Entrepreneur Philosophy: Give Time, Talent, and Treasure to the Community

entrepreneurs should give
What Can You Give?

Before we launched Traughber Design, I put a lot of thought into what kind of company I wanted.  I wanted a company that gave back to our clients via high quality craftsmanship, but also wanted some of the profits to flow to its employees (currently an Army of One) as well as the community.  I wanted that entrepeneur philosophy to be embedded in the company DNA from the very beginning.  The first 2 years of operation we invested heavily in tools and ran at a loss which I had fully expected, but here in year #3 we are going to turn a profit and it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and execute the vision we had at the beginning.  So this year we are going to invest a portion of our profits in the local community.  A percentage of the proceeds from our first commission has been set aside to sponsor a sports team at the local high school.  As future commissions roll in, we will disburse that same percentage of our revenue to other causes.

We all have time, talent and treasure.  Some of us have more time than money, while others have more money than time.  If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, have you thought about giving your time, talent, and treasure directly in your community, if you are not already?  For example, in our local church we have a ministry called Helping Hands of Grace where we serve dinner to the homeless on Friday nights during the winter when the need is greatest.  Several other churches sponsor different nights of the week.  What we are finding is that those service nights at our church get signed up for very quickly by the various small groups in our church.  People want to help their fellow man and are being intentional about serving on those Friday nights.  Events like those are a great opportunity to give your time to others.  If you would like to serve by giving your time, consider contacting your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or church for opportunities.

Earlier, we wrote a post about John Rockefeller and his keys to success.  One of the things we didn’t write as much about in that post, was his struggle after he become very wealthy to find his way in philanthropy.  Setting up a foundation to distribute wealth was a new thing back then and he had to basically invent the model which is used today by some of the large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation, but had a difficult time deciding how it should be run, who should get the funds, and how to ensure the receiving organizations had a sustainable model.  One of the first large efforts he started was establishing the University of Chicago, but he fought with the leadership because they weren’t broadening their donor base and weren’t (Rockefeller felt) being frugal.  Rockefeller didn’t want the receiving organizations to be solely dependent on his foundation.  Of course, when he was a young man he didn’t know he would have this “problem” of distributing extraordinary wealth, but now that we have his example and the example of others, we can incorporate this thinking about giving early on when we craft our entrepreneur philosophy.

It is up to each person to consider what is appropriate for them.  To whom much is given, much is required.  If you’ve launched an entrepreneurial venture, have you thought about who your stakeholders are and who should benefit if your venture is successful?  Should it be solely you?  Your employees?  The community?  All of the above?  In what proportion?

I think some of the most important questions a founder can ask themselves are:

“Why am I starting this enterprise?”
“Who are the stakeholders?”
“How can I support them?”

In addition to philanthropy, an entrepreneur should give back to its employees.  I did another of our entrepeneur interviews last week (we’ll be publishing that interview soon), this time with the owner of Better Display Cases, John Johnson.  He is giving back to another group of stakeholders, his employees.  Here is a veteran who just retired, started his own company and already has two employees and is looking for a third.  Business is booming and he is giving back to the community by providing good jobs here in Northern Virginia.  BTW, if you’re looking for work, contact him at his website here.

Another great example of giving back to employees is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments.  Dan is a very thoughtful guy and was troubled by the stories from his employees of struggling to get by in a high cost city.  He was making over $1 million per year and thought it was unfair that he had it so good, while his employees were struggling.  He decided to set a “minimum wage” of a $70,000 annual salary for every employee including himself (you can read all about it here in Inc. Magazine).  The reason he picked $70,000 is that studies have shown $70,000 will meet most families’ needs and your marginal happiness does not increase much above $70,000 no matter how much you make.  As you can imagine, his employees were shocked and overjoyed.  They were so ecstatic that they bought him a new Tesla last year which you can read about here.

My point is, in both Johnson’s and Price’s cases they have thoughtfully considered who the stakeholders are in their enterprises.

So we’ve discussed giving of time, talent, and treasure to two groups of stakeholders, the community and employees, but not much about the third, yourself.  This goes back to that earlier question of why you’re starting the enterprise.  Are you seeking a certain level of income?  Self-fulfillment?  Something else?  In my opinion, if you take care of your clients, employees, and community, your needs will be taken care of organically.  Those stakeholders will support you, if you support them.

These philosophy discussions are best had before launching the venture or early in its development, because once it’s launched you are going to be unbelievably busy as I saw at Better Display Cases this week.  John and is two employees are really hustling to fulfill orders and have boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in the entire building.  They receive large shipping containers from China monthly and race to unload the containers and deliver their products to all their customers.  John’s time to have these philosophical discussions now is extremely limited.

Along those lines, seek out mentors who are farther along the entrepreneurial path who can share what they’ve done.  It may not be exactly the correct path for you, but will help clarify your thinking (check out our blog post here on Stoic philosophy for more on clarity).

