How We Turned Down Over $100,000 in Revenue — And Profited.
The benefits of running a Conscious Business aren’t always the ones you’d expect.
2 weeks into starting my new job at Convert, I found myself on one end of a Google Hangouts call trying, in vain, to hold back tears.
But it’s not what you think.
It wasn’t new job stress, or first month jitters. Something big was on the line, but nothing had gone wrong.
I was crying on my end of a Google Hangouts call because something had gone right.
And I was genuinely moved by it all.
Holacracy and Conscious Business: Beyond the Buzzwords
Let me back up.
I came to Convert in mid 2016 to fill a new role as a “Holacracy Bootstrapper.”
Or, “the person who teaches the team about Holacracy.”
Or, “the person who teaches herself about Holacracy, and then makes it work for the team.”
Essentially — I’ve got the responsibility of making sure that Convert, an A/B software company, implements this self-organizing structure so we can grow organically. A challenge, to be sure.
But Convert isn’t like other holacratic companies. We’re a team without a set location or office space. We’re 100% distributed — which means (for now) 12 countries, 8 time-zones, a diversity of culture, different languages, and countless perspectives. It’s something we’re proud of, and it’s taught us different ways to work.
What we’re doing is pretty ambitious. We’re trying to grow a business with no one “in charge” … and everyone “in charge”. Everyone is accountable to themselves, the team, the work and Convert’s Purpose. Everyone has an equal say in company decisions.
Fortunately, despite of those different backgrounds, and despite the lack of traditional structure, there are some things that brings us together. One of them, is our Conscious Business model.
Before I came to Convert, our values and our goals as a Conscious Business were already laid out. And I loved and respected them. I knew they were more than just something because of my interactions with Dennis.
But I didn’t know at the time how deeply and how personally they would affect me.
Two weeks into working at Convert, I was moved to tears on a Google Hangouts call — holding myself together during one of our full team meetings. Just before that, I was in a call with one of our sales members.
Nothing stood out to me at first. As I was chatting with them, they began to tell me about a prospect that had requested a demo. It was only at the end our call that it clicked why I knew this name.
And I was shocked.
Do you know who these guys are? I asked our sales team.
And they didn’t. The potential lead was from a nationally infamous US organization, and we are an international company that doesn’t focus on US domestic issues.
But I did.
We won’t name names — but the prospect was a “christian” conservative organization well-known stateside for their prejudices and homophobia. They are proudly anti-gay.
And I am very out. I am very involved in my local LGBTQ community.
This was my life.
And these were not people I could work with.
Because of Holacracy, there is an decision making process that allows everyone equal say.
I raised the flag in one of our Slack channels and then directed everyone to Asana, where we take our more in depth discussions. The team could share their thoughts, fully formed or not, and we would then end up with a worked out, collected, well-reasoned group response. I set the issue to be discussed in our next meeting.
And then, I turned to my girlfriend. And I told her: if we don’t turn down this customer, I can’t keep working here.
I’d worked in places before that talked a lot about responsibility — but when it came time to follow through, those guidelines didn’t hold weight. I’d made a decision, a long time ago, that if my work went against my personal values — it’s not the sort of work I should be doing.
And so there I was, on the line, ready to hear what the team’s “say” would be.
And they said, resolutely, absolutely: no.
We’re rejecting this demo.
We’re rejecting this customer.
It’s just not who we are.
It’s against our values.
Now I’ll be sappy — I was touched. I was floored by the strength of character, and the purpose that led us. This decision hit on something so close to who I was, and to what I’d lived. And to be in an environment where I was supported, mattered.
To be two weeks into work, and to have a major voice in a big decision, mattered. To share my opinions, my concerns, and my experiences openly, mattered. To be heard, and to be in an environment in which I was responded to, in an intelligent, productive way, mattered.
It was inspiring. It was liberating.
And it affected me — on a deep, personal level, that I didn’t expect.
And it was then that I truly realized: what having a “conscious” in business means. And it meant a lot more than a buzzword.
