I had the chance to attend Inc. Magazine’s annual GrowCo conference this year, which is focused on entrepreneurs looking for support and insight on how to grow their businesses.
It’s a 3-day event attended by people representing all types of businesses from all over the world; this year it was held in Las Vegas. Speakers included founders of fashion empires, software startups, and YouTube cult favorites.
Personalities of the speakers and attendees were, accordingly, as diverse as their businesses. There were entrepreneurs pitching their “save the world” business ideas to VCs, aiming to bring clean water, energy, and nutrition to all corners of the globe; and there were super-capitalists who would, almost as an aside, mention the time they didn’t take a conversation seriously and it cost them $800 million (in about the same tone of voice I might use when lamenting the fact that I didn’t get any crab cakes at the party before they were all gone).
Among the many keynote speeches, startup pitches, networking sessions, and breakout presentations, several themes bubbled to the surface.
1. “Socially Conscious” businesses
More than one speaker postulated that within about a decade, nearly all new businesses would be “social enterprises” or “socially conscious,” meaning that a foundational component of what they do will be about making the world a better place for humanity. One of the most notable proponents of this trend is Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes, which has become a footwear juggernaut built on the idea of One for One — for every pair of shoes a customer buys, a pair is donated to a child in need.
Mycoskie — and others — argue that only socially conscious businesses will thrive in the coming years because consumers, in particular Millennials, are increasingly making purchasing decisions (and career decisions) based on the ethics and global impact of a brand, as much as (or more than) the merits of products themselves.
Naturally, there were plenty of dissenting opinions on that view. Others argued that a business can be contribute to the global good without directly addressing a social ill or humanitarian need, simply by being a great, profitable business that creates lots of jobs.
Either way, it was clear that how a business contributes to society was a topic on many minds.
2. Purpose is powerful
Why does your business exist? Other than making money, that is. What problem are you solving? How does it help people? Although somewhat related to #1, the discussion on this trend followed a slightly different track.
Rather than just having employees understand their job description, the idea is to ensure they understand the entire company’s core reason for being. This empowers them to make better decisions, because they are more likely to “think like an owner” if the whole organization’s purpose is clear in their minds. Since people rarely operate in silos, understanding the collective purpose creates a stronger sense of unity among employees and tends to motivate people to be more invested in their work, when they understand how they’re contributing to something larger than themselves.
Conversely, the evidence shows, companies who do not clearly and consistently communicate their purpose tend to be plagued by higher turnover, lack of efficiency, and poorer overall performance compared to those that do.
3. Just try it
Try something. See what works. Adjust. Try something else.
So much of the advice from entrepreneurs who have “been there” came down to this. While many businesses face similar challenges, every business is also unique and solutions are not universally applicable.
You have to be willing to experiment, and learn from those experiments, if you expect your business to grow. Theories are nice, but being successful comes down to taking action. If you fail, you learn from it, and try a different direction. But until you get something out there, you’re not going to know for sure what will work.