It seems as if every startup has a mission statement that says they want to change the world. It states that the company will shake the foundations and have an enormous, lasting impact.
Mostly, it’s just feel-good bullshit.
The founder’s fantasy, the idea that leaving your mark on the planet should be a top priority for your startup, rarely contributes to tangible action.
I know it comes from good intentions. The world is pretty messed up.
Illiteracy, homelessness, conflict, the environment, racism, the refugee crisis, sexual and domestic violence, substance abuse, transgender rights, LBGT rights — your mission statement won’t fix these issues.
Because technology doesn’t have all the answers. Web apps with high concepts around change don’t have all the answers.
The world doesn’t need an army of Elon Musk imitators.
It needs more than big ideas about products that urge on the wheels of progress. Those big ideas could push us into the future, but they don’t help us in the now.
I want to share with you some simple, practical ways that you can make a difference.
There’s nothing complicated here. Any startup could do any of these almost immediately.
You won’t fix the Syrian crisis by doing any of this. But you’ll contribute, in a way that matters, to the lives of the people in your community. And that’s going to make the world a better place.
These aren’t sexy, they won’t make you feel like a genius visionary, but they’ll work.
Let your team be community members
You have influence.
You have influence over, at the very least, a handful of loyal employees who care about what they’re doing and who they’re doing it for. You’ve chosen them yourself, so you know how good they are.
What if you gave them more time? More incentives? More reasons to help their community?
There are some organisations who give their employees just a few hours a month of paid time in which they can volunteer, get out and give a helping hand.
It doesn’t take much from you to embrace that policy. How much are you going to miss out on if you give away two hours of a Friday afternoon to each of your team members?
Newsflash: on a Friday afternoon, those two hours are mostly going to be wasted through weekend brains anyway. Wouldn’t it be a better option to make sure those two hours go to something that matters?
Invest in education
There are hundreds of ways to do this. You can pick almost any issue that reflects the values and ideals of you and your startup. And then write a free course to release online.
Write a school program and call your local high school to ask if they’ll let you present it.
Release a free text book, funded by your company. Run a workshop or training session. Invite a local school to visit your workspace and help students learn about technology and entrepreneurship.
As long as you take a firm hand in helping to educate the wider public, particularly the students who are coming up to face a difficult and damaged world, you will have left your mark.
If your startup has any traction at all, you have a platform for communicating messages and ideas that could be used to change the minds of thousands. You have the opportunity to share information that matters.
You can use that opportunity to boost the signal of the people who are actively doing and effecting change in a positive way.
Who are the activists, the experts and the fighters who are putting everything they’ve got into a cause that matters? Can you spread the word about the work that they do, every day, with your audience your team and your customers?
Can you step away from the spotlight and let it shine on people whose entire focus is on making the world better?
Give a little
Don’t have time for any of that? Give $50 a month. Give $100 a month. To schools in your local community or overseas. Your company should be able to manage that much.
That doesn’t add up to much over a year, but I can guarantee you that it will make more of a difference than a fancy mission statement. There are organisations who work tirelessly, and with very little in the way of cash.
Don’t treat it like a PR exercise. Don’t blow your own horn, let your donation do whatever good it can, quietly and without fanfare.
You don’t have to do any of this. You aren’t obliged to. It’s not your responsibility. There’s no legal obligation, and in fact — there’s not even a social norm that could direct you.
But if you’ve ever considered that changing the world is in the DNA of your startup, or you’ve written a bullshit blog post claiming that it is, then you have a clear choice.
You can let those words be the only thing you contribute to the world. Hey, it sounds good, it looks good, and you can fantasise about being important.
Or you can take on any small actions, any simple steps that could improve your own community in a way that has meaning.