A letter to the startup: Building a business that matters (III)


The excitement you feel within when you’ve got something unique building up your sleeves; it can feel like a first-time mom itching to hold her baby tight with so much love. At the same time, it can also feel like a heavy bag of burdens braced with uncertainties and frustrations.

Building a business is difficult: but I promise I’m not going to make it sound ultimately frightening.

One of my favorite entrepreneurs, Richard Branson – CEO of the Virgin Group, noted: “It’s far more difficult being a small business owner starting a business than it is for me with thousands of people working for us and four hundred companies. Building a business from scratch is 24 hours, 7 days a week, divorces; it’s difficult to hold your family life together; it’s bloody hard work and only one word really matters – and that’s surviving”.

That is such a scare! But the assurance is you can survive.

When I first conceived my business idea, I had just graduated from senior high. All I knew was I loved to write. I would dream of hilarious and sometimes scary things, and wake up imagining how different things could have been. And then it turned into fiction I would want to write about. I only wanted to be an incredible writer. I put together some friends from the medical school and other fields to help actualise my dream in my first year at university. Bet you, I was a storage tank full of ideas and creativity.

Then, it was all about what I was crazy about; and, I wanted the world to know me. After much hard work, investment and dedication, that business was unsuccessful. It failed so fast I didn’t even notice.

I had my share of no directions, no money, unreliable friends…and sometimes anger. But eventually the vision settled in with thorough work, targetted vision, a brilliant team and a market gap. I have tried not to be hard with this letter. But note, however, that life is short; we must only build businesses that matter.

It is no longer enough to just have a great business and products or services. You must go beyond solving the problems of customers – people. I am avoiding touching on some steps to building a business that matter, because we have been down that road via other articles. (Visit www.thestartupreneurs.com for articles on building businesses if you’re expecting some steps on that).

The challenge is quite the same – to be the choice in the hearts and minds of the people that need your business.

Nevertheless, allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent. Make the mistakes without regrets. There is a way to do it better – find it. In that process, you will discover the secrets of your future, and growth hidden in your daily routines. You become a game-changer rather than a profit-maker if you find the right way to do it. Wishes do not work here; you must work for it.

It is important for you as a young entrepreneur or startup to be adequately self-aware of what the people need. People don’t care about your business. They care about their problems. Be the solution that they’re looking for.

A business that really matters?

To build a business that matters, first you must understand this; you do not build a business – you build people, and then people build the business. This is the most important aspect of your business’s fundamentals.

A relevant business that will have value and serve a purpose many years after its inception is the kind of business you must be building today.

In this age when the robots are not far from replacing businesses and human talents, many businesses will lose their value and purpose when the robots finally are here. The robots are indeed coming; and as people’s needs are dynamic, change, diversity and room for improvement are some keys to building a business that matter. When you have these key basics covered, your business will still be here serving many generations.

I met this incredible young man last year, whose words touched me even till today – and that’s why I am sharing it with you. Let’s name him ‘Biz’ – a pretty funny name, I guess. Biz sent me an email, and in the middle of his email he requested to meet me. I had no doubt that granting him my presence would be worth the time, because what I had read was that impressive.

So, truly, I met Biz. His personality wasn’t as captivating as his email, but here’s the first few words he uttered after we had created a rapport: “I’ve always wanted to be a better human, but I grew up pretty much empty and couldn’t put fingers together to know exactly what I had wanted so much to better. I only know I want to be better. I didn’t even think you would meet me today. These days, looks, money and prestige are the most common factors that drive people to meet. I must say ‘thank you’.”

I listened to him with much draining face, as I somewhat felt emotionally blackmailed with his words. Then I asked him what he really wanted to meet for.

He continued: “I have had this business idea for years. I don’t know how to make sense of it. It’s something I have experienced through childhood and also while in university. I realise it seems more like a condition for many youths. I want to manage people’s emotions!”

I had this strange look on my face and I could feel my cheeks dampen. I giggled and gently asked, “Manage people’s emotions?” He quickly responded with a “Yes please!”

The conversation continued for a couple of minutes and I eventually understood the young man’s passion to manage people’s emotions. I know how strange you may also feel reading about Biz’s business idea, but I will be disappointed if you didn’t wear a look close to what I had when I first heard him say it.

If Biz ever succeeds in building this business of managing emotions, it will indeed be a business that really matters. In my few years of working with startups, especially, this business idea is one that is unique and will fill a great gap in many years. Today, Biz and my team are working smartly to build his business of emotions management. If you’re not pulling a grin to that good news, then you should be considering Biz’s services of helping you get a soft smile on your face.

Back to the point I was making earlier: don’t just wait for opportunities to create something awesome, but create it with love. That’s the story of Biz, building a business that matters. The goal should be to make a considerable income, I won’t deny you that – but, be profitable while making an impact.

To quote a piece on building a successful business and one that matters, Wendy Tan White – Co-founder and CEO of Moonfruit said: “Sustaining a successful business is a hell of a lot of work, and staying hungry is half the battle”.

Don’t lose the bigger focus of making the impact first. If the business has value it will definitely be profitable, but being profitable doesn’t guarantee value and purpose.

In building a business that matters, remember these few tips that work:

  • Build something great
  • Define the business’s existence
  • Must have value
  • Have a ready market
  • Connect with targets
  • Focus on people, customers
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Meet real needs, and solve real problems
  • Hope isn’t a strategy, have a strategy
  • Get contagious energy and consistency
  • Rich is not a goal
  • And be prepared to fail a few or more times

Leaders and entrepreneurs have three fundamental responsibilities: they craft a vision, they build alignment, and they champion execution. Great vision without people is quite irrelevant. Never limit your vision based on current resources, or profitability as your major goal. You have everything you need to build something far bigger and better than yourself.

Building a business that really matters takes a lot longer than most people think. It is not for the faint of heart, but for the brave, patient and persistent.

The most effective way to build is to just do!

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