Why You Must Make Meaning to Make Money
Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? This is not a rhetorical question, so answer it before reading further. If your main reason for wanting to be an entrepreneur is to make lots of cash, not have a boss breathing down your neck, or to become famous, then I advise you to seek another line of work. Those motivations are usually not enough to pull you through when your business goes south and you have to grind hard to survive. The statistics on entrepreneurs, according to a Harvard Business School paper entitled “Performance Persistence in Entrepreneurship”, show that first-entrepreneurs have only an 18% chance of succeeding. But if you have an idea for a product or service that can make meaning in peoples’ lives, and you’re audacious enough to think that you can beat the odds, then you’ve chosen the right path.
There are two types of entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs and lifestyle entrepreneurs. Wikipedia lists a third, but you can’t start out as a serial entrepreneur, which is a type of entrepreneur who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses. So you fall in one of two buckets. You’re either working to help, improve and transform social, environmental, educational and economic conditions or you’re combining personal interests and talent to earn enough to sustain a desired lifestyle. Depending on the type of entrepreneur, the motive for starting a business may be different, but one fact remains: The product or service has to make meaning for the customers if it’s to be successful.
You don’t have to come up with a product or service that radically changes peoples’ lives (although it could), but your product does have to make meaning in at least one of three ways. It has to either increase the quality of someone’s life, right a wrong, or prevent the end of something good.
You increase the quality of life for someone when your product or service brings greater personal satisfaction to his or her life. You know you’re product does this when you can satisfactorily answer the question, “Does this product/service make people fitter, wiser, smarter, or closer?” A perfect example would be Facebook. Facebook allows users to continuously stay in touch with friends, relatives and other acquaintances wherever they are in the world, as long as there is access to the Internet. For many, Facebook has increased their quality of life.
You right a wrong when your product/service solves what the customer considers to be an injustice. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, made it his mission to give every child in the world in need a pair of shoes. Talk about a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. But that’s exactly what Blake is doing, having achieved a 1:1 ratio of shoes sold to shoes given away. And yeah, he’s doing alright financially as well. But money wasn’t his motivation. Otherwise, TOMS would just be one of the thousands of companies making shoes. But it’s not; it’s righting a wrong.
Whatever the case may be, a lot of people do not like change. Every time a new technology comes out, it replaces the one before it. But there are always people seeking to buy vintage products because of the memories that they associate with the products. If you can produce or acquire high-quality products of old, then your product will be among Coca Cola’s glass bottles, Polaroid’s restored SX-70 camera, and Nike’s Air Jordan Retro sneakers.
I agree with the comment that Apple’s former chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, made to a group of Stanford students when he said, “It is my naive and romantic belief that if you make meaning then you’ll probably make money. But if you set out to make money, you will probably not make meaning and you won’t make money.” If you would like to see some of my own examples of entrepreneurship, feel free to check out my blog.