What being a “Conscious Business” Means to Convert
Being a Conscious Business means that we adhere to a set of values and principles. They guide our decisions. They bring our international, diverse, remote, team together. They affect us everyday.
As a team, we’ve set a list of “no”s. We don’t want to be involved in selling objects used for violence. We refuse to support customers who sell weapons of any kind.
We support animal safety. We reject projects that use animals for entertainment, or which keep them in captivity. We don’t offer our products to those who sell exotic animals.
We are, on the whole, selective with our customers. We’re in the business of helping companies succeed. So the way we make an impact, is to help the right companies thrive.
For me, our values come down to “why-are-we-still-talking-about-this” rules. The things we believe aren’t at their core revolutionary at all. We feel that all people should be treated with respect. They should be able to live freely and safely. That how freely or safely you live, shouldn’t be determined by where you’re from, or how you look, or who you love.
But it’s not always black and white. It’s not always unanimous. There are often tough conversations. And we’ve learned take team vetoes seriously.
We’ve rejected hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers within our gray areas.
Not too long ago, we had a potential customer who sold a wide range of products. But as we dove into their website, we noticed that guns were in their inventory.
Guns were by no means the focus on their business. But we decided to dive in — to analyze the effects of our potential relationship. Were guns here being promoted for sport — for ranges, for skeet shooting? Or could they cause harm? Could they be used for hunting?
It was a long conversation. It was a $100,000 contract. But as a team, we came together, and we decided: does supporting this company, and helping them succeed, fit with our values?
We decided they didn’t.
Since then, we’ve since rejected other gun sellers and manufacturers — other potential customers who don’t share our beliefs.
And those rejections? We’ve profited from them.
How we profit from running a Conscious Business
You would think that being picky with our customer relationships, and being guided by “rigid” moral rules, would be limiting — not liberating.
But it turns out, running a Conscious Business has helped us grow. Here’s why:
We get to sleep well at night.
It turns out people like working with you, when their work doesn’t betray what they believe in. We’re not a nonprofit. For us, the bottom line matters. But so do the values of every, individual team member. Our list of “no’s” — the list of customers we reject — comes directly out of what’s important to our team.
At Convert, none of us are forced to come to work, and help the organizations that operate outside of our moral standards. We know that what we’re doing is furthering what we believe in. And that’s motivating.
And when we’re motivated, we stick around. We work better. We get invested.
And having invested, excited, long-term employees makes it easy for us to grow.
We become stronger as a team.
Having difficult conversations constructively takes some skill. Having difficult conversations, constructively, on a mid-sized team, with different native languages, across continents — takes a lot of skill.
And it’s something that, at Convert, we’ve gotten pretty good at. That’s because we’ve had a lot of practice.
Having a Conscious Business, means, from time to time, having difficult conversations. We’ve learned that things can get personal, while staying professional. We’ve learned how to listen to each other, and to think critically about what’s being said. We’ve learned to respect everyone on our team as equals, and to give their opinions equal weight even if we don’t agree.
On the whole — we have values that are core to us all, so we don’t get hung up on little divisions. And we learn how to handle different perspectives, with an understanding of what, beneath the surface, is the same.
We become more confident.
It’s counterintuitive. Rejecting business should not make us more money.
But it can.
You can only turn down a big ticket customer, if you’re confident that you can find another. You can only say “no” to money coming through the door, if you’re sure there’s something bigger, and better, worth pursuing.
When we reject the customers that don’t fit with our values, we’re motivated to find new partnerships that do. We’re hungry for, and ready for, new things. And we’re secure enough to know that they’re on the way.
Conscious Business models aren’t unique to us — but every conscious business, is unique to its team. At Convert, the conscious business decisions we’ve made, have led to rewards beyond what we can measure.
So what’s the big idea?
In the end, being a Conscious Business has made us a stronger company. It’s made us better in ways we didn’t originally expect.
Looking back, it’s the reason why I’m here. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so motivated by my work. And it’s the reason why we, as a company, are motivated to grow.
Do you work for a Conscious Business? What challenges, and successes, do you face?