In recent months I have met many inspiring people. They are generous, fun to be around and solving the world’s problems. Diabetes, partnerships, waste, security, retirement - all of these are huge problems, and I met people that are doing all they can to fix these problems. I think this is the best career move any individual can make; and for me, these people are an inspiration.
Many things in this world piss me off, and there are some things I can fix. On the other hand, I met a lot of young start-up entrepreneurs that are working on “apps” that just seem profitable. They don’t fix a pressing issue that people have. I think making the right decision in your career is important and “fixing world’s problems” is the most overlooked guiding principle in our careers. People study law, business or medicine just because these professions “pay well.”
Solving pressing problems usually pays well too. If it is something that people care about, they are willing to pay for the problem to go away.
The solutions don’t have to be perfect. Some products and services solve huge problems, and it took two weeks to implement them! One of the main misconceptions of entrepreneurship is that it is hard, that only certain people know how to create a profitable business and that you need to attend business school, read business books, become part of a startup networking group or a mastermind. It is not true. You need to find the right problem to solve, find the right financial model that works for you and do it.
Sometimes, the solution feels crappy. The website could be nicer; the product could be leaner and without bugs. But if it does solve the problem then solve it!
You don’t need to become an entrepreneur You can also solve problems in the company you work for; you don’t necessary need to become an entrepreneur if it is not the right path for you. Are your customers or your colleagues frustrated by something? Fix it!
Chade-Meng Tan was an engineer at Google. He found out that his colleagues are stressed, can’t focus and have a lot of personal problems. He created a meditation course called “Search inside yourself.” Slowly, he moved from engineering position and became a full-time mindfulness guru inside of Google. Then he realized this is a skill that more people need to know and wrote a few books about this topic (Search Inside Yourself, Joy on Demand, …) and started also teaching outside of Google. He saw a problem and fixed it - completely outside his original field of expertise and without becoming an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs solve problems There’s an epidemic of “we pay politicians to solve our problems” train of thought. If we follow this approach, we are set for disappointment. Most problems are solved by private people and companies, not politicians, and if we rely on politicians to solve our problems, we are going to wait for a long time.
Of course, the most trustworthy person to solve problems is us - and we can become entrepreneurs quickly, we don’t need fancy business schools or genius ideas. Here’s an inspiring story from our trip to Bali.
Recycling in Bali Bali is a unique island. Although poverty and the standard of living there fell far short of our western comfort, there are amazing entrepreneurs in Bali. In the town of Ubud, you will find boutiques with various clothing that you won’t find in most western cities - from the cheapest to the more luxurious brands. We know Bali for its art that they export to the rest of the world. Carved wooden sculptures, furniture and paintings are among the most famous products of Bali. People work and produce. Bali is also known for local coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the civets. Doesn’t sound very yummy, but it is not bad! If you like architecture, you should definitely see the largest bamboo structures in the world. Fans of freedom of learning and innovation in education should certainly check out the Green School, which is also located in a bamboo house. The creativity and productivity was amazing!
Bali has some unusual religious practices. I will mention them only briefly, as they relate to the story. The inhabitants of the island are committed to maintaining harmony between good and evil. In practice one day before Nyepi rituals, the residents of Bali try to attract evil spirits from the universe, feed them with offerings and then burn and starve them. Then they run and hide inside their houses on Nyepi - the day of silence. What is remarkable that they feel that it is their job to ensure the harmony. The religious offerings used to be served in recyclable bamboo, now they are mostly plastic.
As the part of our trip, we went to see the Mother Temple. Our guide Wayan was walking around and always collecting plastic garbage and throwing it into trashcans. He told us that in the beginning, he was just pissed off with the trash. It was a problem that he tried to solve by collecting the plastic garbage that people threw away everywhere. Later he found a way to address this issue in a sustainable way. He met a few Australian and Japanese tourists, and they helped him with a capital investment (this is the term he used - no business school!) in the form of a machine to recycle plastic bottles into a plastic powder that can be used to produce products, such as pots for growing plants.
Up to this point, people used to make fun of him - they called him “the garbage man.” And they were laughing about his unsustainable attempt to get rid of the plastic. He was collecting and disposing of it, and the amount of plastic was growing more and more. But he found a solution to this problem - by obtaining the recycling machine. He started to buy the plastic waste from the locals and turning it into a usable product that he could sell. Those same people that were making fun of him started collecting the garbage because it was profitable for them!
He finally bought trashcans around the temple, and tourists started using them, collecting the trash for him.
The best way to find energy for doing business is finding something that bothers you - ideally a recurring problem that you hate - and solve it. Wayan hated plastic trash around a beautiful cultural site. What surprised me more is that Wayan never mentioned government as a solution to this problem. He never expected someone else to work around this issue; he was looking for a solution himself. He never attended business school, yet he understood profit and loss and the fact that if he wants to solve this problem, he needs to find a financial model that works for him.
In the west, we usually subsidize recycling, and it is often a waste of our money and energy. It is not a sustainable solution; it is a net cost to our society. I don’t think that Wayan’s way of solving this problem would be viable in the west, mainly because the cost of labor is much higher than in Bali. What I know is that there are sustainable solutions to this problem, and people are working on them. They are making a career out of saving the world.
Wayan became a lifestyle entrepreneur, even though he originally had no capital and did not finish any business school nor course. Lifestyle entrepreneur means that he started a company to support his lifestyle and values. I believe that anyone can be an entrepreneur - make sure that you solve some problem inside a financial model that works for you. That’s the key. No business books required.