Many of you will know that I worked in the UK Financial Services Industry for much of my career. When I was in business I noticed that business men and women whose principal goal was to make money normally failed. This is because this kind of business model attracts other people who want to make money. So when the business doesn’t pay out big returns immediately (and no start-up does), these people look for “greener grass”.
To overcome the problem of ill informed people chasing the “dream”, experts often recommend rigorous self-examination before starting a company. However, most people ask themselves the wrong questions, for instance:
- Can I work long hours with a low income?
- Can I handle the rejection associated with a new idea?
- Can I act responsibly when employing other people?
The problem is that it’s almost impossible to answer these questions and others like them in advance; ultimately they serve no real purpose.
On the one hand…
Bravado is cheap
Saying you’re intending to do something doesn’t mean that you’ll do it.
Fear and trepidation
On the other hand, being realistically cautious doesn’t mean you won’t build a great business.
How you address these options has little predictive power about what you’ll actually achieve when you come up with a great idea. No one really knows if he or she has the requisite entrepreneurial abilities until after the fact – and sometimes not even then.
The key question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture is:
Do I want to make a difference?
Making a difference is not about power, prestige or money. It’s not even about creating a fun work place. The meaning of “making a difference” boils down to making the world a better place for you, as well as other people.
As I see it you have…
- You could create, enable, or enrich something that’s already good. For example, Apple-Mac increased people’s productivity and creativity. Search engines, like Google and web sites, like Wikipedia, enabled all of us to access virtually unlimited amounts of information via the internet.and / or…
- You might prevent, decrease or even eliminate something that’s already bad. For example, Tesla Motors is trying to decrease air pollution and our dependence on oil. Edward Snowden and other cyber-security individuals are trying to prevent the bad guys from hacking our lives.
The desire to change the world has a tremendous advantage as you travel down the difficult path ahead because focusing on a lofty goal is more energizing and attracts more talent than simply making a few £’s €’s and $’s. If you do make a difference, one of the natural consequences is that you’ll also make money.
It has taken me over thirty years to come to understand the meaning of “making a difference”. In 1981, when I started with Money Concepts Inc I wanted to beat all my rival Insurance Brokers and send them to the insolvency courts. Then in 1994 when I joined The Rothschild Partnership, I wanted to beat all my Partners to the top of the pile.
I eventually realised that these objectives were futile… if not stupid.
Focusing on your competition diverts you from what is really important. The bed rock of great businesses contains the desire to make a difference – to make the world better for their clients, customers as well as their employees. Having this objective won’t guarantee that you’ll be successful. But if you fail, at least you failed whilst doing something meaningful.
So if you’re about to start a new business, your starting point is to work out how your product or service will make a difference.
Everything will flow from the results of this quest.