It's 2019! Start A Revolution, Not A Business

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- 7 min read

“Start a revolution, not a business” is the big take-away from the inspiring book ‘Business for Punks’, by Brewdog founder James Watt.

The core of his book is the power of purpose and the sovereign power of a business revolution. In his punk manifesto James advocates that in the 21st century we should no longer start just a business, nor even a business with simply a purpose. Rather, truly progressive businesses start revolutions. They crusade against the status-quo.

In James’ own words: “Don’t start a business, start a crusade. Businesses fail. Businesses die. Businesses fade into oblivion. Revolutions never die. So start a revolution, not a business.”

He continues: “It is no longer enough just to start a business. You need a clear purpose, a mission—a reason for existing.” So, “We are not about growing BrewDog, we are about getting more people to drink great beer. Period.”

Why? “People want something to believe in, something they can relate to, and the opportunity to be part of a change, of a revolution. You need to give them that opportunity.”

This is the same rebellious, revolutionary spirit that many of our Bucket List companies manage to capture. Truly progressive businesses don’t just want employees and customers. They want to recruit crusaders to their revolution.

Actions speak louder than words

How to put this spirit into action? One company provides constant inspiration on how to do this. It is American outdoor clothing and gear supplier, Patagonia.

Patagonia is not an ordinary business. Neither is it just a business with a mission. As BrewDog crusades for great beer, Patagonia crusades for the environment (and against the Trump administration).

Patagonia is in business to save our planet. And time and time again they put their money where their mouth is (see previous blogs). In 2018, they made headlines with remarkable acts that must have cost them a lot of cash up front. Two examples made a big impact on us.

1. Save our democracy

On November 6, 2018, the day of the American midterm elections, Patagonia started a politically flavoured campaign. They closed their website and all US shops for a day—to encourage employees and customers to ‘vote for the planet’.

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With slogans like ‘When the polls open, we close’, ‘Midterms matter’ and ‘Democracy requires showing up’, Patagonia rallied their fans on the importance of voting and spreading a message to the world:

Democracy requires showing up.

Only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2014 midterm elections- the lowest since 1942. If we want to save our democracy, we need to show up and vote.

Elect leaders who listen.

Public lands and waters are at risk of being sold to the highest bidder-despite overwhelming support for their protection. Development and short-term profit are now prioritized over the health and safety of communities. That's why we need to elect leaders who will listen and stand up for wild places, and for us.

Patagonia’s campaign did not go unnoticed. It stirred a social media frenzy. Fans spread the message like wildfire. This happens when actions speak louder than words!

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2. Save our planet

Two weeks later, Patagonia pulled another surprise—one that made global headlines. It was their ‘gift to the planet’ campaign, a reaction to the corporate tax cuts handed out by the Trump administration. (US corporate tax rate dropped from 35% to 21%.)

Turns out that Patagonia was not hoping for a tax reduction. They are convinced taxes are needed to save our planet. Here are some of the powerful statements CEO Rose Marcario made in a blogpost:

Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia: "We have always paid our fair share of federal and state taxes. Being a responsible company means paying your taxes in proportion to your success and supporting your state and federal governments, which in turn contribute to the health and well-being of civil society. Taxes fund our important public services, our first responders and our democratic institutions. Taxes protect the most vulnerable in our society, our public lands and other life-giving resources. In spite of this, the Trump administration initiated a corporate tax cut, threatening these services at the expense of our planet. We recognize that our planet is in peril. We are committing all $10 million to groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis. Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet. Our home planet needs it more than we do."

Patagonia told Trump exactly where he could shove the tax cuts by calling them “irresponsible & evil”. They also announced the donation of their $10 million “tax reduction bonus” directly to grassroots non-profits focused on conservation and climate issues.

This is hardly surprising to those who know the company well. Donating money to activists fits their crusade perfectly. Since 1985, they have donated 1% of their sales (via a “1% for the Planet” pledge) to groups fighting for the planet in some way!

Business revolutions are profitable

Patagonia has never been shy about linking their brand with pro-environment activism. And they have never been shy in admitting this helps their bottom line.

They know that every penny they invest in their crusade for the planet will boomerang back to them. “Any time that we do something good for the environment, we make more money”, CEO Rose Marcario said in 2018.

This observation feels like a trip down memory lane. Research shows businesses with a strong focus on purpose make more profit (in the long term) than those solely focused on making a profit. For those not yet convinced, let us highlight again the data published in the book Firms of Endearment.

Firms of Endearment

Authors Sisodia, Sheth & Wolfe released the first edition of ‘Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose’ in 2007. Their ground-breaking research showed how firms had become extremely successful by being more than just seekers of profit maximization.

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They tracked a set of ‘Firms of Endearment’ (FoE) like Patagonia, W.L. Gore and IDEO, who were driven primarily by passion and purpose, not cash. These companies recorded tremendous success financially, as well as socially and ethically.

In 2014 the same authors released a second edition showing how their set of 13 FoEs had outperformed the ‘Good to Great’ (G2G) firms of Jim Collins by a large margin. These same companies also outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 times over 15 years!

Business revolutions and profit do go hand in hand (remember: correlation is not causation). If you are familiar with the likes of Patagonia and BrewDog you know this to be true.

In 2019 you don’t need to start a business. You need to start (or join) a revolution!

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