Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why are you doing this?

One of the mentors at The Iron Yard this summer asked the question "Why are you doing this?". I love this question because without a really good reason for doing this, building a company becomes infinitely harder. Recently I had one of my most grueling days since I started Leaguevine when I spent the entire day on the phone making sales to people who mostly didn't give a crap. I don't like sales. But I could force myself to work hard and get stuff done because I have a very clear end goal.

I want to have a huge, positive impact on the world through international development and to do so requires a large amount of money. This is at the top of my mind every day and has been sitting there for about two years.

When I was devoting a vast majority of my energy to Engineers Without Borders from mid 2008 through 2010, my view on the world changed completely. Before EWB, I would have been content with a comfortable life where I was able to travel a lot and have some fun. I could work for a great employer, produce at a high level, get paid a lot, and do the things I wanted on nights and weekends. 

EWB killed this former dream life for me. I am certain that I would no longer be content with such a life. 

After my first trip to Orongo, Kenya and seeing all of the challenges people have to go through every single day, I returned home grateful for running water. For a full year after that first trip I would think about how lucky I am to have running water every time I turned on a faucet. 

On my second trip I was given a grand tour of Kibera by one of its residents. Kibera is one of the largest slums in the world and I was walking through it shortly after it had rained. Walking through this town was excruciatingly difficult because all roads and pathways were dirt and because many of these pathways were steep and it had rained, it was really tough walking around. I remember Cartoon (my friend in Kibera) reaching down and extending me a hand to help me climb various pathways. Not surprisingly, I thought about Kibera at least once a day for the entire calendar year of 2009.

By the fourth time I traveled to Orongo, Kenya I realized how much I loved doing this International Development work. Every day I was using my knowledge, connections, and hustle to make the most change I could in this charming little community. Despite loving this work, I realized how many parts of this system were broken. I don't mean to say EWB or other NGOs are bad, but the entire state of International Development could use a heap of improvement. Because of this, I would not be content being a cog in this big International Development machine where I would likely have very little meaningful impact over a lifetime of hard work.

At this point, because I was no longer content with a simple software developer's life and I would not be content working for an NGO in this International Development space, the path to reaching my dreams started to become somewhat clear. I would have to do something that gave me a chance to make a huge amount of money which I could then use to instill my own vision into the International Development scene. 

I like to think of this as the Bill Gates model of doing good in the world. Step 1 is to make a lot of money, and step 2 is to use the money to do something incredible. Gates is doing far more than just donating his money to charity. He is aggressively attacking the world's problems with the same gusto that he used to build Microsoft by defining his own well-rounded initiatives and finding the right partners to carry out his vision. He's crushing it. He is not conforming to standard NGO models, and is willing to disrupt this space and do whatever it takes to improve the world. And for that he's my idol.

While it's unrealistic to expect to make an amount of money and impact on the same order of magnitude that Gates did, this general model for living my life is well within the realm of possibility. This is what gets me fired up every morning. And more importantly, it's what keeps me going at full speed when things look bleak.