This weekend I started reading Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business.  Overall the book is very thought provoking and I’m really enjoying the story. 

The book is written from the perspective of Bruce Poon Tip, a Canadian entrepreneur who struggles over the course of many years to launch and build his travel business G Adventures.  Growing up, Bruce always had a passion for travel and would often go on backpacking trips to foreign countries.  Over the years as he traveled, he noticed a trend of glitzy all-inclusive resorts popping up in locations that had previously only been accessible to backpacker travelers.

Bruce disliked the all-inclusive resorts for two main reasons:

1)   When contained inside an all-inclusive resort, travelers don’t get to interact with the local people and don’t get to really experience the local culture.

2)   All-inclusive resorts are typically owned by multinational corporations that export their profits away from the communities where their resorts are located.  Rather than staying in the local community, the money from all-inclusive resorts goes to foreign corporations.

Amid this observation, Bruce also saw a market opportunity.  At the time there were only two ways to travel: backpacking and all-inclusive resorts.  No one provided an experience in between those two extremes: a comfortable, yet authentic travel experience.  Trips that were nicer than backpacking, but allowed travelers to experience the local culture, sample the local fare, and interact directly with the local people.  Best of all, this “mid tier” travel offering could allow all of the money from tourists to be reinvested into the local communities.  This was Bruce’s golden opportunity and G Adventures was born.

Bruce deeply believed that his work and his company could help change the world and he saw the positive effects first hand.  Desperately poor communities all over the world were transformed year over year by the proceeds that Bruce brought to them through his organized trips.  G Adventures also launched a foundation to support their sustainable tourism efforts and through that foundation Bruce was able to raise additional money to help the local communities that he was visiting with his tours.

Despite the fact that Bruce easily found product/market fit with G Adventures, starting his company was definitely not easy.  During his struggle to get G Adventures off the ground Bruce lived in the attic of the office, ate falafel and Doritos every day for 3 years and barely paid himself a salary (he paid everyone else before himself).  Even with this meager lifestyle there were many close calls along the way where the company almost went out of business.  Bruce had to do many desperate, crazy things to keep the business running.

If Bruce had started G Adventures just to make money, he would have given up.  Anyone would have.  There are so many easier ways to make money than to start a company.  The only reason that a person would live in a mice-infested attic eating dollar falafel and Doritos every day is because they deeply believe in what they’re doing.  They are following their heart and they are fulfilling their destiny.

Bruce believed that G Adventures was a force for good and that he was bringing prosperity to poor communities all over the globe.  He spread this belief throughout his company and placed it at the center of his company values.  Everyone at G Adventures worked harder and longer, endured lower pay and less benefits because they weren’t just doing a job, they were part of something bigger.  They were making the world a better place.

Fanatical belief in what you’re doing.  As far as motivators go: you really can’t beat it.

Fanatical Belief: The Greatest Human Motivator
  • Sure, that’s true: fanatical belief can provide “compensation” in lieu of money that helps people keep going – even unto success.

    But here’s a question – should that have been the case? If we’re designing how we want a society to work, would we choose to force Bruce to go through all of that to build the company? Or would be reallocate resources towards that type of venture to reduce the privation necessary to start that type of business?

    It’s great that some people can make tremendous sacrifices and achieve their dreams, but it’s not clear to me that this is a desirable state. Why should we laud that kind of sacrifice in pursuit of a goal as good in and of itself? Isn’t it, instead, a terrible shame that it took that level of sacrifice to build what is, by all accounts, a successful business that enriches the world?

    I’m also concerned, a little, by the idea that it’s a good thing that people are willing to work for less in pursuit of a more meaningful cause, like those causes are somehow worth less.

    If you just want to argue that people care about meaning, sure – it’s a metric that demonstrates the existence of monetarily-equivalent compensation (in meaning). But I don’t follow, from there, to the normative argument that this is a good thing. It strikes me as a bad thing – why should people who are making the world a better place be compensated less? Isn’t their work, in fact, more valuable in net? Isn’t it, then, a social or market failure that they’re compensated less?