How I'm scaling "doing things that don't scale"

One of the most common types of advice in the startup world is best articulated in the essay Do Things That Don't Scale by Paul Graham, and if you  haven't read it then I suggest you do so now and come back here later.

As Co-Founder of Assistable I have two sides of a marketplace to take care of.

The first is the supply side, which is comprised of "skilled assistants" who are U.S. and Canada based remote workers.  

The second is the demand side, made up of entrepreneurs, professionals and businesses that need flexible, remote talent and to make it all work smoothly for the long-term I'm convinced that I need to do a lot of things that don't scale.

"The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually." - Paul Graham

Recruiting Remote Workers

Is the easiest "user" for us to recruit, they're signing up by the hundreds with relatively low effort, but that doesn't make them the least important – they're incredibly important to us, they're "the why" of our very existence and they're my reason for trying to scale "doing things that don't scale".

Step 1. Create a low cost "Scaling Things That Don't Scale" Funnel

No matter how much cash I have in my pocket I'm always trying to be as frugal as I can possibly be without compromising my speed of execution, and quite frankly it always feels like a big win to me when I don't have to subscribe to someone else's thing, so I use Sendy for email marketing and mailing list autoresponders.

Sendy is self-hosted software that costs $59 and hooks up to Amazon SES which lets you send 62,000 emails per month at $0 and then $0.10 per 1,000 emails after that with no other costs, regardless of how big your mailing list is.

Or, you could go and pay some email marketing SaaS company hundreds of dollars per month, or use MailChimp and suffer it's limitations for no good reason at all.  But Assistable is a startup, we're being scrappy, so we don't do that!

Step 2. Feed the Funnel and Begin to Scale the Unscalable

Once Sendy is up and running and configured with a mailing list I send remote worker job applicants to a web page that subscribes the user to an autoresponder and sends them the following emails:

  • Immediately - Email user a link to Remote Worker Application Form
  • 1 Day Later - Email a personal thank you email for applying
  • 2 Days Later - Email a YouTube video with an open ended question

Here's what happened so far:

Started in July, 2019

Zero to Hundreds of Subscribers - Starting in July, 2019

Email 1. Application Form

This email is received immediately after subscribing and gets an almost 100% open rate and most of those people complete the application form.

Email 2. Personal thank you (scaling the unscalable starts here)

This email is received a day after subscribing and gets an 82%+ open rate, this is where my scaling the unscalable process begins, many people respond to this email so I get them on a call and talk to them at length.

Scaling the Unscalable Starts Here

Email 3. Link to a YouTube video (amazing things happen here)

This email is received two days after the user subscribes and it gets an 81% + open rate and 49% click on the YouTube link and watch the video, many people respond to this video by email and write long form ideas and strategies and make suggestions about how we can work together in a bigger way.

Incredible relationships have been formed as a result of this video, it's amazing.

Deep, Lasting Relationships Formed Here

What's Been Accomplished by Scaling the Unscalable So Far

  1. I learned that the supply side is willing and able to help build the demand side, this is a really big deal and I've formed strong relationships with people and created new distribution channels that I had never even thought about.  Assistable is no longer just a startup, it's a movement and a community.
  2. The process is surfacing "the best of the best talent", it's helping me identify the people that I really want to put in front of our clients and that's huge, it lowers risk and again I had no idea in advance this was going to happen.
  3. Highly-actionable feedback is being received on a daily basis that's being used to improve and optimize every aspect of the operation.
  4. Extremely valuable in-depth information about competitor strengths and weaknesses is coming in from applicants that have worked for them as employees, remote workers, and users of their platforms – this is pure gold.
  5. I'm developing meaningful relationships with people, it's increasing my commitment to the business.  I feel accountable to these people and I feel more driven than ever to make it work, for them – not me.  I also feel a "momentum" that I've never felt before, and it's pushing me in a direction I want to go in.


This is just one way to scale "doing things that don't scale", and I'm doing other things too that are much more challenging and some of those things are in-person.

I see clearly now why so many founders that have been there, done it and exited push the "do things that don't scale" concept so hard.  If you're not talking to users you're making a very big mistake.

Now go build your own funnel and scale the unscalable.

Also – for the critics – yes, I realize this is just one side of the marketplace, but why wouldn't I be doing the same for the demand side?  Of course I am.

Follow me on Twitter and send me a DM if you have any questions, I'll update this post as people ask questions about things I've left out that I should have included.

Thanks for reading and if you're looking for remote work apply here, and visit Assistable if you're looking for flexible U.S. or Canada based remote workers.

That's all for now, Adam out!