What If You Didn’t Have to Make Money?

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier

This post isn’t advice. It’s a thought exercise for founders.

Yesterday I read an article written by Micah Baldwin about the impact that wealth has on a founder and the decisions they make for their company.

His point was simple. When a founder has enough wealth that they don’t really have to worry about making money, they can focus on legacy and optimize for impact.

This is why we see founders turn down multi-million, or sometimes billion dollar acquisition offers. They’re not in it for the payout. They’re in it to change the world.

It’s not that profits aren’t a factor for those founders. I think they all want to see their business become as profitable as possible. They’re just less motivated by the opportunity for personal wealth.

My first reaction to this post was jealousy. Jealousy of founders who are that wealthy and don’t have to worry about paying rent. Jealousy of the freedom that kind of wealth might bring.

Then, I imagined myself being in that position and thought about the decisions we make every day at our company.

It forced me to ask an interesting question, which I think is a good thought exercise for any founder:

How would your business change if getting a big payout was completely removed as a motivator?

What if you were just focused on legacy and impact? What if getting a big payout really didn’t matter to you?

What if you knew you’d turn down any acquisition offer that came your way because you weren’t interested in being bought, you were interested in building a long-lasting business that would change the world or die trying.

Think about a big decision you recently made. Maybe you raised money, maybe you hired or fired someone, maybe you changed your product offering or pricing. Would that decision have been different if the potential for a payout was removed?

Think about your vision and mission for your business. Is it influenced by the potential of a big payout you could receive one day?

I’m not saying money is what drives all of your decisions. If you’re like me, you could probably be making a lot more money working somewhere else. Of course, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably motivated by both impact and money.

I know for me, it’s the potential impact that keeps me going day in and out…but money still plays a role in my decisions. I wish it didn’t, but because I still don’t have much, it does.

What if that wasn’t a concern any more? What would change?

I’m not sure what the answer is here.

What feels “right” to me is to optimize for impact and creating a long lasting business that changes the world.

On the other hand, if someone were to offer us $50 million for CMX right now, it would be hard not to take it, even if I knew that meant that it would decrease our potential impact.

It reminds me of a piece of advice I once received from a very wise mentor, Aki Sano, who asked me “What is your best-worst case scenario?” That is, if your company were to completely crash and burn, what would actually happen to you? What is your *best* worst case scenario? Usually, it’s not as bad as we think.

So why not go for it? Build the most impactful organization you can. If the payout comes in the end, it comes. If it doesn’t, you’ll be fine…and will probably have made a huge impact for a lot of people.

One might argue that optimizing for impact is the best way to reach a big payout anyway.

Food for thought…

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