Keys to entrepreneurial success? We talk about passion, persistence, ideas, funding, planning, sales, product-market fit, and all of that. Do what you love, we say. My opinion changes according to recent events, experience, even mood. Which is fine, because it’s a reaction to events, and we don’t want to get static. But on the long term, most often, what I see making the most difference in business is value. Offer value to customers.
You can do what you love, and if nobody wants to pay you, you don’t have a business. Nobody’s going to pay me to play my guitar, or draw, or ski. I have to think of something I like to do that other people will pay for. So I ended up with business planning. Maybe they’ll pay you to play your guitar. And if you like skiing, maybe you end up as a ski teacher, or you own a resort, or you do ski movies. And maybe they will pay you to draw, if you’re a graphic artist.
And then you give value. It’s not about you and what you want. It’s about them, your customers, and what they want.
I realize it’s a bit out of date, a 1987 book, but Paul Hawken‘s Growing a Business is still my favorite business book. It’s the first one I recommend.
Hawken tells real stories of real businesses wrapped around people doing what they like because they like doing it, they think it should be done, and the doing of it flows simply into the logic of filling needs and offering value. Two guys in Vermont get involved with their ice cream. They start selling it. It ends up being Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. It’s a great story.
They aren’t all bearded ex hippies. The stories include a bank in Palo Alto, Patagonia (outdoor clothes), Apple computer, etc. What they have in common is a sense of organic, natural growth from the foundations of doing what you want to do, when that’s something that other people want to have done. And they offered value to their customers.
It helped for me that I was a customer of the bank in Palo Alto, and of Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Apple Computer, and my wife loved buying at Smith and Hawken. I believe in the underlying idea that businesses depend on value — value to the customer — and values — the people in the business have to believe in it.
The business in this book isn’t what you learn in business school. It’s what you want to do. It isn’t about building a business to make money, but rather building a business because it should be built and you want to do it. With that kind of foundation, it seems — and I’ve seen for years now, with hundreds of different business — it grows.
ps: I shared the podium with Paul Hawken in the late 1980s, at Apple, when I was speaking on business planning and he was speaking about the ideas behind this book. He seemed a man whose persona was based on ideas, on the underlying values. I’m not surprised at the way his career has gone since.
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