Business success depends on the pairing between capital and intent.
The more powerful this intent, the more powerful capital is as a fuel to deliver on that aim.
Bold, visionary capital attached to bold, visionary intent, will fuel rockets to Mars. Timid, ignorant capital attached to a timid, ignorant intent will fuel short-sighted, short-lived ventures.
By ‘business success’, I’m referring to the perpetual pursuit of it, rather than reaching a specific endpoint. Simon Sinek explains this well in his book, The Infinite Game: it is far more impacting on the world to act strategically, rather than tactically. Truly outstanding athletes will want to be in their sport for the longest and at their best, not ‘just’ work to win an Olympic gold medal and go home: they fuel an infinite yearning to be a better athlete today than yesterday, every single day.
Similarly, an effective investor will have metrics for success, but will be a terrible investor if they have finite aims. Growth can and should be limitless, within the bounds of what is humanly sustainable.
If we think of a tree, it should ‘aim’ to grow, not to the average height of the trees around it, but to its highest, mightiest potential, while staying strong, well rooted and well structured.
Fast growing plants, like weeds, have a short lifetime. In turn, a giant redwood is a completely different creature, even though both are, simply, plants.
The tree is built to grow on three axes: speed, strength and resilience. It’s not just about quick growth, or about being strong and flexible, resisting heavy winds or wildfires. No. A giant redwood, like most long-lasting organisms in nature, grows in 3D, on three axes, fast-strong-resilient. This means that growth never too fast, nor too weak and not too rigid. It is their combination that ends up producing the beautiful, majestic, fully grown tree, which will have a potential lifetime of two thousand years.
Like the redwood, a business also needs to grow as fast as it can, without sacrificing strength and the ability to withstand challenges. Yet it also needs to develop strength, without becoming slow. And finally, it needs to be crisis-proof, without being weak or slow.
So what is the actionable part of all these comparisons with Nature? And where does capital fit in all this?
The component of a business that most reflects Nature is its people. As humans, we abide by very similar natural laws as the giant redwood: we yearn to reach new heights, and need access to the resources and the environment to get us there.
Business growth of this nature requires its people to also grow to their fullest potential, along that same triple axis.
Everyone, without exception, is on a personal journey: from investors, founders, executive teams through to marketing, salespeople, personal assistants and warehouse workers.
The quality of that journey, like the redwood’s growth, will depend on the conditions they live and work in.
From large corporates to one-man-and-a-dog businesses, it is blatantly clear that we, as a society, still have a 2D approach to business growth, on the very binary fast vs. strong axis. Not too fast that it compromises strength, but not too strong that it compromises speed.
Resilience, however, is often left out, as a matter of hope, prayer or just keeping our fingers crossed and wish for the best.
Yet, the ultimate resilience in business derives from the personal resilience and well-being of its people, starting with its leadership.
When capital becomes attached to this intent, the results will be immense.
If we look at what kind of investment strategies have been providing the most reliable, sustainable and resilient results, we will find examples like Bridgewater’s ‘all-weather portfolio’, which may not have always outperformed the market, but, in the long run, has survived huge adversity, seeing minimal changes through some of the market’s greatest corrections.
Like the all-weather portfolio and the giant redwood, fast-strong-resilient human beings, may not produce financial results as fast as the high-powered-Reagan-Thatcher-1980s-type-all-out-cocaine-snorting-gym-addict-yuppies, but will definitely be less susceptible to burnout or to dying of a heart attack, and are unlikely to be drowning their sorrows in Finnish vodka, while avoiding their miserable, loveless life.
Fast-strong-resilient human beings will also not be as strong as the massive-body-builder-alpha-male-testosterone-overdosed-types who, when being chased by a dog with rabies, will, unfortunately but very likely, run out of breath and get bitten in their very toned glutes.
Yet, human beings with a fast-strong-resilient mindset, aligned and supported by capital attached to fast-strong-resilient intent will be the lifeblood of a fast-strong-resilient business.
The question then is, who is in the best position to both help create this fast-strong-resilient business culture and also reap the greatest financial benefit from it?
The answer is simple: those that are in a position to steer capital flows, starting with VCs, private and institutional investors, business angels and generally anyone who is a shareholder in a company.
Capital is not just capital. Like my mechanic says, spending money to fix a car that is falling apart is ‘bad money’, whereas spending money to fix a 1970s vintage Jaguar is ‘good money’.
Right now, we see capital flowing into companies without being attached to the fast-strong-resilient intent. My mechanic would call this ‘bad money’: it is 2D money, or what I would term Unhealthy Capital, which explains also why so many startups fail: they feel the pressure to generate return on capital, but see well-being as an expense that may compromise that.
This is like watering a plant without providing the environment for its best growth.
The opposite of this happens when wealth and health are combined, when funding flows are attached not only to financial outcomes, but to a parallel desire for continued, sustainable and ambitious personal well-being.
Consider this, you invest a million dollars in two different startups.
With the first company, apart from funding, you make introductions, mentor the founders and are available to help the business grow.
In the second company, you do the same, but you also add another layer, another intent: you make it a requirement for funding that the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the founders and the staff be prioritised.
Apart from the obvious human gains, which of the investments do you think will outperform the other in the long run? The first one, where you ‘just’ provided the water? Or the second one, where you have secured that growth-inducing environment?
Do you want to invest in weeds or in giant redwoods?
Of course, you can just hope, trust or believe that each of the founders you are investing in would somehow figure out how to optimise their health and be the most resilient. But that is added risk to you as an investor and it is avoidable.
Is it not a better proposition, overall, that you encourage people to grow with their business rather than in spite of it?
After all, the entrepreneurs that are creating the most significant impact, are doing so not just because they managed to build incredible companies, but also because they became very good at knowing and being themselves, managing their weaknesses, addressing them and compensating for them, working on themselves to go and grow faster and farther while keeping sufficient headspace to think strategically, rather than just tactically. Their customers gain, they gain, their investors gain.
Even in what looks like a chaotic world, with unpredictable returns on any investment, funding needs to move from 2D to 3D: it needs to become ‘good money’, Healthy Capital: funds that are not just a means to an end, but that are attached to human growth. Beyond creating impact through the end-result, they do so along the whole process of business, the complete chain (of command, of supply, of value) and through all those in contact with that healthy capital, where alongside financial returns, it demands health for all to enjoy it.
The potential of this new cycle, of health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) and wealth (abundance, prosperity, giving) is infinite. One will propel the other.
The day that health and wealth get married will be the wedding of the millennium. For that to happen, however, one of them needs to propose.
If those managing, directing and channelling capital are bold and visionary enough to take this step, this virtuous cycle has the power to change the face of business and through that, as healthy capital flows from an investment fund to the end product, like blood flowing through a large organism, it will support the way people can transform themselves into more complete human beings who are fast, strong and resilient themselves.
Such is the power of healthy capital for transformative growth.
And it’s time for it to flow.