“Earning money isn’t evil, not doing good with it is.”
This phrase, uttered during serial entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman’s morning talk at the International Startup Festival today, took off on social media, earning many tweets and retweets from those he inspired.
It sounds great—but is it practical?
Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of crowdfunding site Indiegogo, thinks so. In her experience, using entrepreneurship as a means to foster the greater good is crucial for success.
Ringelmann was in Montreal to deliver a keynote speech at Startup Fest. But she was also here as part of Indiegogo’s ongoing promotion of their new, Canadian-friendly payment options. (Indiegogo campaigners who run campaigns in Canadian dollars are now able to accept credit card payments, in addition to PayPal, and receive funds in Canadian dollars.)
The crux of Ringelmann’s speech was very similar to Hoffman’s comment: If you don’t have a desire to make a difference in people’s lives, to change something for the better, you’re not on the right track.
“I wasn’t sure how my speech would go over,” admitted Ringelmann. “It’s not a presentation I’ve given before.”
If you’re focused on a lucrative exit as your endgame, you’ll fail, said Ringelmann. That’s mostly because entrepreneurship is too much work to take on while keeping an eye on the door. “The first three years of Indiegogo were incredibly tough,” she reflected.
The only reason she pushed through was because she had a clear idea of what she wanted to accomplish—and it was much more than just a sale. She wanted to change something about the world, and she knew why. That’s what got her through those tough startup years.
How do you get that clarity?
“Start with what pisses you off,” advised Ringelmann. “What’s wrong with the world that you want to fix?”
For Ringelmann and her partners, it was the gatekeeper system for raising capital. Ringelmann grew up watching her parents, both entrepreneurs, struggle to find funding. It seemed ridiculous to her that a few VCs and investors had the power to raise someone’s idea up or shoot it down. She knew she wanted to change it—and had a clear understanding of her reasons for doing so.
Ringelmann says the best way to see whether your problem is worth solving is to continually ask yourself “why,” backing yourself up until your logic either stands up or falls apart. Imagine you’re being interrogated by a five-year-old.
“Why you’re trying to fix the problem is as important as how you’re trying to fix it,” she says.
And what about the tech startups who are focused on exit from the start, hoping to be the next Instagram?
“They will fail,” opined Ringelmann, adding that Instagram’s lucrative deal with Facebook is the exception, not the rule.
After a moment of reflection, she added this proviso: there’s more than one type of entrepreneur. In fact, in her take, there are three types.
There are the unsung heroes, working every day to make a small business work, whether it’s a small service shop or corner store.
Then, there are what she calls “the quick flippers,” who use their skill set to create something small, like an app, that solves a small problem. If they’re good at it, they’ll sell it or make a tidy living at it.
But the third type of entrepreneur is the one who shares Ringemann’s enthusiasm for solving big problems in a big way—with a big sense of purpose. These, Ringelmann believes, will get the big win. “The one who wants to change the world, or at least shift people’s way of thinking about the world—those are the Facebooks,” she said.
More from the International Startup Festival: