In the early days of my career, my definition of success was pretty run-of-the-mill. It was all based in corporate metrics while I managed to build three profitable startups. But then my middle child, Teddy, was born with a life-threatening congenital diaphragmatic hernia, and everything changed.
My wife and I started the Incredible Teddy Foundation to help raise awareness about CDH and give financial assistance to families. After a difficult period, our son is doing well now. But his struggle brought me to completely redefine what success meant to me. No longer is it set just by business achievements, but by giving back — the classic “doing good while doing well.”
The experience of building a charitable foundation led me to reflect on how to balance creating company profitability while generating value through community stewardship.
For those reasons, I wanted to ensure that my newest company had these values baked into its mission. We’re hoping to create a carbon-neutral company built upon transparency, authenticity, and kindness — driving innovation while maintaining stewardship.
The way I see it, this is both the right thing to do and makes good business sense: Teams with shared values and purposes greater than profitability outperform their less community-oriented counterparts. Particularly in B2B, clients seek socially conscious vendors.
But what is the best way to adapt one’s company or business model to incorporate these values? With concerns about company profitability drawing our attention, community involvement can easily get lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, leaders can take a few simple actions to rediscover their commitment to it — and make it a key part of the business.
In order to have an effective balance of profitability and community stewardship, before anything else, leaders must clearly understand how they define success for themselves.
An example of this principle comes from my work with Anthill Jobs, an Albany, N.Y.-based startup connecting college students with local freelance and part-time work and bringing quality talent to local businesses. I joined as a board member primarily because of the founder and the people. For me, people and their core principles are what makes successful businesses, products, and relationships. Because Anthill is trying to solve two real-world problems — employment and small business growth — with an innovative shared-economy solution, the team plus the vision is what has kept me very interested in its long-term opportunity. If successful, it will help millions of people while also generating a nice return to investors.
It’s all too easy for startups to focus solely on the product they are building and not on the larger picture. By stepping back and working to define success clearly, the team can now craft a model for Anthill that achieves both goals by enabling college students and others to work how and when they want but focusing on how that can elevate small cities around the country.
Of course, it wasn’t always so straightforward. In the rush to launch, Anthill’s goals and definition of success was gray: Was the company trying to help college students have greater post-grad employment success? Was its mission to help small businesses in small college towns? Was it to provide a platform for all types of workers who wanted to freelance? Did success mean revenue? Profitability? Adoption? Attracting investment? Success can’t be all of the above; it needs to be focused, tangible, and real. Anthill launched, like many startups do, without having fully answered the success question. The tool was great and adoption began, but ultimately the first iteration wasn’t as successful as some hoped, and funding didn’t come.
In hindsight, the team realized this and is taking the time necessary to fully flesh out its objectives and how best to achieve them with explicit milestones. I’m confident the next version, with this founder and leader, will be even better, aligned with the spirit of its goals.
It’s tough to find the right people if leaders aren’t transparent and clear from the start. In some cases, that means a mentor, the company’s board, or members of the initial team. People are attracted to leaders with vision — especially when they can emotionally connect to that vision.
Having great people will help retain that balance when challenges arise. For me, this has never been truer than with the Teddy Foundation. We did a good job growing the foundation and finding that balance for the first few years, but as time went on, it became harder. We prioritized raising money above putting money to use — we were out of balance. Although we began with a clear mission, it soon became more difficult to grow while continually bringing value to our community.
More recently, we’ve brought on a board of friends, experts, and leaders in the nonprofit space, bringing newfound clarity that will help us rediscover the balance of growing the foundation and maintaining outreach.
Every big decision has a cascading effect that ultimately affects all actions, so take the time to evaluate each one. Does this maximize profits and shareholder value? Does it help achieve community stewardship goals? Can it do both?
It’s too easy to get caught up in the hustle of business decisions and lose sight of what is important — when these two don’t need to be separate.
I only fully “got” this after years of personal and professional experiences. The biggest shift in my perspective came from personal growth catalyzed by health scares, having children, and big life choices. It nudged me to re-evaluate what is truly important.
In my case, this outlook has also been reinforced by the practice of yoga and meditation. Mounting evidence shows these ancient practices have profound effects that can ripple out from leaders into businesses and the wider community.
As I put together the foundational elements and made key decisions on my company’s products, hiring, and business strategy, I made a point to pause and assess how each action reinforces our larger goal of being productive members of our industry and community. Each decision is an opportunity for our business and my leadership to stay true to our goals.
Today, success in business can (and should) mean more than just profits. A growing vision of community involvement can embolden us to give back to the community and foster a truly rewarding sense of accomplishment and goodwill.
By keeping one’s definition of success in mind through all stages of the business process, this new model can achieve incredible returns — not only in profits but in personal satisfaction as well.
Phil Lodico is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, board member, and advisor who has dedicated the past 16 years of his career helping organizations better understand and utilize the power of the domain name industry. He recently launched New York-based Brandsight, a new company that is changing the way corporations register and manage large domain name portfolios. Phil is known as a trusted resource you want in your corner when navigating the domain name space. Follow him on Twitter.