Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, 3pm

I’ve just spent three weeks travelling between Thailand, South Africa and the US; it’s three hours until my flight, and I want to write something.

I’ve enjoyed visiting our team, spreading our message and making sure the right people are doing the right jobs – it feels like what a CEO should be doing, and the MOHARA machine is in the best shape it’s ever been.  

While I might know we’re doing ok – we have phenomenal startups onboard, and we’re working with respected blue chip corporate partners – in every meeting, call or strategy session I find myself pushing.

I always want more from people. 

Maybe this is natural as the CEO, it’s my job to promote excellence and get the most from the team.

I’m writing this because I want to understand where this comes from; so many people seem to be on autopilot – just doing what they do. If I can understand what is driving me, maybe I can harness it better – or maybe I’m very tired after three weeks travelling and this is nonsense.

So why do I run MOHARA? Why have I chosen a hectic and uncertain life? Why do I work so hard? Why do I absorb the daily stresses and strains of a growing business?

Let’s start with things I know:

  1. I get a buzz helping other people fulfil their potential. That’s why I became a teacher, and I get excited when I’m supporting people – employees or clients.
  2. Injustice really bothers me. As a teacher, I was insulated from how people act in business – in the past eight years I’ve often been surprised by how people behave, and it often pisses me off.
  3. I want my life to mean something. I don’t just want a successful business; I want to work on stuff that matters.

#1 Helping People  

Let’s start with point one; this is easy. I think business can make people cynical, make them driven by motivations that aren’t healthy, like money.

Cash and profit are important – I’ve lived with the worry of cash flow problems, and I’ve seen businesses that don’t focus on the numbers fail. But there is a difference between carefully managing finances and being completely driven by them. I am not and never will be driven solely by making money.

The startup world reminds me of the Californian Gold Rush – the prospectors (entrepreneurs) are serviced by a huge industry (agencies, banks, office space providers, etc.) while they chase their dreams. These support services are incentivised to make as much profit as they can; they don’t dream themselves – they don’t create – they service the dreamers.

I don’t want to ‘service the dreamers’ – I want to help the dreamers succeed. 

If a startup founder calls me up I never think about how much they’re worth as a client, I think about their idea and their vision – I get excited by their sense of possibility. 

Maybe I’m naive – maybe I’m a dreamer myself, operating in a hard cold world where cash is king, and if you don’t buy into that you get left by the side of the road.

When the startup founder calls one of my team at MOHARA, I want them to forget what it means for us and think about the founder – how can we help the founder?

Because we can nod and smile and tell the founder their idea is great, before proceeding to charge them a ton of money to build a bad product that we know won’t work – if we ever start doing this I’ll just pack this in and go back to teaching.

That’s the thing with doing what we do – we have a pretty good idea what products stand a chance and which ones don’t. And truthfully most founders come to us with a product that won’t work – the good ones have the right experience, skills and mindset that can eventually lead to a strong product.

When evaluating an idea we ask: can we help turn this vision into a successful business? And if we can’t, we tell the founder.

This may be bad for business; we turn down big projects because we know they won’t work. People tell me that sometimes I need to just take the money – everyone else does. I get the point, but in the long run, I believe we have a better business if we are honest.

I have absolutely no interest in building average products or working with people that won’t succeed. I want to partner with people and work together on building something worthwhile.

This is more important to me than the hard/cold business approach that makes money at the expense of everything else.

Time to catch a plane – I am going to write about #2 and #3 later.