Sunday, March 15, 2009

Giving appreciation and HONOR to entrepreneurs

I just finished reading this email letter from Perry Marshall of Google Adwords fame.

I just came home from a seminar by Paul Manwaring called "A Culture of Honor." As he spoke about how carelessly people criticize each other on TV and in daily life - and how uplifting it is to receive words of affirmation - I was struck by how little appreciation most entrepreneurs get from... well, anybody.

The evening news is no celebration of business people, that's for sure.

The government ain't doing much to make your job easier.

So... why would you risk everything, endure multiple bankruptcies, work 17 hours a day for weeks and months at a time, to be the first to be taxed and the last to get paid in a game that offers no guarantee of success whatsoever?

It takes a very special kind of person.

It takes a person who is driven from the inside by passion and vision and a bit of eccentricity. It requires you to be so dissatisfied with the status quo that you feel like you can endure anything so long as it's not the present mediocrity.

You're one of those people who just can't stand following the car ahead of you on the expressway to some cubicle for the rest of your life.

Or maybe you have this idea for a product or a way of doing something and you're convicted to your very soul that the world needs to see things *your* way for once.

In any case, I doubt it's because you're just some greedy, money-grubbing over-achiever who needs to take a chill pill. No, that popular depiction is deeply misleading.

I just want to say... Wherever you are in your journey, I'm proud of you, I HONOR you, and I cheer you on in your effort. Any honest business is a noble and honorable thing.

I'll never forget my 2nd trip to Africa. I'm somewhere southwest of Nairobi Kenya, visiting George Karanga and his wife Jane, two very special people who run a foster program for AIDS orphans.

I'm meeting a woman whose husband is dying of AIDS, he's down to 66 pounds... all kinds of kids who've lost both parents to HIV and now live with aunts, uncles or grandparents... people who are deathly sick for lack of $1.00 for a bus ticket to go to a medical clinic... a woman who's 8 years a paraplegic, living under a tin roof in a dark mud hut, her sole entertainment her radio, her cat, and her kind neighbors who look after her.

Not a cheery scene.

But the epiphany occurs when I meet a fellow named Paul Mungai, who runs a cobbler shop. Paul, ironically, is crippled, but he knows how to make and fix shoes. And he knows how to run a business.

He started with just $50.00 of seed money and now has, by Kenyan standards, a sound business. He's feeding his family, he's paying his rent, his kids have uniforms to wear to school, and everyone in his care has enough to live on.

There's a gleam in his eye. We exchange a few words and share our mutual understanding: There is one and only one path out of poverty. The one and only path out of poverty is entrepreneurship and business success.

It ain't government. It's not social programs. It's not charity. It's not even jobs or technology. It's entrepreneurship.

The message was loud and clear: What you and I do may be daring, crazy, irrational and largely misunderstood. Condescending do-gooders may tell you you're greedy or too successful. Your brother-in-law may think you've got your head stuffed in a cloud.

The government may think it has the right to confiscate your profits and give them to "education" or other well-intentioned social programs. You might cater to some strange market, doing something that most people consider frivolous.

But the fact remains: What you and I do is profoundly important. You and I pave the road that leads from poverty to success. We create the ingenuity and jobs and wealth that makes good medical care possible.

We create the world that has enough to eat, the world where even welfare kids in housing projects get three square meals a day.

So don't ever apologize to anyone for doing what you do. If it wasn't for you, me and the rest of us entrepreneurs, "they" would still be sleeping on dirt floors.

That conversation with Paul in Kenya sparkled with the mutual awareness of what I just described to you.

And as George took me to see other recipients of Micro-Enterprise seed funding - a lady selling sardines and tomatoes on a nailed-together stand on the side of the road, several women selling fruits and vegetables in the local markets, I thought of the entrepreneurs I meet in the US, Canada and Australia.

I thought of those rah-rah Amway rallies I was going to years ago, and the easily-exploited naivet? that's so characteristic of the "Biz Op" market as it's sometimes called.

And like it or not, it's that raw enthusiasm and independent spirit that drives the prosperity of the West.

Where that drive, imagination and ingenuity are lacking, people starve - literally.

So yes, some business people are too greedy. Some entrepreneurs don't care about their fellow man. Some people do make their money by dishonest means. But remember, the character quotient is no better on the poor side of the fence.

So if you're prospering by means of an honest enterprise - or if you're struggling to put one together - then you are a hero. The bards and minstrels may not sing songs about you, and your handsome face may never appear on The Apprentice, but what you do every day when you get out of bed is a worthwhile and indeed necessary thing.

Don't ever forget it. What you do matters. A lot. It's worth celebrating and it's HONORABLE.

Perry Marshall

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