On-point businesses. Not less, not more.
I believe in businesses, if done right. But increasingly I have been seeing the original value and mission of businesses be compromised due to cut-throat competition and our capitalist society’s blind pursuit for more. I’ve always enjoyed using Lyft more than Uber (both are ride-hailing apps) because compared to Uber drivers who are often grumpy and impatient, Lyft drivers are bright, usually in a good mood, and up for meaningful chats along the ride. However, on my way to O’Hare airport in Chicago a month ago, my perception of Lyft changed. My Lyft driver was from Turkey, and I couldn’t help but start striking up a conversation about how I talked to Lyft’s COO about their mission to lift and empower others in their community. Upon hearing what I had to say, my driver goes, “They (Lyft) used to pay me a lot more than Uber”. He companied with a sigh that signals something between a frustrated objection and an unwilling compromise. “Now they (Lyft and Uber) pay us the same, so I don’t really care about who I drive for anymore”, my talkative Turkish driver added.
I guess the competition in the share-ride industry has stopped Lyft from delivering its original mission; and that in a competitive capitalist culture where price is mistaken for value, businesses are no longer what they should be. From corporations that invest billions of dollars into marketing instead of innovating and bettering their products; to CEOs of multinational corporations that are corrupt and pay no care to the wellbeing of their own employees; to companies that maximize profit at the cost of heartlessly employing cheap labor, I can’t help but question the value of huge corporations. Companies that should exist to serve us have turned into sharks that exploit us.
With the recent emergence of silicon valley startups and unicorns valued at a billion dollars, the word “entrepreneurship” has emerged to become the new equivalent of the once prestigious, awe-inspiring “corporation”. Hundreds of investors rush to bet their money on the next “Google” and “Amazon”, while entrepreneurs do whatever they can to get on that call with their next investor.
But what if there is a new mode of “business” that is neither the too-big-to-fail corporation or the unicorn style overvalued startups? I believe that the next wave of businesses, or the healthy way to do business, is neither to aim at maximizing your profit at the cost of people, environment, and our entire society nor to dream of becoming a unicorn that devours the entire industry. Businesses should not be a mere instrument for making money; it should be the golden key to making our society a better place. I see building a business as the perfect way to both get one’s ends meet while still creating value and solving problems for our society.
Overgrowing a company, or putting a company at a value higher than it’s worth, is dangerous. A healthy society needs companies that care, and companies that do exactly what they need to do. Not less, not more. In Japan, a growing number of people are building their businesses around this healthy model of building an on-point company that stays healthy and sturdy without getting caught up in the trap of losing its original value due to its desire to endlessly maximize profit.
I truly believe that our society would be a lot healthier, and our people a lot happier, if more original businesses operated around this “on-point” model.