google to hire thousands of employees is that the company has the ambition to develop itself on all kind of markets and to constantly work out new projects that are developed and mastered by micro-teams of 3 to 5 experts in a certain field.
To stay longer in the success stage, you should hire people only when you have a concrete need for them. Do not give in to the pieces of advice given to you by consultants and experts, who are acquainted with your business only in theory. The truth is that no one but you knows what you have gone through to bring your internet project to success. An expert, who is just an onlooker, may give you many fast and seemingly valuable pieces of advice about how to change your way of work, while you are the person, who should judge whether it will be to the company’s benefit or not. Accepting the expert’s opinion as the “one and only truth” and applying the pieces of advice without adaptation and careful consideration may push you to failure, which will not be blamed on the expert but on you.