You Don’t Need to Change the World
To be an entrepreneur you don’t need to change the world. Instead, change your own life. Improve your community. Make something good. That’s plenty.
I’ve kind of had it with the idea that every entrepreneur worth anything is out to change the world. That every business needs a great, fundamentally planet disrupting story.
Sure, if you want investment you need to be able to scale, but you certainly don’t need to change the world. After all, VCs fund all sorts of not-earth-shifting ideas like food delivery services and robot vacuums and dental office management software.
We don’t need higher aspirations to start companies. Heck, we don’t need to start companies at all. All roads can be good roads.
Here’re a few things I like to remember when I see the next ultimate success article.
1. Big Things Can Start Small
When Richard Branson started out he was the editor of a school magazine that turned into a brand empire. Alice Waters had a small restaurant, but she demanded high-quality organic ingredients, leading to a food movement.
Start with a good problem. Solve an important need. Do something that drives you. Don’t think about getting a startup going, focus on building a solid product for real people.
Another example: there is a nice little bakery and breakfast place near where I live. The woman that started it used to be a pastry chef at elBulli, at the time considered the world’s best restaurant. After all that success and experience what she wanted was a little neighbourhood place. We want community, we want to contribute to the lives of people we know, and we want to see the impact of our work.
2. Sometimes Changing the World is Bad for the World
Overall startup culture has a pretty sketchy track record. I won’t name any names, but suffice to say that a lot of things have been sacrificed in the name of profit and growth, and the replacements have not necessarily been improvements.
3. Growth is Great. Profit is Too.
There is a lot of interest in metrics in startups. They are used as indicators of market presence and future profit. But I think businesses should focus on deliverable products that can generate profit in the near-term.
Many of the large tech super-giants that exist today were not profitable for a long time. This is not a failure, this is a strategy. They can undercut traditional competitors, dominate markets, and gain monopoly or oligopoly power.
Building businesses that profit early means building businesses that don’t need to dominate to succeed. I believe this approach creates a healthier business ecosystem.
4. The Journey Matters More Than the Destination
Happiness shouldn’t be triggered by achievement, it should be the result of process. It should be the result of engaging in an acitivity that is a reflection of who you are and the contribution you can make to your community.
When you tie happiness to the achievement of a goal, you won’t be happy long because the goal will move as soon as you reach it. When you tie it to a process happiness becomes a more sustainable state.
5. Testimony Over Titles
I’m not a religious person, but when I was in high school, and there were only three channels, I saw a Sunday morning TV sermon that spoke to me. It was about the value of testimony over titles (I can’t find that exact one, but there are tons of them on that topic if you do a search).
The basic idea is this: the value of the contribution you make is more important than the perceived value of your title. Trying to do something that has real value to other people is the important thing. Pursuit of titles can make you lose the reasons for why you took something on in the first place. Testimony, what we degrade to ‘social-proof’* in modern parlance, means more, because it’s a reflection of our contribution to the lives of others.
I mentioned getting to profit early, but there’s another side to this. Metrics like retention, churn, and profit have become primary indicators of customer satisfaction — companies that are profitable are obviously loved by their customers, right? Well, wrong. Heroin, for example, is extremely profitable and has incredible retention, but I don’t think anyone believes that the customers of drug dealers are a satisfied group.
Metrics are not enough in terms of understanding your company and its customers. What you need to understand is how they feel about your product or service, and whether or not your company is actually helping them.
I’m at the beginning of a new journey, trying to take product to market. Can we scale? You bet. Do we need to? Nope. If we foster a relatively small-but-skilled community and build a product that’s useful to them we’ll be more than happy. And so will our investors.
*Note: when you adopt terminology from the pick-up artist culture, you know something has gone wrong.