Remember Your Reason for Being

I just came from taping a few segments for the Hugh Hewitt Show on the subject of entrepreneurship and was reminded once again of the importance of remembering your reason for being – why you got into business in the first place.  One of the other guests on the show was Christa Duggan, owner of Portola Coffee Lab here in Orange County.  And while I had not met Christa before, I have been to Portola Coffee several times, and I don’t like coffee!  At least I thought I didn’t…until I went to Portola.

I was dragged to Portola the first time by a friend who is a coffee purest of the highest order.  When we scheduled the meeing, I suggested a spot closer to both of us, given that Diet Pepsi is the same the world over and that’s all I drink.  He insisted on Portola and proceeded to buy me – against protestations – a mocha.  And for the first time in my life, I wanted another one.  It was spectacular.  And I have to say that I get the craving more often than I’d like to admit.

What I love about Portola is that it is a business centered on a vision for something the owners and employees are deeply passionate about – not only coffee, but creating a wonderful environment where people can hang out, enjoy time together, build relationships and memories.  This commitment is written on everything they do.  Ask a question about coffee at Portola and you will have coffee artisans in lab coats – yup, lab coats – explaining in the finest detail their in-house roasting process, the inner workings of the espresso machine, how to create the perfect foam…  It’s insane.  Except that it’s deeply inspiring.  Mention that you don’t like coffee and they take it as a personal challenge.  They are offended by roasters who have led people like me to think they don’t like coffee, and they want to expand your world to love what they love.  I never get the sense that they are after my credit card, though indeed Portola is expensive.

Listening to Christa during the show, and getting to chat a bit after our taping reminded me of the passion of starting-up, of getting into business not because you want to be good at “business,” but because you want to make your contribution, to get your product out there, to make this world a better place.

Phil Libin, co-founder of Evernote (another company I love), recently spoke at the Stanford business school about the importance of having a sufficiently epic vision – of having a goal worthy of all your time, energy and talent.  This what keeps one energized and engaged in their work, what brings long-term success and defines a life well-lived.

The struggle, of course, is to not become slowly seduced by the financial rewards and the recognition of being a “success.”  Many ventures begin with passion, but as they are rewarded in the marketplace, profits begin to become the driving force in leadership (multiply this pressure by 1,000 when a firm goes public).  When this transition from valuing product to valuing profits occurs, unethical behavior becomes tremendously more likely (which puts both the profits and the initial passion at risk).

This is not to say that profits aren’t a central concern; no business can survive without them.  But they must always be a secondary good.  They fuel the engine of creativity, but they are not the destination.  And when means and ends get confused, problems are inevitable.

The point is this:  To truly win in business and in life, we have to remember our real reason for being.  What is that thing that you were put on this earth to do?  What is your contribution, your passion?  Stay true to that, and you will be richly rewarded – and you’ll probably make some money too.  What’s sure is that you are much less likely to compromise the values that matter to you.

Thanks to Hugh for the interview and thanks to Portola for the reminder.

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