The Founder's Paradox: How Do You Give Away Money When You Are in Business to Make It?
January 4, 2021

The Founder's Paradox: How Do You Give Away Money When You Are in Business to Make It?

by Brian de Haaff

Entrepreneurs see opportunity where others see obstacles. You need a forward-looking mindset to see what others cannot. And you need boldness, grit, and a drive to do what others do not dare in order to turn your vision into value. You have to give everything you have to make it so — finding others along the way who want to join you and contribute their best too.

A profitable business is the result of a high-achieving team working against defined goals to deliver the most value to all involved.

Note that I added the word "profitable." It is true that every lasting company has a unique vision and mission. But a sustainable business must also make more money than is spent. It is funny how that seems like a novel idea to most technology companies today. In just about every other industry, people understand that a lasting business needs to generate profits.

Aha! was self-funded and has been profitable from the start. My co-founder Dr. Chris Waters and I focused on building a product that people would actually pay for first and a company that people would actually want to join second. We did this by committing to an approach we called "grandpa-inspired."

We thought back to the way our relatives built businesses — by delivering real value, acting with integrity, and showing a human-centric desire to create lasting relationships. Our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and knew first-hand that people need to support one another to survive. They were deeply immersed in the communities where they lived and with the people they served.

So, how do you give money away when you are in business to make it? Strive for outsized impact and recognize that money is just a tool to improve people's lives.

We believe — like our grandparents did — that those who are most fortunate have a moral responsibility to assist those who are not. Giving benefits the community and enhances the souls of those who contribute as well. We gain more from giving than we do from receiving.

This is partly why Aha! has always given back. Early on, we contributed to just a few organizations every year that supported people most in need. And our philanthropy looks a little different than it does at most for-profit companies. Being 100 percent distributed means we are able to have a broader impact than other companies do. Our financial giving is focused on the communities where our teammates live. It is hyper-local and guided by the team.

As our company grew, we were able to operationalize and scale our philanthropic efforts — which eventually became our Aha! Cares program. Recently, we announced that we raised our financial giving commitment to $350,000 for 2021. Not every business can give this generously, but you can start somewhere.

Making money has multiple benefits. The team does well and so do others who need some additional support.

Our grandparents knew that people could accomplish more together than they could alone. And they did not see giving back to their community as anything more than responding to a need that they could help meet. It is a virtuous cycle that motivates you to keep delivering value to customers — growing revenue in exchange. That is how it is possible to expand the business and support those who need it most.

A company does not exist solely to maximize profits for its owners. It exists to help repair the world, even in the smallest of ways. If you are like us, then you want to find personal success and take action to better those around you. That duality is the opportunity and it is why you build a profitable business.

Read more of The Founder's Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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