Jeff Hoffman’s career has provided him with many hats to wear: successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, Hollywood film producer, and a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album. Jeff has had various roles in companies large and small, along with being the founder of multiple startups. Along the path of this career, Jeff one day noticed a sign that said “You may be successful, but will you matter?” Along with the concept of using your career to make a difference, that is the essence of Jeff’s contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom.
Conventional wisdom in the entrepreneur world states that you can either be someone who cares about doing good - i.e. a social entrepreneur - or you can concentrate on making money. In Jeff’s experience, however, this is not a binary decision - the two elements are not mutually exclusive. Your product may not change the world, but your life should: the results of your effort - what you do with your success, your life, your time - can make the world better around you. In Jeff’s mind, the definition of “mattering”: how many other people’s lives have you made better?
To think of this concept another way, money is often required to make a difference, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about being successful, as long as your success leads to positive change around you. The benefit you find from using your time to help someone else cannot truly be quantified. The story Jeff shares is of spending time with the elderly who did not seem to have anyone else to keep them company. More specifically, he regularly took one woman to a local diner because all she wanted was a piece of pie. It became such a joy for her that her caretakers at the nursing home described her as “counting the days until pie day.”
Jeff’s experience sharing his time with the elderly clarified something for him: entrepreneurs who are only chasing money are usually the ones who quit first. People that are driven by purpose, however, far outperform those who are driven by paycheck. When you know that your efforts and your work matter, it becomes a driver for your success. This kind of confidence also becomes contagious - for potential investors, customers, and employees.
Another vivid example from Jeff centers around the successful sale of his first startup to a Fortune 500 company. He began to notice that friends and peers were treating him differently - almost negatively. Instead of celebrating the success of the sale of his first startup, Jeff became depressed and somewhat resentful of his own achievements. Almost simultaneously with that feeling came a news story about a local shelter for battered women being closed due to lack of funding, so Jeff put two and two together and was able to assist the shelter financially. The logical lesson learned is the direct correlation between how hard he worked and his ability to make other people’s lives better, so he never felt guilty about making money again.
This accidental discovery became a financial and career philosophy, and also began to permeate his own company culture. They developed a system to take a percentage of their sales and put it into a pool, then allow the employees to decide as a team where to direct those funds (or the time that they can support). They call it the community project account. The philosophy Jeff created for himself became contagious for his team - a bonding exercise that a standard work environment could never provide.
Culturally, the end result was a stronger team of respectful, collaborative individuals. Jeff’s experience is the ultimate instance of leading by example - creating a personal philosophy powerful enough that it became influential for his team and helped strengthen/grow his business.