If you’re a startup founder, the odds are good that you want to make a big impact on the world. Perhaps your dream is to build a company so impressive that it will be featured in a Harvard Business School case study.
But, even if you have big dreams and high aspirations, how can you actually know if your business is going to change the world? How do you know if you’re going on the right path? And, most importantly…
How can you tell if your company will make an impact at all?
We’ll get there in a minute. But first, let me ask:
Does your business create jobs?
Does it provide opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance? Does it empower others to achieve their own dreams? Or does it merely enrich some shareholders and its executives?
Does your business improve lives?
Does it clean up the environment? Reduce poverty or improve healthcare systems? Does it cure disease or bring new hope for those who were previously hopeless? Does it allow people to live longer, happier, more fulfilling lives? Or does it merely entertain them for a few hours after work and on weekends?
Does your business make an impact on society as a whole?
You’re a startup founder. You have a brilliant idea for a business that you think will change the world. You’re feeling excited and optimistic about your future, and you should be!
In case you haven’t noticed, we live in the golden age of startups. There are more resources available to founders than ever before, and the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been. In large part, that means it’s easier than ever to find success with your startup…
But there’s also a downside to this new reality: it also means there are more people starting businesses than ever before.
And if you want to find success in this new era of entrepreneurship, you need to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
You need to know how to make an impact with your startup…
You’re in the middle of a business meeting when your boss asks you a question.
“Do you think your startup will change the world?”
You pause for a moment, desperately thinking of something to say. Then you answer with the first thing that pops into your head:
“Of course we will! We just need more funding and more customers.”
But as soon as you say it, you realize that something is off. Your idea is great, but it isn’t going to change the world. You’re not even sure how to begin making a dent in your industry, let alone how to change the whole world.
So what can you do?
For the last few months I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about impact, and how to make more of it.
I’ve been working with a number of clients on their impact strategy, as well as creating a new course for The AltMBA, on Impact.
And I’ve been having some really fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs about what impact really is, and how they can create more of it.
One thing that keeps coming up is confusion about what their business actually does, and how to decide if their idea is “a good idea” or not.
So I wanted to share with you the questions I ask people about their business and the process I use with them to work out if they’re on the right path.
It’s tough to start a business. It’s tough running a business. It’s tough growing a business. But because many entrepreneurs believe they’re making an impact and changing the world, they do it anyway.
For some, “changing the world” means being able to quit your 9-to-5 and work on your startup full time. For others, it means providing financial security to their family so they can live comfortably for years to come. And for others still, it means something entirely different—something that may not even seem like a “big deal” to outsiders.
But no matter what your definition of “changing the world” is, there’s one thing that’s true for everyone: it’s hard to know if you’re making an impact if you don’t measure anything.
That’s why I decided to write this piece—to share three metrics you should be tracking in your own business so you can see that you’re making progress toward changing the world in your own way.
If you want to change the world, you should start a startup.
Startups are the most effective way to change the world, but there’s a catch: many startups will fail.
If you only have one shot in life, it’s important to pick something that has a high chance of success. Those odds are much better if you can find an area that has been neglected and underfunded by society (for example, healthcare for the poor).
It’s also important to start with something that is immediately useful and profitable. This allows your business to fund its own growth (and hence, increases its chances of success). The alternative is to try and raise money from investors (which is much harder) or try and build something unsustainable (which will eventually collapse).
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a business and forget why you started your company in the first place.
But if you want to make a difference — if you want to build a business that matters — it’s important that you keep the big picture in mind and constantly remind yourself of your purpose.
Remember, every successful business was built on an idea that sought to solve a problem. But not every business is successful at its mission. In fact, most companies fail not because their idea is bad, but because they get stuck along the way. It’s easy for businesses to find themselves mired in the details, or drifting off course as priorities shift with each new “crisis” or opportunity.
So how can you stay accountable to that initial vision? How can you ensure both short-term success and long-term sustainability? Here are five questions to help you assess whether or not your startup has what it takes to achieve greatness: