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Posted: April 16, 2009

Success: It’s not all about you

Why having purpose is a key component to success

Brian Schwartz

Entrepreneurs are driven by a consuming passion. It gives them the power to push through the hardest times and to make it through the lows. 

But most successful entrepreneurs also possess something else: a purpose that is bigger than themselves.

In researching my book, "50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs," I first began learning about the importance of purpose when I interviewed David Schwaab of Longmont-based Rebit, which makes backup devices for PC hard drives. Schwaab told me that it was not until he let go of the idea behind Rebit and allowed others to share in the ownership of the idea and the company that magic started to happen.

He stepped back and saw the greater impact of the company and the difference it was going to make and the problems it would solve. In December, Rebit landed a $5.7 million round of funding.

In Michael Gerber’s book "Awaken the Entrepreneur Within," he calls having purpose as “an impersonal goal."  An impersonal goal is one that ultimately is not about you. It’s about the impact the idea and the organization built around that idea will have on the world. If you know in your heart that what you do is making a difference, the impact your ideas and actions have on others will fuel your ambition.  

Why is that? When the goal becomes impersonal, you are able to let it go and give it away. Some key indicators that you are beginning to uncover an impersonal goal are:

• You are no longer attached to the outcome
• Others are drawn to the idea and offer support and suggestions
• It lights you up when you see the impact it has on others
• The larger cumulative benefit to others outweighs the single benefit to yourself


An example of this concept can be seen in the open source software movement. Wordpress.org provides an apt illustration. Matt Mullenweg has brilliantly grown Wordpress to become an international phenomenon. One in 10 webpages on the internet today is built on the Wordpress platform. Over 150 developers volunteer their time to further Mullengweg's vision, which was born only a few years ago.  Mullenweg is quick to admit that while he may have started the ball rolling on Wordpress, the success of it is owed to the community of volunteers who have taken it far beyond anything he could have ever imagined.

Apple also gets the idea. They give away the developer software for the iPhone so that others can use the framework to build new solutions for it. Few would argue that part of the growing appeal of the iPhone is its applications.

Purpose creates energy, and the more people who share a singular purpose, the more powerful it becomes. Soon, I’ll be interviewing Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing Company, and I expect I'll learn than one of the keys to success at New Belgium is its more than 300 co-owners, who are unified toward a single impersonal goal.

I hope you begin to see that when you give up and let go of an idea, company, mission or organization, that you give it the room it needs to grow naturally.  Every idea that has "gone viral" on the Internet began the moment one person was willing to give it all away.

Everyone's heard the phrase “If you love something, let it go.” When you apply this philosophy to your business, it will no doubt fuel your success beyond your wildest dreams.

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Brian Schwartz is the author of "50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs." Click here to learn more about Schwartz and his project.

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