When I first saw Greg Hartle’s website, “$10 and a Laptop,” it reminded me of the idea of making something with nothing. Well, okay, maybe Greg @greghartle had something when he started couch surfing across the U.S. to learn more about American entrepreneurs, like $10 in his pocket and a laptop. But he didn’t have much more.
Greg is someone who is creatively using social media to communicate a message about being an entrepreneur in America. He is traveling all fifty states to see how entrepreneurs are starting projects in the current economy. In the process, he is finding ways to make money as an entrepreneur, exploring the world of making something with nothing and opening up to America the struggles, dreams, and lessons of what it means to be an entrepreneur in America today.
Here Greg talks about some of the highlights of his journey so far to create business opportunities that not only make money but create social value as well.
Eric Hoffer said it best when he said, “In times of change the learners inherit the earth. While the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” This is exactly where the majority of Americans are right now. We are in the midst of a major trend. One as large as the Industrial Revolution. The challenge with trends is that we don’t recognize them until we have enough data points. Once we do, it’s often too late to adapt to the trend. Those who are out in front will do well and are doing well. Those who aren’t, will struggle.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed with entrepreneurs as I’ve traveled around the country. The way in which we transact business in the second decade of the 21st century is completely different than the way in which we did business in the last century and even the last 10 years. Social networks are only a part of this change. Technology and the internet in general have changed the game dramatically. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans (and entrepreneurs) are still doing old things. I consistently remind people to stop trying to do the same old things better and start doing better things.
What do you see so far as the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face, and how have you seen ways that entrepreneurs are overcoming them?
It’s never been easier to start a business in America than it is today. It’s also never been harder to succeed. Early-stage entrepreneurs are quickly learning that just because the barriers to entry have been lowered doesn’t mean that success is inevitable. The marketplace is over-saturated with options in every industry. Consumers have to sift through more “noise” than ever before. You combine that with the scarcity of the dollar bill in today’s economic conditions and you have a recipe for entrepreneurial struggle.
The entrepreneurs that are overcoming this challenge are doing three things: 1) They are building Meaning into their business model. When every dollar spent is critical, a consumer is more likely to spend it in a meaningful way not necessarily just in a cheaper way. That’s why companies like TOMS Shoes and Zappos are doing so well. 2) They are allowing their customers to have a vested interest in the company. When a customer is invested in the outcome they are more likely to do what they can to see it succeed including sharing it with others they know (especially through social media).
That’s why companies like Threadless are doing so well. The clothing with the highest votes gets made. That’s a win for the consumer because they will buy what they voted for. That’s also a HUGE win for Threadless because they will only produce clothing they know will be purchased rather than guessing at what the consumer will want. 3) They are executing the fundamentals of business starting with managing cash flow and reserves all the way through marketing, sales, operations, customer service, etc. 85% of every business operates the same. Most businesses fail because they cannot execute, not because of bad ideas or a bad economy.
What have you learned so far about how social media is creating or diminishing opportunities for entrepreneurs to build businesses that have financial and social value?
Early business was about being “high touch”. Then we moved to “high tech”. Social media has provided the opportunity to be both high tech and high touch. It has also shifted the execution of certain aspects of business. For example, customer service can be executed so much better with the use of social media and the best way to increase sales is not marketing, it’s through WOW customer service. Ironically, social media has also created the opportunity for consumers to now tell a company and their friends what they “like” without actually having a conversation with either party. Word-of-mouth is always your best marketing. Now word-of-mouth can spread further, faster and without an actual word being spoken. That’s a game-changer.
Is there any part of your journey that has lead to a big-picture shift of perspective about America and entrepreneurship?
The biggest shift in the world right now is the recognition that 20th century capitalism is on it’s last leg. We can no longer have an energy industry that destroys the atmosphere, banks that deplete the financial sphere, a food industry that sparks an epidemic of obesity, an apparel industry that produces dreary working conditions, and athletic shoes that don’t make people more fit.
21st century capitalism is about building organizations that are living networks creating a meaningful profit through co-creation of ideas, products, and services that make the world smarter, fitter, healthier, happier, and more connected. Whether you are a bootstrapping solopreneur or a startup with seed capital, you should be asking, are we making a real economic (not just financial, but also natural, social, and human) difference? Are people smarter, fitter, healthier, or more connected as a result of interacting with our business? Outcomes that make a difference to well-being are what make our work meaningful and our societies stable and thriving.
Today´s best companies get it. From Zappos to Whole Foods, the Container Store to Google: they´re generating every form of value that matters: emotional, social, and financial. And they´re doing it for all their stakeholders. Not because it´s “politically correct;” because it´s the ultimate path to long-term competitive advantage.
Follow Greg @greghartle or http://www.facebook.com/GregHartle.TenLap.