Building Your Company on Conviction and Meaning

Building a company on conviction and meaning is to create a money making enterprise that also has balance with its employees, its clients, and its reason for existence. When your company means something, your clients will recognize that. Some companies suffer from an investor/management team that are willing to sacrifice the quality of their products, thinking that money is the most important thing to the company. It causes problems in the long run though, like unhappy employees, soured clients, and a product that looks rushed and unfinished. They are examples of companies that don’t have conviction, but you should build your company with meaning and conviction.

The Lack of Conviction and Meaning

There are too many money grubbing vultures out there, some of which are destroying companies. While it is true that in a capitalistic society a business must be sure that its number one focus is to generate profit, there is a fine line with which how it can get there and still contain meaning. A company without a meaningful purpose (other than to generate revenue) is just opening itself up to being consumed by the tiresome, never-ending and cyclical road to having employee retention and customer satisfaction problems. It is almost always often the case that the management teams and investment principals of the company are the direct cause of the lack of defining and defending this meaning.

This meaning, motive, and purpose needs to be defined in the “DNA” of the business; the core root of its existence; from the very top. The business needs to be absolutely convicted of its purpose, or it will only appear as a charade that camouflages its true existence as an after thought or gimmick.

All too often, investors demand unrealistic time tables or visions, requiring drastic shifts in the priorities of the products the company builds. What begins to happen is the breakdown of the quality of the products, almost as if they’re cheating on the very nature of what their market wanted in the first place.

An Example of Conviction

Enter Mike Lee. A visionary, commonly self-referred to as “the world’s toughest programmer.” He comes from Delicious Monster fame, a company run by Wil Shipley, a no-bullshit developer. They’ve shipped one of the most well known cataloging softwares of recent day for the Mac (Delicious Library and finally, Delicious Library 2). It’s won awards. Wil was Mike’s mentor. Armed with knowledge and a dribble of fame, Mike set off to start the Silicon Valley’s next-best-company.

He stood for meaning. Design and functionality was to be merged in a harmony of utmost quality. He pitched and pleaded a team of engineers to join with him, touting his ideals and promising a company that stood for something; a paradise in the midst of the desert. They followed. Tapulous was born, and began to generate a lot of buzz for their iPhone-based business, that embraced Apple design values, and a clear message of honor that dictated no sacrifice in quality. Mike Lee began to lead his team to victory; and some victories were won by Tapulous: Tap Tap Revolution and Twinkle, two of the most popular applications on the App Store platform. The Silicon Valley gossips began to talk about this company, and the future looked good. Clients were ecstatic about the products, and employees embraced their lives at the startup.

One sad day arrived, when Mike Lee posted on his blog that he has been thrown out of the company due to irreconcilable differences with his investors. It seemed that investors wanted to churn out buggy software, software less than perfect. Mike knew that his business was built on perfection. His niche market wanted applications that were champions. After all, they’re the kind of users that are champions too. And he’d convinced his army to join him at the company based on these convictions in the first place. But his investors didn’t care about that. They wanted quick, dirty, filthy profits from the hot, hot, and hotter iPhone market.

Here’s what will happen. While the outcome of their mistake is yet to be proven true, it will backfire. Other employees will quickly defect (even though Mike publicly encouraged that they stay), and the investors and remaining management will not have the conviction and honor to attract top engineers and designers. Products will begin to suffer because cocky junior and mid-level engineers will write buggy architectures and applications, and uncommitted designers will skimp on the details needed to make the products top notch. And tight, unrealistic investor deadlines will only exacerbate this problem. Soon, they’ll be charged with sub-prime developer status, and they’ll be dropped by their niche market. They’ll join the ranks of ugly, meaningless companies who’s products will sell, but won’t win any awards.

What Mike has done is honorable. He built a company on conviction and meaning, and then stood by his declarations. In his case, he was made a martyr by his backers; sliced away for standing up for his beliefs. But he had the right idea! He built a company that everyone was talking about. A company that made amazing products. (By the way, Mike is obviously already up to something)

What You Can Do

There are a few things that you can do, that if you truly embrace will make your company absolutely remarkable. They’re very simple things too, but you have to be convicted.

    1) Build a product that listens to what people want.

    How can you possibly build something for someone if you don’t know what they want? Architects don’t force a design on you when you build your home!

    2) Build a company that honors, appreciates, and nurtures its clients and employees.

    Give your employees the equipment they need and are familiar with to be productive. If they’re designers, yes, they need 30″ cinema displays. You’ll get that extra $800 back in productivity faster than you think. Don’t over work your employees; just because they put in 80 hours doesn’t mean it’s 80 hours of productive and useful code; in fact, it’s probably junk. Respect their talents, after all, you hired them for a reason. Give them the authority they need to implement your visions, because real talent wants to be challenged and respected, they don’t just want to execute mundane and repeatable tasks all day.

    Your clients are just as important. Give them the respect they deserve by listening to their gripes and complaints when they’re struggling to use your product. It’s easy to get frustrated with their negativity, but if you listen to what’s really bothering them and address their concerns, you’ll keep more of your customers. If your customers discover major bugs, acknowledge that you’re looking into the issue, and don’t wait until you’ve discovered a fix before you announce a solution like Apple does. It only serves to frustrate your customers more.

    3) Build a product that stands for quality by avoiding shortcuts.

    Stand for quality. Make the decision from Day 1 to never ship a product that has no intention of being remarkably perfect. Yes, ship it quickly and incrementally, but improve on it. If you’re breaking the bank to deliver a perfect product, chances are that you’ve made it too complicated! Strip it down, make it perfect, ship it. Then you can start adding additional, perfect features to make it the kind of product you’ve always wanted. But always have the intention to ship a meaningful and remarkable product. If you don’t intend to do something, it will never happen.

    4) Build a company that lives and breathes moral and ethical values.

    How about having a positive ecological benefit while having an economic one? What about protecting the soldiers on your staff from the vultures above? How about not over working your employees just because you think you’ll meet your deadlines faster, and instead empowering them to make great decisions?

    5) Build a product that solves real problems but is also a pleasure to use.

    Products can no longer survive to serve function alone. They need to be enjoyable and pleasurable to use. They should invoke emotion from their users; make people yearn to use it. They should look like pieces of visual art. They should be obvious on how to use them.

You Can Be Convicted Too!

What happened to the people who wanted to build a better product and not just make a significant number of dollars? What happened to the people who were willing to believe in a code of ethics, justice, and honor like the knights of the round table? People who want to build great products by building a great team, sustainably. What happened to the people with vision, innovative courage, and the desire to enhance people’s lives, and still make money?

These are the kinds of friends and business partners that I want. Ones with honor, compassion, conviction, and smarts. Ones that want to change the world. Ones that want to solve real problems, and add real value.

Are you building companies with conviction and meaning?