The Business Of Giving A Damn

Published April 11, 2013 by Visakan Veerasamy+ in Op-Ed

Op-Ed is a column on our blog where we share our thoughts about business, marketing, philosophy and general idea-y stuff.

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A friend of ours asked recently, “What’s the point of spending time on ecommerce forums? What are you after? Why do you do it?”

A quick bit of context: We spend quite a bit of time literally just hanging out with retailers on forums. (You’re likely to catch us at Shopify forums, BigCommerce, WarriorForum, Quora… be sure to say hi if you do!).

We go the extra mile because it’s fun.

Really. We could make up convincing arguments about how it helps our brand and our customer acquisition efforts (and sure, it does!), or how there’s a potentially significant return on investment – and they’re technically, rationally sound, and… *YAWN*.

Here’s the truth-bomb: We don’t hang out with retailers just because we’re in the business of customer referral programs. We’re in the business of referrals because we love hanging out with retailers. It’s legitimately cool to help build a sweeter marketplace for everybody, even in small ways like giving retailers feedback about their stores. We get energized and excited by the knowledge that we’re helping to create real value in the marketplace that we participate in ourselves.

If we don’t give a Damn, we’d be eating the dust of those who do.

We honestly believe it. All else held constant, if you start an ecommerce store just because you want to make money (which is a very valid reason), you’re probably going to get steamrollered by the people who do it for love. Cheesy, but true. They will put in more hours than you. They will go above and beyond the call of duty, which is something we won’t ever completely be able to monetize, incentivize, leverage, insert-your-favourite-buzzword-here.

People ultimately pay for the Damns that we give.

In a goods-abundant, trust-scarce marketplace, there is no resource more precious than the Damn. Think about it! If you could pay someone to give a damn about something, wouldn’t you? Take a moment to imagine what the world would look like if you could. There would be no unhappy relationships, no disappointed customers, no bloated institutions…

But you can’t actually buy Damns. You can’t buy friends, you can’t buy love, you can’t buy sincerity, you can’t buy trust, and you most certainly can’t buy Damns. You can buy the illusion of it. But you can never pay someone to actually care. Genuine concern is priceless. We believe that people know it when they see it. They are drawn to it.

To be clear: This doesn’t mean that Damn-givers can’t fail. They fail spectacularly, and often. But they’re also the people who most often dust themselves off and try again. (Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game. Surely, there were some Damn-givers in that office!)

It’s never crowded along the extra mile.

You’ll often hear that <insert market> is saturated with retailers. But that’s not actually true. The market is saturated with average retailers. There’s always room in the market for people who truly give a damn. Consumers will recognize quality and effort. A retailer has to believe that if she’s going to dive into a “saturated” market.

Sustainably speaking, “making money” is about creating value, and value is almost exclusively created through the giving of Damns. Consider Paul Graham’s example of creating wealth by restoring your beat-up old car. When you give a Damn, you create value, and when you create value, people will consider paying you for it.

So, what do you give a damn about?

And just as importantly, what do you not give a damn about? That’s a train of thought worth pursuing, and it can lead you to some pretty interesting insights about how you ought to run your business.

If your business is a reflection of your personal principles (Think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Howard Schultz) it’s far likelier to be robust because you will keep it alive with the sheer force of the Damns that you give. If you can’t figure out what you care about, then you’ve got some homework to do.

You can figure it out along the way.

What matters is that you dare to face yourself. If you’ve already got a store up and running, ask yourself what it’s about. Why exactly did you get into the business? What were you hoping to achieve, aside from money? Who are you giving value to? How do you want people to feel? (“Good” is not an answer!)

Find out. Put yourself out there. Ask for perspectives and input from others who give a damn too. Refine. Adapt. Figure out what really matters to you. Figure out who really matters to you, and reach out to them. In our case, it’s retailers. (For the retailers we’ve met, it might be anybody from people who are sleep deprived, to people who want to take flight simulation to the next level.)

There are ultimately no secrets in business. It’s just pure, hard work.

The challenge is to find something that you give enough of a Damn about that the hard work involved doesn’t feel like hard work – and that’s where you’ll earn your competitive advantage.

What do you give a damn about? And how can that guide your business or career? If we all spent some time thinking about that and allowed it to show in our work, we’d have a sweeter marketplace for all.

EDIT: A short while after publishing this, we got to reading this article by KISSMetrics, where they discuss Mark Zuckerberg – and how he’s communicated clearly, multiple times, that Facebook was never meant to be a company - it was a company only because it helps to accomplish it’s mission of a more connected world.

The people there give a Damn.

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Visa is a serious internet addict, with a passion for clear thinking and good writing. He hopes to enjoy a glass of whiskey onboard a commercial space flight someday. He's very proud of having been twice named a Top Writer on Quora.