Welcome to a whole new business ecosystem. More venture capital dollars are being directed today toward creating clean energy systems than to harvesting fossil fuels. Organics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. food market. Seventy percent of college graduates across North America are now looking for jobs with companies that have a good reputation in corporate social responsibility.
Business as usual isn't good enough anymore. This is the dawn of a new wave of "constructive capitalism" that is smarter, more sustainable, and Internet-enabled. And it will change our world.
There is an unprecedented opportunity today to make money while doing good for the world. When we say, "doing good," we don't mean giving hand-outs. Instead, we mean running a business that makes money by rebuilding the industries that simply don't work anymore. We spent the last three years researching and writing Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money & Community in a Changing World (which is coming out this week) to map out where these opportunities are—and show people how to capitalize on them. We're excited to begin this column with Inc.com and hope to begin a dialogue with the community of entrepreneurs here.
The following four steps are a simplified process for developing the idea for a billion dollar business—a way to look at the world and zero in on a game-changing solution. You may not initially get the insane traffic an online scrapbooking service like Pinterest has gotten, but you'll build a business that has lasting value in every sense of the word.
Step 1: Pick an Industry
It may be something you have spent your life getting to know or it may be something you have been interested in following from the sidelines. It doesn't matter. There are opportunities everywhere. Once you have your industry ask yourself what fundamental need does this industry meet? Does the industry help us travel great distances quickly or does it answer the question of what we do with our trash? Today there is an opportunity to rebuild every industry in a way that does good for the world. The first step is to pick the industry you want to work in and write the core problem it solves in our society.
Step 2: Figure Out What's Broken
Does the industry rely on cheap labor from the developing world or does their business model rely on doing harm to the environment? Sometimes the answer to what is broken is found in conversations with people that have been in the industry for years and other times it is commonly understood by almost everyone. Know what is wrong with the industry, what the community says, what the industry insiders say and you will begin to understand the opportunity to make good. How could the industry's needs be met in a better more sustainable way? How could smarter processes, software innovations, new materials change the game? Where are the opportunities for reinvention?
Step 3: Find the Rebuilders
Once you begin to look, you will find people that are already working on these core questions, rethinking industries from the ground-up. They are one of your greatest assets. They may be answering the question in a different way than you envision answering it, but like you they are just beginning to figure it out—improvising, experimenting, piloting new untested methods, and answering similar questions. Get to know what they are doing, what questions they are asking, and how they are funding themselves. They will not only be a source of new ideas but also begin connecting you with a movement of others working towards the same thing.
Step 4: Figure Out Who Wins
Understanding who profits as a result of your industry's improved redesign will help you immediately recognize who will fund your work or who will eventually acquire the company you start. Who currently "wins" as a result of this industry being fixed? You can guarantee that the companies that are already firmly entrenched in answering this question are looking for the ways to recreate, and rebuild in response to our changing environment. The people who stand to profit from your redesign are the people to look to in order to pay your bills and to help you launch the next big company that makes money and changes the world.