It ain’t easy being an entrepreneur, but you know that already if you are one, and you should know it if you’re contemplating going into business for yourself.
One reason entrepreneurship is not easy is reputation. As an entrepreneur, unless you are Bill Gates, you are very likely a small fish in a large pond, and few people have heard of you. If people haven’t heard of you, in my experience, they sometimes have trouble imagining what you might be able to do for them. And “what can you do for me?” is one of the primary drivers of commercial interaction.
A friend of mine here in Japan, who invented a product you unquestionably have in your home, and worked for first a giant Japanese electronics manufacturer, then a major American entertainment company, left the Fortune 200 world several years ago to lead the Asia operations of a small American entertainment industry start-up. After a year or so, over lunch, he said to me, “When you work for a small company, people don’t return your calls, do they?”
“What goes around comes around,” the saying goes, promising – in my interpretation, at least – that karmic retribution awaits those who fail to return our kindnesses.
One of my failings, I have observed over the years, is my willingness to help you if I can, when you ask, both professionally and personally. If I have the ability to help, and can find time, why not, goes my thinking. After all, if I need a hand with something at some point, you’d do the same for me. Right?
There are plenty of people who won’t lift a finger to help you, and an irritating subset of this group won’t lift a finger for you even after you’ve helped them.
A belief in karmic retribution is fine, as is a belief in the existence of unicorns, but I prefer payback, if I can possibly manage it.
A number of years ago a Hong Kong-based lawyer friend of mine told me a story about a client of his who had gotten himself arrested. This client was “not a very nice person”, according to my friend (himself no ray of sunshine), and the sort of fellow who would never return a favor. He called from jail during my friend’s dinner time, and demanded (the usual style of these types) that my friend come down to arrange bail.
My friend said, “Of course I did go down, but I made sure to finish my dinner first, then watch a television program I try not to miss. And before I stopped at the police station I made time for a couple of beers with a friend. A small victory, but sweet nonetheless.”
Another friend, an extremely successful film producer, who is also unusually (for the film business) mild-mannered, once told me he keeps a list in his office “of all the people who have f*cked me over during my career”. The list was taped up on the wall behind his desk, but, he said, “I had to take it down and put it in a drawer, because it was getting quite long, and people were asking about it.”
I’m writing this post because I’ve seen my generosity trampled on several times over the past few weeks, and I’ve resolved that I’m finished helping other people.
For a few days, anyway. Like the scorpion who stings the frog, it’s my nature.
But like my film producer friend, I do keep a list.
And I do enjoy payback.
Or at least dreaming about it.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.