The Greater Good: Entrepreneurship, Open Source, and a Better World

This article will take approx 3 minutes to read.

Last night, I was catching up with a friend who is as far from me in lifestyle outlook as you could possibly be. She is a extremely left wing type working for an environmental advocacy organization in DC. I, on the other hand, am an entrepreneur with one foot planted firmly on the right and one foot firmly planted on the left.

The conversation came to an issue that I’ve only marginally thought in great detail about. I had made the comment about how I am potentially looking to leave the DC area because, as I put it, it’s not my scene. I feel like a square peg trying to be fit into a round hole. While I certainly have political views and will sometimes voice them, my life does not revolve around politics, policy and advocacy as it does in Washington. In fact, when pressed to explain my feelings around why I dislike DC, I described myself as a regular guy wanting to live a regular life in a regular town.

Defining that more explicitly, I appreciate town like Baltimore, where I was raised and lived most of my life, because it’s filled with people who go about their normal everyday lives. No one is trying to “save the world” as seems to be the case in DC. Certainly, there are people and companies (hopefully many) who take a balanced position in life to be good stewards of the earth, energy and the planet. Certainly, many are socially conscious in how they live their lives. But it isn’t an all consuming agenda such that you find in DC.

I love Austin too. Why? Well, it is the self described live music capital of the country. On any given night, from my experience, it is not difficult to find bars that have a good live music set that is original and that doesn’t carry a cover charge. Outside of a handful of live music venues (DC9, 9:30 Club, Velvet Lounge, Madames Organ to a degree, Rock and Roll Hotel, etc) it’s hard to find a burgeoning music scene in DC.

Even with sports, which consumes a fair bit of my life, it’s hard to find supporters of the home team. No one, it seems, is from DC. They all came here with an agenda. You have to go out to Maryland or Virginia to find real hometown fans.

This is not my scene. This is not what I like. I am an entrepreneur because, first and foremost, I want to make money. When I made a break from my former corporate job, it was after becoming aware of how much my employer was billing our customer for my services and realizing that if that was how much I was worth, I could damn well do that on my own.

But that’s the crux. As entrepreneurs, our general purpose is not to do social good (though there are exceptions). Not that there is anything wrong with that. There isn’t. But entrepreneurs get our kicks from building something. From doing something. And of course, from making money. Who starts a company with the intention to not increase profit margins? You show me that entrepreneur, and I’ll show you an entrepreneur who will fail within a year.

There, of course, is a balance. Like Geoff, Beth and Kami are doing at Zoetica, there’s a balance between making money and doing good. The more I had this conversation with my friend, the more shallow I realized I sounded.

But as I thought some more, the more I realized that doing good is not something you do. It’s something you are. Based on the integrity and character of the entrepreneur, the decisions that are made, whether geared for profit or for building a product or spinning it up into an acquisition by Google, become decisions made out of the character and integrity of being “good”.

Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even what I do as an entrepreneur creating services and products around WordPress, (and yes, even sometimes writing patches for WordPress core itself) is done to make the world a better place. Even writing a book on WordPress and travelling to San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Raleigh speaking to WordPress users, developers and designers is done to extend the platform, thus extending the reach and improving on the largest self-hosted blogging platform on the planet.

Think about why this is important. It’s not just about WordPress. It’s about enabling voices. Giving those who never had a chance to speak before the opportunity to be heard. We’ve heard as recently as this week about the man who used an iPhone app to figure out how to treat his own wounds while buried under the rubble in Haiti.

The Chinese government is so threatened by web technologies, and blogging in particular, that they have banned WordPress.com in China.That is not likely to be lifted anytime soon, especially as the government lockdown and censorship of the Chinese people is thrust back into the limelight with the latest Google-China fallout.

Even the internationalization efforts in WordPress is putting WordPress into the hands of more people in more countries and making it possible for voices to be heard, not only in the United States, but in the Sudan and Kurdistan as well.

As an entrepreneur with integrity and character, even the mundane decisions that go into building a company can be seen as social good. This is not intended to diminish the efforts of those who explicitly set out to do social good, but with the right mindset, the things that make us successful can also make the world around us better.

Comments

  1. says

    Aaron, incredibly well said. (quick sidebar, Austin is an excellent choice if you ever land there). As entrepreneurs let’s not forget about the good we do by creating jobs (which many on the extreme left would derail intentionally or otherwise) or helping people to build their small & medium businesses. There is hardly a greater good than enabling someone to enjoy their freedom and chase their dreams by enabling them with the tools and knowledge they need to be self sustaining.

    These days that often means helping people build websites or helping them through the “technical” that most people are not masters of. It is noble work, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with making a profit from providing that service.

    I’d love to dispel the myth that doing social good must exist in a bubble, exclusive from profitability. They are not contradictions but go firmly hand in hand.

  2. says

    I’m not going to argue against Austin – it’s one of my favorite places on earth. In addition to the awesome music scene, it has amazing food.

    You’re right about DC being filled with people trying to save the world. Lots of people here who disapprove of your eating/sleeping/transportation choices. I once said to a couple of vegans I accidentally had dinner with that, “You shouldn’t make people feel bad over what they eat.” They disagreed. People who make the wrong food choices should be condemned.

    DC is a big city though with lots of places to avoid those types. But it sounds like you’ve made your mind about Austin or Baltimore. Good luck!

    • says

      I haven’t “made up my mind” about anywhere. I’m not moving. At least not right now. They were examples of two cities that stand in stark contrast to DC. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. says

    That’s funny you just posted this because I was just in Austin last week. Velvet Lounge was absolutely great. Food was excellent too. I hope to attend next year’s SXSW.