When a Straight Line Isn’t The Shortest Path To Success

When a Straight Line Isn’t The Shortest Path To Success

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from From Impossible to Inevitable, Second Edition by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin. Copyright (c) 2019 by Pebblestorm, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and ebooks are sold.


Having a good heart isn’t enough. You need to learn how to make money to grow

your organization, whether it’s for- or nonprofit.

Avanoo is a company founded by Daniel Jacobs and Prosper Nwankpa. Daniel in particular took a roundabout journey to cofounding the com- panyincluding pit stops with orphans, artists, and Hari Krishnas.

Daniel always wanted to make a difference in the world. He used to believe (or hope) that a good heart and honorable values would be enough to create a movement that made a difference.

Now, he says he’s learned the hard way that regardless of how meaningful an organization’s vision and values are, it’s not going to exist unless its founders embrace money. Including how to market, sell, and predictably grow.

Before founding Avanoo, from 2006 to 2010 Daniel had started and run a “philanthropic technology company” called Everywun. Everywun was a volunteer platform that businesses used to give their employees ways to earn points for volunteer work. Employees could get points, for example, by planting trees, feeding kids, or fixing malaria in Africa. Those employees could redeem those points for very specific goodwill outcomes, like “use 50 points to feed a child for a day.” Businesses paid Everywun to use the service, as an employee benefit. It was a do- gooder’s dream.

But then the recession hit, and in 2010 Everywun failed. Daniel felt he’d hit rock bottom.

“I’d devoted all of my life, practically every ounce of energy, for six years, believing that I would grow something that would make a powerful, sustained impact on the world. Then it was gone. And there was a big void. It felt awful, terrible. But I also saw in that void an opportunity. When I was working on that business, I couldn’t touch any of the people I wanted to serve. Technology sat between me and the people I wanted to have as part of my community. But then when the technology was forced out of the way, I had the opportunity to be of service in a different way: with my hands, with my heart, as an anonymous helper on the ground.”

He gave away all his stuff and went off traveling in South and Central America for a couple of years.

He worked on an Argentine organic farm run by a Hari Krishna group outside of Buenos Aires. In Cordoba, Argentina, he mentored entrepreneurs and served as a foil for Mormon missionary friends. In Santiago, Chile, he lived, and made art, with street artists.

Eventually, he landed in an old Guatemalan mountain town. He helped build houses for single, middle-aged women who’d adopted orphans to live with them, so that the community could avoid having a single institutional-style orphanage.

In 2012, Daniel was in this town, surrounded by kids who had so little but who seemed happy. It didn’t make sense to him, because kids in the United States have so many resources, but so many behavioral problems—and don’t seem nearly as happy. “It struck me: I’d come to help the kids here with material resources, but people back home had just as much of a need, but of a different kind. I wondered, is it possible to support people in transforming from the inside out, in ways we can measure? And show that a transformation actually happened?”

This was an exciting question to him—exciting enough that he spent more than a year researching it. And the research led him to partner with an old friend he’d met when he was 17, Prosper Nwankpa. Together they founded Avanoo.

Daniel’s Lesson—and Aaron’s

Don’t obsess about getting to success so fast that you ignore your inherent interests, those “whispers” in the back of your head that you usually ignore as being impractical—you know, pretty much anything that isn’t about your to-do list or your immediate career and home concerns. Any- time you say, “I’d like to do X, but I can’t because of Y” imagine what it would be like if Y were not in the way. How can you pursue dreams you had when you were younger, such as moving to another country, making art, writing music or poetry, having kids, or adopting?

Those larks and quirks may be what end up helping you to success faster in the long run. Or at least they can help you stand out as a unique and interesting soul. Explore the whispers first, and then later you’ll find ways to bring them into your business life.

Aaron never thought of himself as an artist, but a year after leaving Salesforce.com, he started messing around with crayons, then colored pencils, then pastels—and later ended up drawing the sketches for business books like Predictable Revenue and From Impossible.

It might be tech news, your social feeds, or even this book that make you Compare and Despair, thinking you have to go big or go home. You may feel that working in consulting, services, a small business, or what- ever you do isn’t big, fast, or good enough.

Ignoring what others say or do, any business that works for you is perfect. You may need to explore to find out what the hell that is. And along the way, like Daniel and Aaron, maybe you’ll change your mind about how important faster growth is to you. Maybe it’ll be a much bigger, or a much smaller, deal than you previously thought.

We’re just saying if and when you decide you do want to go bigger, there are ways to do it.


Something you hear all the time in Silicon Valley is, “We’re going to change the world!” and “We’re revolutionizing the world of [insert mis- sion here]!” Great. We understand that’s exciting and that you want your mission to be meaningful. But our sense of what truly changes the world is the people who developed the polio vaccine, radio, food refrigeration, electrical systems, or inspired millions into nonviolent revolution. If you’re making a web-based sales tool, invoicing solution, mobile document syncing solution, travel app, or a new way to share pictures with people . . . maybe not so much world-changing.

Look, it’s very important for you and your team to have meaningful work. It’s not that these aren’t great things, it’s just that the world would get there one way or another without them. There are reasons Sergey Brin is working on autonomous cars and Elon Musk on unlimited solar energy.

What you can do is make Your World better by appreciating all the tangible ways you’re already helping the people you work with, serve, or inspire:

●  You can seed new companies and new opportunities for the rock stars on your team, and create a virtuous cycle of innovation. When Jason looks back at the first startup he cofounded, the management team has since spun out three new innovative venture-backed startups.

●  You can create real, new jobs for people. Truly creating new, good jobs—not just poaching engineers from other startups, which is a zero sum jobs game—but great new jobs that didn’t exist before, including jobs that provide for employees to support their families.

●  You can help buy people homes. Money is always nice, but making people enough money one way or another to buy their first home is a good thing. David Ulevitch is proud that selling OpenDNS helped his people; beyond making many of them millionaires, it helped a lot of them pay off debt, such as outstanding student loans.

●  You can advance the careers of many. Startups, if they are successful, are career accelerators for folks with smarts and chutzpah but who may have imperfect or lean resumes. You can create great managers out of people who might never have managed—make highly successful salespeople out of raw enthusiasm, make heads of support and success and more—where, without your startup, that opportunity might never have existed. And they will then go on to play leadership roles at other great companies. People on your team will go on to create their own startups, small businesses, nonprofits, and consulting practices as well.

●  You can seed other great companies and startups. I am not convinced Salesforce is changing the world, truly. Close, but not quite. But it has helped create scores of other successful companies. Without Sales- force, EchoSign would not have reached initial critical mass, would not have made it.

● You can make a great journey. Startups, companies, or teams don’t last forever. They grow, one way or another, or they die. But you can make a great journey. You get only so many trips in life. Having a great one is something everyone takes with them, forever.

Wherever you are in your journey, one thing we’ve learned in both startups and Fortune 500 companies is that, risk-adjusted, it’s probably less lucrative to do a startup. And startups aren’t even any more nimble than the best teams in Big Cos. But in a startup, it is easier to make Your World better and see it grow and happen day by day.

For more resources online go to: www.FromImpossible.com/resources.

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