Don't Just Build a Business -- Build a Business With Soul

Don't Just Build a Business -- Build a Business With Soul
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Magazine Contributor
Former Editor in Chief
3 min read

This story appears in the August 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I just returned from the Shift Conference in Split, Croatia. Witnessing a hackathon teaches you something about soul, about youth and the bridge between the two. I don’t know if it was the ridiculous energy of 1,200 twentysomethings hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline, or the sultry, slow-moving intensity of a country trying to forge its way economically, but attending this event got me thinking about what it means to be a startup vs. what it means to be a startup with soul.

Let us take a moment to honor soul—the vital force that gives you and your business a vibe. Soul is the handshake that acknowledges that you believe and that you are present. It is the central tenet of your company culture.

It’s hard to explain entrepreneurial soul, but once you experience it, you know what it means. It’s what gives you purpose. It’s at the core of every sustained business—the ones with heart and emotion and customers who just can’t live without them. A business without soul? Flash in the pan.

I learned a lot about soul at this hackathon, which has become an annual mecca for me and my brain, which came along for the ride. It’s a lesson in the passing of soul in Silicon Valley and the rising of the machine in other parts of the world. It’s a lesson in disruption and the preservation of purpose.

Take a look at most tech startups in the Valley. They represent something we call the “dine and dash” model of economics. It can be very lucrative, but it is cold and calculating, and it lacks soul. It’s the accelerated-growth model: Get your value high, make yourself seem important and … cash out. Going corporate—being bland and predictable whilst wearing ties—is a sad byproduct of the binary economy. Sign here, and sell your soul.

I would wager that selling your soul does not create a lasting impact on the economy or, more important, our culture as a whole. Soul matters. Bland does not.

This issue has soul. Our own Jason Ankeny takes an in-depth look at 1stdibs, a company that has upended the most exclusive market of all—luxury goods—by releasing the stranglehold of traditional auction houses and making beautiful items accessible to everyone through, you guessed it, technology. Talk about soul—this is an entirely new business model based on pure passion and desire. We look at design and the guiding principles you must observe as an entrepreneur to create a brand with an authentic spirit. And we look at individuality and disruption from every angle.

What is soul? It’s the emotion you have in the moment. It’s what keeps your pulse, and that of your company, beating. It’s what keeps you kicking chairs out of frustration or joy and keeps you fearless when challenging convention.

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