More than Money… Matter.
The mantra you’re taught to embody at Y Combinator is “Make something people want.” It’s a great one and I’ve been living it since we participated 2 years ago… But I think another mantra is worth focusing on too. “Make something that matters.”
People want all kinds of stuff that probably isn’t best for them, society and our collective future. I want a cupcake right now, but what’d probably be better for me is a beet salad (I love beets).
So many talented, brilliant & creative founders are working on products solely focused on making profits and not on adding meaningful value to the world. My challenge to you is to make something that makes more than money, something that matters.
One could also say that if you make something that really matters, people will want it. So they aren’t conflicting visions.
How to matter: Improve the quality of life for your customers. Help people express themselves, share knowledge & experience, connect in meaningful ways, etc. There is a highly profitable version of every business that also adds value. It may take a bit more work and creativity to build it, but the overall reward is far greater.
Now that Instagram has put Instabillionaires in the minds of so many eager startup founders, I think it’s important to focus on not just the money your company can make, but the impact it can make in the world and in the lives of your users.
Aside from the altruistic reasons to strive to make a product that really matters in the world, there are very practical business reasons to do so as well. Mainly; you’re more than likely to fail. Odds are good you’re going to run out of money and or never turn a profit. …And if you fail focused on making only money, you’ll have completely lost. Fail making the lives of your users better and you’ll still have made the world better.
In my several year journey as a startup founder, I’ve been broke a few times. Double broke. Both my personal and business checking accounts overdrawn. $0 to my name.
If money was all that mattered, I would have given up during one of those lows.
What Matters to Me
From the surface it looks like I’m arguing to do something more than add entertainment value and yet I run a site for naming colors… But what we do is more than that and I’ve been lucky enough to see how we deeply matter to our users. We’re about more than color, we’re about making design and creativity accessible to everyone… And giving them access to it in the most supportive and encouraging place on the internet.
It’s hurt me both times I learned that one of my active members passed away. I didn’t know them, but they invested hours and hours into helping build my company’s community. What hurt about their loss was warmed by the support and love that was shown by the community in that shared loss.
The blog post that I wrote recently to share the news that Sunmeadow, one of our users passed away received hundreds of thoughtful comments from the community and one hit me especially hard:
"This is Sunmeadow’s father. We are so thankful to Symea and Jeremy for bringing this site and our daughter’s involvement in it to our attention. We are overwhelmed by your outpouring of friendship, love, respect, and support for Sunmeadow. We were aware of some of her computer graphics design efforts but had no idea of the extent of the impact she had made."
And not a couple weeks after I read that comment I got an email from the daughter of the other member who passed…
"I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely enjoy coming to your site to view the tribute that was done for my Mom :) I love seeing her creations and reading her words, as well seeing her fellow Colour Lovers comments. I feel like it’s a piece of her still here on Earth :) and when I have those tough days, this site helps me."
I am incredibly honored to have had the opportunity to add value to the lives of these members and even more so with the duty to carry on sharing their work with the world. Caring about making something that matters to the world is what has pushed me through the dark days of founderhood… and onto much brighter days of revenue, growth and huge potential.
Make something that truly matters and the money will come.
Believe in yourself that you will get there.
Follow-up thought: Another way people can make the world better while building their company is to make a commitment to a cause they care about and make that cause a stakeholder in your company. I’m a fan of the idea of 1% of Nothing and think more founders should get involved. I’ve committed more than 1% to support my non-profit Hands.org so I’m trying to double my chances of making the world better while building a successful company.
[Discussion on HackerNews]