Money is Never Primary

Money is Never Primary

“A Lifestyle business is likely not growing, or growing at a modest clip. People are living comfortably. It’s going at a pace where you get to take vacations.”
- Chris Sacca, Former Venture Capitalist

There are two types of entrepreneurial companies: lifestyle and growth.

A lifestyle business exists to sustain a particular level of income or to enable the principal’s way of life. They grow as needed but are generally not capitally intensive and therefore require minimal outside investment. Lifestyle businesses provide their principals with the freedom to pursue opportunities they feel best suit their existence holistically, not just financially.

A growth business generates consistently high levels of earnings and reinvests those earnings to continue a rapid expansion.  In most cases, these earnings are supplemented by angel, seed, or venture capital investments to help the business achieve scale prior to the competition.  This means growth companies must expand rapidly to meet projections and generate returns for investors.

It is generally accepted that the goal of a growth business is a liquidity event, cashing out through an IPO or acquisition. Society celebrates these types of events because they have the potential to create huge amounts of wealth.  But then what?

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Andrew Goetz, the founder of the cosmetics brand Malin & Goetz. The idea of cashing out came up, and he had a unique perspective. He mentioned that they had been made offers to sell their brand many times, but each time he had the following thought: What would I do if I sold?  He explained further by saying, “This is what I love to do; if I sold the business, I would have a few more dollars in the bank, but I would just have to start all over again.”

That got me thinking. The problem with growth businesses is that once you take on significant outside investment, money becomes the primary driver of your decisions.  This leads you to make choices that aren’t aligned with your purpose, the reason you started the business in the first place.  That will inevitably negatively impact your long-term results and the fulfillment of key stakeholders.

While the venture capital community may look upon lifestyle businesses negatively, unbelievable results only occur and are sustained when the emotional needs of key stakeholders—mainly the founders and employees—are aligned with an organization’s purpose. That means your purpose, not your paycheck, must always be the primary driver of your decisions. And while cashing out is nice in theory, what good is money without being able to continue doing what you truly love?  As Shane Smith, founder of VICE Media, said, “I hang out with a lot of older CEO types… and they all say the same thing, the saddest day of my life was when I sold my company.”

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