Quantity has a Quality of its own: Strength in numbers

Yesterday I was having dinner in Boston’s North End (our authentic Italian district) with an important partner to one of our companies and we got to discussing Soviet state-planned industrialization. It reminded me of a quote, attributed to Stalin, that’s stuck with me:

“Quantity has a Quality of its own”

Purportedly the quote refers to the Soviet tank attack against the Nazi Germans – they threw masses of cheap tanks (and sadly, human beings) against the more sophisticated Nazi war machine, and managed to stop the blitzkrieg through the sheer weight of numbers.

When building a company, you are solving problems (more accurately, fighting fires) all the time. Most of the time, you seek creative solutions in a resource-constrained environment. But sometimes, the best solution is to leverage raw numbers in a highly efficient manner – throw the kitchen sink at an opportunity that offers massive upside or protects you from an existential threat.

This approach can be highly effective in sales. We have certain companies operating in nascent markets where sales cycles are long; thus, we are fighting for market recognition and adoption. Number of logos in our target market becomes a key success metric, and we then need to hire as many sales people as possible to break down the doors through brute force. Other companies are scaling rapidly in now-established markets and trying to knock the competition out; in these scenarios, we look to flood the market with our people, materials, and message  (and sometimes the “quantity” is indeed heaps of capital).

At Romulus, when we are trying to win a transformational customer for one of our companies, we might bring every member of the Romulus family to the battlefield and we’ll encourage our portfolio company to do the same. Hit them from all sides. When we are trying to form an opinion on a subject, I will reach out to as many people as I can rather than just rely upon the opinion of a few so-called experts.

Given the paradigm shift it evokes, I really like the quote. Humans still perceive “strength in numbers” and there is a primal instinct to default to quantity as a savior of last resort. Dunkirk and the hundreds of “Little Ships” is another example. Maybe I just love that the quote represents the victory of an underdog through brute force; Romulus will always be the hungry firm looking to win on behalf of our companies against the more established.