Looking across the living room of his expansive flat in Hong Kong’s tony Victoria Peak neighborhood, Peter Hamilton spoke in the calm, slightly world-weary voice of a man who will never again worry about earning a living.
“The ones who made it,” he said, “are the ones who weren’t in it for the money. The fortune-seekers couldn’t sustain their passion through the hard times — and there were hard times.”
A British transplant who launched a Web production company in Hong Kong in 1995, Hamilton enjoyed a multimillion dollar payday after his firm was acquired by a company that later went public on NASDAQ.
He’s not alone. In interview after interview throughout Japan, Asia, and North America, successful entrepreneurs told me the same thing, in different words and in different languages: “It’s not about the money.”
What, then, is entrepreneurship about?
Here’s what it’s not about: you. It’s not about you getting rich, you proving something to the world, you struggling to overcome the odds.
Rather, it’s about you helping other people achieve their goals.
This is obvious upon reflection. Business is all about satisfying customers, and to satisfy customers, you need to help them save money, solve annoying problems, experience more satisfaction or pleasure, or earn a better living.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must help other people.
Successful entrepreneurs focus on others. Take Derek Sivers, for example. As a member of a touring band, he needed a way to make his music available to fans everywhere, all the time — not just at concerts.
But Derek and his bandmates were unattached to a major label, and big music sellers required bands to have in-place agreements with large distributors. What was a hard-working, independent musician to do?
Derek decided to set up his own modest online sales channel, and soon friends from other bands were asking for help selling their music, which he freely gave. Within a few years, his store was distributing the work of more than 90,000 artists. Ultimately it paid more than $80 million to more than 200,000 independent artists. Derek focused on helping others.
An entrepreneur’s success is proportional to the number of people helped, or the worth of that help. I’m no Microsoft fan, but Microsoft enabled personal computing for a billion citizens worldwide. That’s a far cry from today’s app-crazed startups that focus on serving trivial or even manufactured needs.
So let me propose Clark’s “About” Rule for Entrepreneurs (CARE): It’s not about you.
Now the question is, what do you CARE about?
(This essay originally appeared in a slightly different form as a guest post in the Get Rich Slowly blog.)