Why Do We Do Our Best Work For Free?

Why do we do our best work for free?

The question has been sitting in my mind lately as I contemplate the current entrepreneurial climate in addition to my current situation.  I don’t have a job – I own a company.  As an un-funded startup at the moment we are not paying any salaries to anyone on the team, thus we are working for free.

Let me say it another way: we are working long and hard hours, quite often late into the night or early into the morning, and doing it all for no money at all (well, none right now anyway.)

So why do we do this?

It goes against normal human motivations, which includes the “you give me X per hour for me doing Y for you” mentality.  The thinking seems to go something like, “well, I don’t really want to show up here to do this thing each day but since they are paying me money I guess I will do it.”

That’s the workers mentality.

There’s nothing wrong with it and people who think that way are rightfully doing their duty as a family member, societal member and taxpayer.  And it allows the circle of life to continue around and around…

Fortunately or unfortunately, there is another motivation that drives human behavior and it’s called creativity.  People who are Creatives have a yearning to build and create something from nothing – to see the future before it happens and then go forth and create it out of thin air.  Often times this happens outside of work and does not originate from the “doing X for Y” agreement so the result does not create immediate monetary value for the individual.

Yet they keep doing it.

mad_scientist_at_work_come_on_in_funny_door_sign_ornament-p175291926278339191b7flz_400And more often than not this is the area they excel in their life.  It’s the area they are most excited about and can’t wait to get back to once they are off the clock if they have a day job or other responsibilities.

It’s also the area where they do their best work.

I think they do their best work in these areas because it’s driven by passion, not money. Do you think Thomas Edison clocked his hours in his laboratory?  Or looked at his watch and said to himself “phew… only one more hour and I’m free to go grab a beer with the dudes!”

No way.

The time he devoted to his craft was driven by curiosity, passion and purpose.  He was a scientist first, capitalist second, employee never.  And amazingly, he was paid handsomely for his work in the end because of the quality.  I believe this was due to the fact his motivations were rooted on his standards and not anyone else’s.

This can be said about any artist, musician, entrepreneur or individual who pursues their passion regardless of immediate returns.

I noticed this in my own life recently, as we were diligently working on some new things.  No one is paying me, expecting me to show up at a certain time or demanding the project be done on a certain date.

No one but me.  It’s my standard I am working against.  It’s my passion to work on something challenging, to see it through and learn a hell of a lot in the process.

I noticed this last night as I walked to the coffee shop where I was meeting up with my CTO.  Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything or anywhere else I wanted to be at the moment.  I had to just stop and appreciate the realization we are all not quite so different than Thomas Edison cranking away in his laboratory.

And the craziest thing about it is the fact that when we hold ourself to the highest standard possible, we tend to deliver a high quality finished product.   To do otherwise would be to go against your very self, against your own standards and integrity.

This is when you know you are onto something and in due time you will see the rewards.

If you want to do high quaility work, do it for free.  And when you start to work for free you may eventually be surprised at who will pay you handsomely.

Everything In Business is a Test

Test.  Test.  Test.

Everything in business is a test.  The good ol’ days – writing a business plan, pitching for investment, building out a product for the exact market stated in the business plan, launching the product through a large budget Launch strategy – those days are over.

As an entrepreneur, you should now consider yourself a scientist.  Your job now is to run as many tests as possible, with the least amount of expenses to find mass adoption of your product.   The tests should start in the ideation phase and shouldn’t ever end.  The single worst thing you can do now as an entrepreneurial is have one idea and do everything you can think of to bring that specific idea to market.  Start with a problem area and test ideas around it.

Test for consumer problems

What problems are present in which you can bring a solution to market?  The best businesses solve a problem consumers have (or didn’t know they had but now realize life is better with your product).  I heard the other day: You cannot just ask consumers what they want – they do not know.  But if you observe and test them, their actions will lead you to holes that need to be filled.   Inefficiencies will present themselves.  Great entrepreneurs see these inefficiencies early.

Test for Product/Market fit

tubesOnce a problem is found and a solution has been built, the real work starts.  Take it from me, your first attempt will not be the golden fit and you will have to re-align somethings.  Call it pivot, call it whatever you want… it will happen.  I don’t know why we are making such a big deal about pivoting, great entrepreneurs constantly pivot their ideas until they get the right market fit.  Ask Edison, he pivoted like 5,000 times…

Test for Business model

How to make money is the question every company must face.  I believe this is an area a startup must test early and often.  This question should never have just one answer.  Small tests on business model, payment options, advertising (I know… I know….) and other methods of creating revenue.  It’s just a test.  Do some A/B testing on a select group on users.  Release a payment option to 1% of users and see what happens.  You might just discover your next big innovation and create a new billion dollar industry.

Test for Perseverance

Ask any founder of a startup (still running) and they will have hours of talking on the subject of perseverance.  The startup experience will test you and your perseverance.  Just don’t give up.  Do anything you can think of to put off the quitting of your vision.  Read Delivering Happiness by Zappos Tony Hsieh to get an idea on Perseverance.  I had no idea they went through the hell they did with their startup.  You need to read this book if you are a founder of an early stage company not knowing if the future is bright or bleak.

Test for leadership

I laid out the importance of brand and company leadership expansively in my last post The One Thing That Separates Apple From Microsoft.  Suffice it to say I think this is the most underrated, under-talked about, overlooked but most important aspect of building out your long term brand.  You must answer he question: Why are consumers going to want to use my product?  Believe it or not, it will be due to the leadership of the company CEO.  Test your leadership skills early and often to find the right connection with general consumers.

Test for Funding

Investors don’t tell you this, but they are testing you at every stage of the game.  First time you meet them at a “social event” they are testing your IQ and your EQ (your social intelligence) to see if you are someone they would even want to take an interest in.  Next time when you meet for a pitch, they will test your concept and your perspective on the market.  When they don’t call you back, they are testing your perseverance.  When they give you money, they are testing your ability to turn X into 10X.  If you pass that test, you will most likely be able to get money from them anytime thereafter.

I could go on… but I think you get the point.  If you thought your tests were over after graduation, think again.  They only have just begun.  Embrace the test.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Canyon289