In the entrepreneurial world, it seems like we’re constantly hearing about how important knowledge is. We’re given recommendations about the latest books to read, which news sources to follow, and so on. After all, it’s why people like you and me visit sites like this, we’re always looking for some new industry knowledge that will help us get to the next level.
But the more I’ve reflected on my own experiences, the more I’ve come to realize that knowledge isn’t the be-all end-all we sometimes crack it up to be. Pretty much anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship can find informative articles online or conduct research so they can gain knowledge.
While knowledge is definitely an important baseline, I’ve found that for many of the best entrepreneurs, what really makes the biggest difference is kindness. It may sound trite, but many of the most successful people I know got to where they are today in large part because they followed the golden rule.
To help add to my own thoughts on the subject, I spoke with my friend and fellow entrepreneur Jason Bliss, co-founder of Healthy Living Network. As someone who specializes in providing quality medical care for the elderly, Bliss has definitely seen how kindness plays a role in entrepreneurial success. Being nice may not sound like the go-to strategy for success, but it has a much greater impact than you’d think.
Quite often, the success of a startup depends in large part on the people you bring on board to help it grow. Your cofounders can bring in outside knowledge and experiences that make up for your own weaknesses, or help you implement your vision with their passion and drive. Kindness will help you make a great first impression, but it needs to last longer than that.
While these relationships start out with everyone excited about the new direction of the company, unhealthy conflict often tears them apart. The result?
It’s estimated that 65% of startup failures can be attributed to cofounder conflict.
As Bliss notes, “Conflict is inevitable when working with a group of passionate individuals. But it’s important that when these situations come up, you take a step back and react with kindness rather than aggression. Try to see things from their perspective so you can find a solution that works for everyone. Don’t give in to pointless bickering. Belittling comments and other passive aggressive behaviors are just as likely to tear your partnerships apart as a big shouting match.”
Nobody wants to work with a jerk, and this applies to partnerships with people outside your own company, too. If you want to grow your business with the help of others, you have to treat them with respect.
Otherwise, they won’t stick around for the long haul, and you’ll find yourself missing out on the insights and knowledge they would have brought to your team. Worse still, the costs of constantly trying to replace your top talent will quickly eat away at your bottom line. It’s a lot cheaper to be kind.
Of course, treating others with respect and kindness doesn’t just apply to how you treat your employees or business partners. It also plays a direct role in how you should interact with your customers.
After all, the customers are the true building blocks of your business. You may not interact with them directly, but they’ll know when you aren’t treating them right. As Sharon Salzberg explains, “Kindness isn’t about just being nice or polite, but about a sense of ethics.”
Sure, being polite while speaking with someone on a sales call will help you gain new customers, but it’s how you treat someone after they’ve handed over your cash that really makes the difference in the long run. Customers want—and deserve— to be treated fairly.
For example, take a look at the response after Apple admitted that it had been intentionally slowing down the performance of older iPhones. Despite the company’s efforts to fix the situation, lawsuits have since been filed and Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment even went on to say, “Apple has incurred huge reputation damage from the battery-throttling issue that will likely linger for years.”
Bliss notes, “When customers pay for your product or service, they’re not just giving you their money. They’re also giving you their trust. If you betray the basic ethics of how you should treat your customers in an effort to gain a little extra money, you’ll only hurt yourself. Once you’ve lost someone’s trust, it can be nearly impossible to win it back.”
You definitely need knowledge and business savvy to become a successful entrepreneur. But that knowledge won’t get you very far if you don’t treat business partners and customers with the fairness and respect they deserve.
As Bliss explains, “Kindness may not help you develop killer software, but it should be the basis of everything you do with your startup. When you let kindness guide your business decisions and the way you interact with others, you’ll be far better equipped to achieve success.”
Don’t just be polite. Be honest and respectful.
Treat others with integrity, no matter how tempting it might be to take another path. Sticking to the ethical and behavioral high ground will ultimately take you further than knowledge alone ever would.