Time to get back to the shop and work on that black walnut gun cabinet commission, so we can give back more ; )

Teach a Man to Fish and He Can Eat for a Lifetime: Lessons for Woodworkers and Entrepreneurs

custom baseboard molding
Custom Baseboard Molding

We’re putting the finishing touches on the kitchen after having painted all three floors of our house in preparation to sell it and downsize. One of the minor projects in the house was to install a small piece of baseboard molding near the refrigerator (see picture). Unfortunately, the original piece was missing and not to be found around the house. A few years ago I would have driven to one of the big box home improvement stores to try and find a match. Now, I just cut my own. A woodworker with a good router table, a selection of router bits, a miter saw, and table saw can knock something like this out in a few minutes. That’s the joy and beauty of learning new skills in woodworking (or learning to fish). We don’t have to buy pieces like baseboard, but can create any length, with any pattern at the top, with any angles at the end.  We didn’t get there by accident, though.  We had to learn to fish by continually building new skills, insourcing, and enjoying the ride.

Continually build new skills

How does one learn to fish in woodworking (or entrepreneurship, or life for that matter)?  There are several methods such as taking a short class, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, or being mentored by someone else.  With explosion of the Internet over the past several years there are so many different ways to accelerate our journey up the learning curve.

Several years ago, a very popular business book came out called the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  One of the habits Covey talks about is sharpening the saw.  His analogy is that you wouldn’t spend all day trying to saw down a tree with a dull blade.  You’d stop, sharpen the saw, then quickly do the job.  Why don’t we always do that in business?  Sometimes, we need to just step away and sharpen that saw (or build new skills) before moving on with a project.

That skill to rout a baseboard didn’t come about by magic.  I got some hands on training at the Festool Ubershop in Beltsville, Maryland from Brian Graham when I bought some of my Festools.  Another great way to spin up quickly is to take a class at Woodcraft.  Typically these are night classes and only last 4 hours or so.  I’ve taken great classes on pen turning, raised panel cabinetry, and bowl turning.  If there is something you always wanted to learn, or something that will help you build a business, set aside the time to learn via a class, video or podcast.

Speaking of mentorship, I’m working my way through the massive biography of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow called Titan, The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and there are several examples of J.D. learning to fish. For those who aren’t familiar with Rockefeller, he was the head of Standard Oil in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At one point he was the richest man in the world.  His long road to riches started as a humble assistant bookkeeper. Someone mentored him on bookkeeping and he said in an interview that bookkeeping skill was the bedrock for his future success because it gave him insight into how well (or poor) a business was doing.  The numbers didn’t lie when he evaluated businesses to acquire.  There are so many great lessons learned for woodworkers and entrepreneurs from John D. that we’ll have an upcoming blog post on him.

Insource

In our travels around Asia for work, a colleague of mine, Rich Davis, pointed me (thanks, Rich) to a blogger named Mr Money Mustache (aka “MMM”) whose blog is about financial independence.  I can do without MMM’s F-bombs, but he does have sage advice for those striving for early retirement and one of his tenets is to do the work around the house yourself rather than hiring it out.  This is contrary to the current rules of engagement that say we should hire everything out that we can.  Is this a contradiction with the last post about only doing what only we can do?  I don’t think so.  During my command tours in the Air Force, I delegated tasks and mentored my Airmen because it built their capacity.  In addition, I couldn’t possibly do everything myself.  At home, by outsourcing I’m supporting a local business, but I’m not necessarily building capacity of someone who has done that skill for a very long time.  On the flip side, if I do the work myself I am definitely building capacity because I am not as skilled in as many trades.  I’m pretty comfortable with carpentry, but have a long way to go in installing electrical wiring, or installing plumbing, for example.  Insourcing is building my family’s capacity.

A great example of this is in the book by Ashlee Vance that came out in 2015 about Elon Musk.  Musk owns Tesla, Space X, and Solar City.  One of the striking things about Space X is that Musk decided to insource much of the work that normally would have been outsourced.  He would tell a young engineer that the engineer needed to design and build a particular part and give him or her what seemed like an impossible deadline.  Why?  Think of the incredible capacity in that one engineer that now not only knows how to design a part on paper or on the computer, but can actually manufacture it.  Incredible.  Another reason is that it gave him much more control over the design and precision of the part.

Going back to the household example, if I can do it, why wouldn’t I?  I spent many summers painting to make money for college.  Why would I hire someone else to paint my house?  I can do it with just as high a quality for probably less than a tenth of the cost, especially when I leverage the free teenager labor in our house.  They love to work on Dad’s projects.  Ask Mitch about tiling the basement if you see him ; )

Enjoy the ride

The last main point is to enjoy the ride.  A couple years ago I read a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft:  An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford.  Crawford writes about how we have lost the experience of working with our hands.  He’s not talking about experience as in gained knowledge, but experiencing the joy of working with our hands.  Crawford got his degree then started working in Corporate America.  He realized the cubicle life was not for him, quit, and started his own motorcycle repair business.  Talk about guts.  I think Crawford is on to something as we wrote about in our post about getting in the zone and “flow state.”  In addition, most entrepreneurs realize they are in for a long gritty slog, but need to step away from time to time and enjoy the successes they have achieved so far before returning to the salt mines.  Along those lines, I think this entrepreneur is going to enjoy the ride by going downstairs to have some of that lunch Mrs Woodworker just made.

Consider learning how to fish before you start eating that fish in front of you.  It will help you in woodworking, entrepreneurship, and life.