Profit is a natural outcome of serving customers well and treating employees right.
When I started my prior business, I was driven to solve a problem that I kept hearing from many IT leaders and consultants. They were overwhelmed by internet and network problems. When an outage or issue would happen, their users quickly got mad and applied intense pressure to get things working right.
I wanted to bring peace into their lives in the midst of those highly stressful moments. So I created a company to do that. My motivations were two-fold: yes I wanted to make money, but I also wanted to improve the lives of those customers.
That was an expensive choice at times. When taking technical support calls, we would sometimes sit for hours on the phone helping customers solve problems that we weren’t responsible for. But wow, it contributed to remarkably loyalty from our customers and tremendous brand value in our sales channels. Our mission to bring peace into the lives of our customers drove those choices, and it paid off both in revenue growth and healthier lives for our customers, partners, and employees.
Today, AI is transforming the business landscape. It’s been growing in the background in the form of personalized shopping recommendations, real-time fraud detection, code creation in software development, and self-driving cars. Now it’s front-and-center with ChatGPT’s broad adoption, and Large Language Models (LLMs) being applied across almost every business app. A study of 3000 American employed adults found that 85% of them have used AI tools to perform tasks at work. Soon we’ll see AI handling our tier-1 customer support interactions, most marketing content we’re hit with, training programs for new employees, legal guidance, and more.
We’ve entered the AI era – and we’re each participating in a shift to society on par with the industrial revolution, creation of the computer, and advent of the Internet. As we contribute to this shift, we should make our decisions with care.
In many ways, AI is like fire - immensely potent, dangerous, and useful. When harnessed correctly, fire has the power to cook delicious food, kill off weeds, warm our homes, and propel us from place to place. However, when used without right motivations and efforts, that light and warmth turns to destruction and devastation. This can be from careless acts like a poorly-planned campfire that turns into a forest fire, or through malicious motives like arson.
Similarly, each of us entrepreneurs now holds profound transformative power in our hands with AI. When controlled with healthy motives and choices, it can improve the world around us and benefit everyone we interact with. From diagnosing diseases more accurately, to reducing errors in the justice system, to simply solving customer problems faster, AI has the potential to improve lives in countless ways.
Yet, like fire, AI’s power can cause harm. AI will replace some employees, it’s already happening. If that’s done carelessly it will hurt people, families, kids. AI can also be used in various ways to generate more profit. When that’s the only motive, we’ll see reduced joy and increased stress for customers, employees, and others. Think about never being able to reach a real person in customer service, getting 10x the spam phone calls and emails, or telling your robotic AI manager about a painful family situation that you need time off for. Finally, when used maliciously, AI significantly improves the ability for criminals to trick people and scale up their crimes.
Business leaders can dramatically impact the lives of people. Consider this example – you have a relative who is ill and you’re going to take a trip on an airplane to go see them. Your life is impacted by the decisions made by the following companies:
How the founders of each of those businesses exercise their power directly impacts you, on the way to see your sick relative. If they treat their employees well, with reasonable pay, benefits, and care, then you’ll probably see smiles and kindness. If they planned finances wisely and invested in capital improvements then you’ll probably have comfortable seats, nice smells, and few distractions. If instead they are solely focused on their stock price and their own short-term compensation, then your trip may not be so nice.
This isn’t to say that they should ignore profit (you can’t provide nice airplanes or rental cars if you don’t make any profit), but the power that entrepreneurship brings needs to be wielded carefully. This is even more important as we leverage AI to amplify the choices we make.
You’ve probably thought about how to aim for specific metrics and KPIs like leads, revenue, gross margin, profit, and cash flow. Those are critical measures for business success. But how are you determining success beyond financial metrics like profit?
Deeper meaning in your business – a people-focused mission – will benefit you and the people around you. Which would you be happier about on your death bed: that you have more money in the bank, or that you made a difference in people’s lives?
Capitalism is valuable. It taps into a tremendous drive we have to be rewarded for building valuable solutions for our customers. However on its own, it can also contribute to harming people through selfishness (when we focus solely on our financial reward). If you combine it with love for others, then we see businesses create solutions that consistently improve lives. The result of this are happy customers, gladly paying well for the benefits they’ve gained.
One angle on this is the “Triple Bottom Line” approach – People, Planet, Profit. This methodology doesn’t just consider profit, but also the company's impact on the planet and people. It's a recognition that businesses are not just as money-making machines, but act as organisms within a larger ecosystem. To survive and thrive long-term, these “organisms” need to live harmoniously within that ecosystem.
Consider the situation of replacing your tier-1 customer support employees with AI. Will it increase profit – likely yes. Should you do it – maybe. If you do, you should consider what options you have for those employees. Can you place them into other roles? Can you support them through training or education to level-up into tier-2, or to transition to another career path? Put yourself in the shoes of those employees, or imagine they are your son or daughter: how would you want them to be treated?
As a founder responsible for how you incorporate AI into your business, you can protect yourself and your business from the risks of AI-gone-wrong. It can be as simple as having motives and a mission that goes beyond simple profit, incorporating care for the people in your ecosystem.
You've likely heard the saying, “Know your why.” Are you taking it seriously for your startup? If not, you’ll get burnt out, your team will feel aimless, and you’ll dive head-first into the risks of using AI in ways that harm people.
Our ‘why’ is our deep-seated driving force, an anchor that keeps us grounded amidst the choppy entrepreneurial seas. It's our personal reason for jumping into the exciting and crazy world of startups.
As founders, we should have a strong “why” for the businesses we start. This translates into the mission for the business. That “why” should be focused on people, how we’re making their lives better.
If you’re not clear on your “why”, or your business idea isn’t aligned with a deeper purpose that drives you, then it’s time for some work. The profile questions we built into CompanyCraft provide a valuable tool to explore your motivations, teasing out potential areas of mission focus for your business. Once you’ve done that work, our AI will generate unique business ideas for you based on your profile.
Building a business that has a mission aligned with your personal convictions will help you navigate the shift to the AI era with confidence. When confronted with tough decisions, you and your team will be able to stay focused on why you started a business in the first place.
Entrepreneurs across the world have begun using AI to amplify the impact of their mission. Here are some examples:
Whether your business will use AI at its foundations, or AI will be just another tool to accelerate your success, you can focus on using it to further your mission.
As we enter deeper into the AI era, we’ll each be confronted with significant decisions as entrepreneurs. What mission will drive you in starting and operating your business? How will you treat people when things get tough? What moral guidelines should drive technology adoption? Where do you want to draw lines between people and machines? How will you handle people when their jobs get replaced by machines?
All of these and more are complicated and amplified by AI.
Thankfully, if you have a strong “why”, a mission, that incorporates love for people, it’s easier to answer those questions in healthy ways.
I encourage you to use AI as a tool that benefits your employees, customers, and other people in your business ecosystem. If you haven’t started your business yet, you can create a profile in CompanyCraft to get help with this. Document some areas you’re passionate about, and clarify how you want to incorporate AI. Here are a couple examples of what that might look like in the profile:
Our vision at CompanyCraft is to help 1 million entrepreneurs start successful businesses that improve people's lives. You can get started by learning more on our website or creating a free account here.
If you've already started your business, then you can ensure it's grounded with a solid mission that ties back to love for people. I encourage you to spend time with your team refining or putting together a mission with that lens.