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Entrepreneurs Should Realize There Are Absolutes in Life Other Than Death and Taxes

by: Geoff Ficke

The great Founding Father, Diplomat, Scientist, Inventor and Writer Ben Franklin once so presciently said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain beside death and taxes”. This most famous bromide has been restated endlessly in every possible venue since the great man first uttered the phrase. It is an absolute of the human condition that is so obvious as to seem almost trite.

I used to utilize the quote myself. As my life, experiences and career has entered their fourth quarter, however, I have expanded on the phrase and the paramount certitude of death and taxes in our lives. Several additional phrases that I have regularly encountered have brought me to doubt their veracity and the trustworthiness of those utilizing the lugubrious language contained therein.

The first is “I am an honest man”. Whenever I hear those five words I put my hand on my wallet. An honest person would never have to state these words in order to confirm their honesty.

Next is when adults imply “It’s for the kids”. Virtually never have I ever heard adults beatifically working for the kids unless there is some benefit involved that enhances their position. Think teachers unions. Think government programs. Think foster parent programs that have become income subsidies. There are certainly adults who rejoice at the opportunity to volunteer, mentor and work with kids. Wonderful people all. However, they usually do not self-promote and seek funds that are really for them and not so much “for the kids”.

Finally, I run when I hear the phrase “it’s not about the money”. I hear this one a lot in my work. When I hear these words, it is in actuality almost always about the money. And if it is not it usually should be.

I am a serial entrepreneur. For many years I have helped inventors, entrepreneurs, small businesses and licensors fund, market and develop a wide array of consumer products. I am always amazed when a prospective entrepreneur states that they are not seeking to profit from their idea but want to help society, employee their neighbors, aid their community  or some other vanity they prefer to the pursuit of commercial success.

Do not get me wrong these are admirable sentiments. But only after success is achieved, profits made and growth occurs. Then the opportunity to dispose of the fruits of one’s labor is an option that can bring wonderful personal and societal rewards.

John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Thomas Pew and John T. MacArthur are famous examples of successful industrialists that have been dead for decades. While alive they created vast wealth by driving thriving business empires that employed thousands of people. Their companies prosper to this day. And though long
deceased, their charitable foundations perform inspiring good works in many fields of endeavor such as museums, medical research, cultural entertainment and caring for the less fortunate. Without profit, money, none of these benefits would still be happening today.

I am amazed when a person seeks funding for a project that includes a statement of disinterest in a profit motive. Venture Capital is in the business of profit. The realistic potential for Return on Investment is the tent pole upon which projects are seeded and nurtured to fruition.

Most projects that we review make unrealistic revenue and profit projections on the high side. However, not a small minority seek a funding round with the upfront proposition that the project is about some form of social activism, not the earning of profits. There are other avenues that social entrepreneurs can follow to realize these dreams. But if it’s “not about the money” it is not likely to achieve success.