The Build


What It Means to Be In Business

18 March 2011

To bring everyone up to date:

Sadly, I find his last post as incoherent as his first one is vitriolic.

Rather than go through it point by point, the crux of his argument is:

Building a business around maximizing your individual happiness is not particularly useful or admirable. That is my position, and I’m well aware that it may be unpopular with some.

I am pleased to report, then, that Mr Payne has absolutely nothing to worry about, because no business that is built around the happiness of the owner as a primary goal has a hope of every getting anywhere, unless the business consists of the owner taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other. Any business, unless it is operating in a grotesquely distorted marketplace, is primarily about pleasing its customers in exchange for their money.

I’m really not sure what these vaguely masturbatory companies Mr Payne is talking about do for a living, but every (successful) micro-business I know of is insanely, intensely focused on pleasing its customers. They have to be, because they don’t have an installed base, government-granted advantages, or (yes) piles of venture capital in the bank to fall back on if they fail to do so.

Mr Payne wants to run a big company. I wish him all the best. He seems to have his young heart in the right place. I have to say, though, that his emotional overreaction to the idea that someone might want to run a micro-business instead strikes me as the Puritan reacting to the idea that someone, somewhere, might be happy.

Mike at 08:34, 19 March 2011:

The real downside to the lifestyle business is that if you’re truly geeky about technology you want to spend as much time as you can working with technology and that’s antithetic to building a business. So a good job can be a better lifestyle choice. It may not let you travel the world (as often) but it keeps you from doing accounting and sales and customer service.

Also, running a *big* company is a pain in the ass and I’m skeptical it’s more valuable to its customers. Small companies *need* each and every customer/user to survive.

Fairly simple to understand all this I think. Loved your “his emotional overreaction to the idea that someone might want to run a micro-business instead strikes me as the Puritan reacting to the idea that someone, somewhere, might be happy.”

Xof at 12:04, 19 March 2011:

First, I have to say that I really do not like the term “lifestyle business.” It is pure VC snark. Is a corner grocery store a “lifestyle business”? A restaurant? I’m sure every restauranteur in the world would be pleased to hear that they aren’t working very hard and are just indulging in a “lifestyle.” (I understand the term isn’t yours, just getting something off my chest that didn’t make it into the main article.)

Being an employee has a lot going for it: Regular paycheck, you can focus on your particular skill set, etc., just as you say. (Although when doing the tradeoff, I’ve noticed that people tend to underestimate how much non-skill-related bullshit people have to deal with as employees.)

In the context of Mr Payne’s article, it’s not clear where employees fit in. Either:

  1. They are even lower on the scale of contribution to society than a small business-owner, because they are just working for a paycheck and not building something that will touch a large population under any circumstances. If that’s his feeling, I would strongly encourage Mr Payne to not share that view with his staff.
  2. They somehow share in the owner’s position in and utility to society by virtue of being part of his organization, and thus shine with reflected light in the firmament of business. This attitude strikes me as a bit weird and creepily corporatist, a philosophy whose practical track record is not extremely promising.

Anyway, I wish Mr Payne all the best in his desire to build a gigantic company. But reacting emotionally to people who are speaking the truth about what the VC funding streetwalk is about is probably a distraction that he shouldn’t indulge in.