When I was 14 and my brother was 9, he told me that his lips were super chapped and no amount of lip balm was fixing it. I casually took a sip of my iced tea and told him, “Companies don’t make products to fix things. If lip balm fixed your lips permanently, you’d never buy it again.”
It was so matter of fact.
At the age of 14, I already knew that successful businesses didn’t permanently solve problems, without ever having been explicitly told that. I had just put two and two together – if companies had to sell as much as they could, they had to be giving people a reason to buy more.
At the age of 14, it had already occurred to me that if someone worked to fix a problem, their business would likely fail because it would never grow.
Then I went to business school and learned about further efficiency, cost effectiveness, producing product as cheaply and as quickly as humanly possible, competitive advantage, and the emphasis on profit.
The more money you made, the more successful you were.
I learned about manufacturing overseas, sweatshops and child labour, and brands that took no responsibility for unethical acts until their reputation was on the line. All that matters, I was taught, is shareholder value and the bottom line.
I had several moments during my undergrad when I felt like I didn’t belong, that I was pursuing something that didn’t fit with who I was. I was learning about maximizing profits through the distancing of anything remotely human – compassion, kindness, respect, love.
I felt super out of place.
When we discussed Milton Friedman’s stockholder theory (that a company’s only responsibility is to increase profits for its stockholders) I wondered how in the world this was real life.
When we learned about the theory of rational consumption (that people are rational consumers with the ability to make rational choices) and then discussed how to market a product by taking advantage of people’s inability to make rational decisions – I looked around the room hoping somebody had a look of confusion that matched mine.
But nobody did.
I went on to work in the corporate world at the age of 23, helping big companies improve their revenue streams and optimize their already very profitable portfolios.
But I never took the time to sit with my emotions or work through them.
I only realized recently that those uncomfortable moments I had since I was little had been signs.
Finally, I started to embrace that I cared about the environment and the planet and humanity in ways that school didn’t talk about. University and society taught me to focus on earning the most amount of money, getting promoted, and buying nice things. I was “weird” for caring about anything else.
And that’s precisely the issue – humanity has been stripped from the business world and unless it has value for the bottom line, it has no place in corporate environments.
How I felt was very strange to people I spoke to for a long time — but now I’m certain that this paradigm is shifting.
In 2018 I shared this story and declared that I care more about the world around me and about the things that make me human than any of the stuff I was taught. I care more about maximizing my temporary experience on this planet, and doing good, than maximizing profits.
In an effort to act on my declaration, and to align my actions with my values, I founded elume.
I believe entrepreneurs are in a unique position to deliver value in a way that large corporations just can’t replicate authentically — they have real stories to share, and their existence is rooted in purpose. In this way, they can truly connect with their audience, bringing humanity and life back into the way we do business.
I’m a strong believer that embedding purpose into the very essence of a business will lead to success and profitability; it just starts with the truth.
After all, people buy from people.