Lately, Julie and I have been thinking about inspiration. Perhaps it's because it's election season: Whatever your politics, listening to rousing speeches devoured by adoring audiences certainly has the effect--at least for us--of making you sit up and realize what you really care about and hope for in the future.
As small-business owners--especially with a model like ours, in which we give half our profits to charity--staying inspired is crucial. I've known plenty of people who work for big corporations and have at one time or another phoned it in. But when you work for yourself, that's not an option.
You don't have a boss. You don't have deadlines (other than the self-imposed ones). Staying inspired--well, that's all you've got.
With that in mind, I decided to interview one of the most inspirational people I know--lucky for me she's also my business partner. When we worked together as editors at Fortune magazine, Julie was legendary for descending on the offices and whipping people up into a state of excitement about a new project or new idea she was passionate about. Her enthusiasm was always infectious. Julie has a way of turning adversity into opportunity and always seeing the best in people that, I'm proud to say, has truly rubbed off on me over the past two years. Her outlook has helped our partnership--and our company--thrive. I spoke with her about what keeps her inspired.
You seem like one of those people who always just wake up with a smile on their face, but I know that can't always be true. How do you manage to keep such a positive outlook?
Keeping things in perspective is really important. If you can think about how you as an individual fit into the whole scheme of things, it definitely helps keep personal stresses in check. I think it's also really powerful for us to keep on top of current events and the challenges our nonprofit partners are working to solve around the world. We haven't been able to visit all of them in action, but reading about the work that the IRC and CARE are doing in Somalia or the structures in Haiti that Archictecture for Humanity is building gives us such huge motivation to keep striving to grow Altruette and help spread the word about their amazing work.
I've always admired the way you inspire everyone else we work with, from the freelancers we bring on board to the nonprofits we're interested in partnering with. What's the secret?
It's really simple: Be honest and genuine. We started this company to really help people. If we wanted to just make money, we would have created a line of widgets that help only us. But I really believe in the product we're making, and I believe in our mission of raising the profile of causes big and small. We've been inundated by requests from nonprofits wanting us to make charms for them, and that always motivates me to keep working, keep growing so that one day we can help them all. When we're talking to a new charity or a new potential hire, I think they sense our enthusiasm in our voices; they can't help being inspired. It's easy to get people excited. They love our mission. It's not a big sell!
Carol Loomis, the first female writer at Fortune (who's still doing amazing work there some 50 years later), has always been such a powerful figure to both of us. More recently, our friend Ellen Gustafson, the co-founder of FEED and now founder of the 30 Project, has been an amazing source of advice and motivation. Who else inspires you?
Entrepreneurs who do well, then keep doing good. Paul Newman was a pioneer with Newman's Own, which continues to do amazing work. The company has given more than $330 million to charity since 1982. TOMS Shoes and WarbyParker, for building charity into their business models in such a smart way. We've always been inspired by Nordstrom because of its commitment to customer service. It has always taken the long view--don't make a sale, make a customer for life, which is exactly what we're committed to at Altruette. Another one of my favorite companies is Target, because of its philanthropic initiatives--for decades, it has donated around 5% of its pretax profits to charity. It supports reading programs across the country, rebuilds libraries at disadvantaged schools, provides grants to help schools send their students on field trips.
One of the things I've learned from working with you is that rejection isn't a terrible thing--in fact, it can be a huge motivator, and as we've seen, no doesn't always mean no, does it?
It's true! It all goes back to believing in our mission. I always keep in mind the validation we DO get. People we've never met across the country are online buying our charms, learning about our causes, and they love our brand. We don't do much advertising, and so the fact that Alturette has taken off virally reminds us that even if we get one no, we get dozens of yeses. Also, I really believe that every failure teaches us something. As a small business, of course you're going to hit roadblocks. If you knew everything at the outset, you would have launched a big business! I take it all as an opportunity to learn something. For example, we did our first trade show recently, and it was not exactly a home run. But we realized that we had made a tactical error in presenting our story: We had lots of images and displays of the jewelry but no photos that told the story of the nonprofits our jewelry benefits. That's what sets Altruette apart, and we needed to visually tell that story. It's a mistake we won't make again!
Let's face it. As we've seen this political season, some people are just naturally more gifted at inspiring others. If you're not a natural but still have employees who are hungry for that leadership and vision, is it something that can be practiced or learned?
That's a good question. I guess I'd say that if you believe in something, it comes naturally. If you're having a hard time finding inspiration, you're probably in the wrong profession. Everyone is passionate about something. Keep searching till you find what you love, and you'll find a way to make a living.