One of the coolest things I get to do is mentor the pitch companies that are selected for the FoodBytes! events in North America. Spending time with this curated group of founders who are deeply passionate about what they are doing is really energizing. It reminds me of why I do what do and how lucky I am to be doing it.
During the mentor sessions, brands share their mission and hope to impact the way we feed the world. However, their passion at times conflicts with their desire to build a business and make money. So often, they put the mission first and the economics of the business second. They want to change the world, do good. Which, of course, is awesome and altruistic but, totally misguided.
If your brand’s mission is to save the world, you first have to build a successful and viable business that can be the platform for that change. Being a dirty capitalist does not conflict with being a do-gooder. The former supports and allows for the latter.
If you simply put the mission first, you are likely to have a very small impact. As a friend said, maybe you build a couple of toilets in Africa. If you put business first, build a ubiquitous brand, drive revenue and a strong EBITDA, you then have the resources and platform to effect real and lasting change.
Don’t believe me? Well, then believe Bill Gates. He didn’t start out with mission first. No, he started with the desire of building Microsoft. He was driven, some say even ruthless. It wasn’t until he had achieved great business success that he pivoted his focus to changing the world. I’d argue there are very few, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that have made that kind of impact.
If he hadn’t built Microsoft into a strong and dominant business, he would have never been able to do the things he’s done. He would never have had the influence, authority, or presence he commands.
Building a business for greed is different than building a business for good. Although some who build for greed have great success monetarily, it is those that build for good that has the biggest impact societally. They become the true agents for change, the influencers, the real power brokers.
I think it is fine to be a dirty capitalist. In fact, I believe it is business and business leaders that hold the best hope for real change and real socioeconomic equity. Ben Franklin said it best. “Do well by doing good.”
I get it, you want to do something meaningful. You want your brand, business, and your name to really stand for something. The best way to make that happen is to build a real business. A business that creates wealth, provides you with a loud voice, and real platform. Build that and you can change the world.