Living Without Love

It’s a hard lesson, but you don’t go into business just to make a fortune. You don’t go into business to be trendy. You go into business to do business, because you’re committed to the business. Because you love the business you’re in.

All this bears repeating now that the phrase “dot-com” has gone from a blessing to a curse. Companies that were eagerly putting “e-” or “i-” or “.com” into their company names last year are now being told by the investment bankers to take ’em off.

Stocks involved in e-tailing have fallen and can’t get up. Wal-Mart’s stock continues to be worth 1.45 times its sales, roughly the ratio of a year ago. For CD-Now, which is still looking for a buyer, the ratio is 72 cents in sales for each $1 of equity.

At times like this, with your options underwater, with investment bankers looking down their noses at you, and with comedians making fun of you, it’s important to remember why you’re doing this.

My own mind goes back to last fall, to a speech by eToys founder Toby Lenk to the Forrester Marketing and New Media Forum. At that time, Lenk was at the height of his power. He could have lectured his Fortune 500 audience about how smart he was, or how dumb his competitors were. He could have strutted and ranted and beaten his chest. I know of several e-tailing executives who would have (and so do you).

Instead, Lenk talked about kids. He talked about the interplay between parents and kids that leads to toy purchases. He talked about the challenge of building a business that can appeal to both audiences. He talked about listening to his customers, and learning to ship his toys in plain brown boxes so the kids wouldn’t catch on to Santa’s secrets.

Lenk also played some of his commercials; the ones where parents watch their kids playing and get that “ah ha” moment of what will make that play better, then go to the eToys site to get it, and finally enjoy the toy with their child.

I watched Lenk’s face as he watched these commercials he’d probably seen 100 times before. His smile was a mile wide, and his eyes were a bit misty. He wasn’t acting. The point is Lenk cares, not just about the stock and the business, but the end result.

I learned something similar from Jay Abraham a few months ago, when he came to Atlanta and addressed a marketing meeting. He had given such lectures all of his life. The size of the crowd was a little disappointing. I know he wasn’t selling as many copies of his book as he would have liked.

To me, some in the audience seemed argumentative, small-minded, and even dumb. But Abraham gave each of them his biggest smile. He listened closely to their stories. And he laughed at their jokes. He stayed in the moment and in the process throughout the day. The veneer didn’t crack, because it wasn’t a veneer. He was doing what he loved, and loved what he was doing.

Hard times don’t call just for hard men (and women). They call for passionate men (and women); people who aren’t working for the money, who care about what they’re doing and see the end result as pleasing to others, not just their bankers. It’s something worth remembering during this long hot “dot-com” summer.

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