I grew up on a farm in Idaho, raised by loving parents on a budget so tight that I sometimes went to school without socks on rather than wearing the pink hand-me-down ones from my sisters.
Money was never all that important to me until I began making a lot of it and had to figure out how to spend it. Should I take a trip to Hawaii with my wife Rachel and our six amazing daughters, or buy that new Tesla I've had my eye on? A solo adventure in Australia, where I can regroup and recharge and catch up on my reading, or a bigger and better TV?
Time and time again, experiences have proven far more valuable than things. With a little experimentation, I suspect you'll learn the same lesson when it comes to spending money on your business.
1. We're fueled by our emotions.
The single biggest factor determining how long you retain a memory is the strength of the emotions surrounding it. Ask yourself how much emotion you derive from physical possessions.
I don't mean temporary excitement, like the high of obtaining the latest smartphone, which peaks when you buy it and fades within a week.
It's true that I associate positive emotions with providing shelter for my kids, but that would be the case with a small house in the suburbs or a mansion in the hills. One might cost twice as much as the other, but that wouldn't result in twice as much feeling.
This is because merely physical possessions are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Experiences, on the other hand, age like wine. I see this playing out in my own life when I consider two of my greatest loves: fast cars and international travel.
Suppose you say to me, "OK, Levi, pop quiz: I want you to catalogue your last 10 years of travel. I want to know where you went, when you went, who you went with, and what you did. After you're finished, I want an equivalent breakdown of the cars you owned during that decade."
I know exactly what would happen. With my travels, I'd be a living encyclopedia. I'd tell you about flying my family to Mexico and renting a house near the ocean. I'd talk about the time we paid to ride horses on the beach, and describe our collective shock when the gleaming stallions of our imaginations turned out to be wretched, half-starved nags barely capable of carrying a saddle.
I'd recount the food we ate and the tours we took and the people we met on the way. It would all flood back in a heartbeat, as vivid today as it was then.
But the cars I owned? I could rattle off an accurate-ish list of makes and models. I'd probably screw the timelines up and I certainly wouldn't regale you with entertaining stories. Not because I wouldn't want to--there simply aren't enough of them.
2. Emotional fuel can propel business to great heights.
My company, Nav, began in one of the saddest office imaginable. Small, drab, and appallingly furnished, it seemed more appropriate for an art film about existential angst than the birthplace of what we hoped would be a revolution for small businesses in America.
It didn't matter. We used the money we saved on rent to acquire talent. I'll never forget those days--how the energy, humor and dedication of my new colleagues turned a dismal environment into one of the awesomest places on earth.
If you hope to build a business sturdy enough to weather any challenge, lay a strong foundation by prioritizing experiences over things. If budgetary constraints force you to choose between providing free lunch or fancy desks, go for the former.
What are people more likely to remember when they're old and grey? Will they reminisce fondly about an amazing desk they once had, or the complimentary meals that allowed them to interact joyfully with interesting colleagues on a daily basis?
The customers whose lives they changed for the better; the problems they worked creatively to solve; the leaders who challenged and inspired them--this is the stuff that lasting memories are made of.
Strive to create an environment in which a spirit of teamwork unifies and motivates your office. Orchestrate opportunities for meaningful experiences, and that brief time you came together to change the world for the better will find a permanent place in your heart.