"Okay, Alex,” I sat across from my startup partner. It was Startup Weekend. We’re flashing back to that.
His name isn’t Alex. But I keep calling him Alex. I have no blessed clue why. I’m the Names Guy. I don’t fuck up people’s names. But for some reason, Alex struck me as an Alex. He would always be frickin’ Alex to me.
“Alex. We present tomorrow. We need to sort out this business plan."
Alex nodded and looked down. Internally, I sighed. Here I was again, lording my nonexistent entrepreneurial experience over this 20-year-old student. Next to us was another student; the practical one. We’ll call him Ralph.
From the start, I’d wanted to hold my complex at bay and let Alex take the central role. The startup was his idea. But I’d already started speaking for the team at the standups. I’d already started delegating tasks. I don’t take orders well. I give orders by instinct.
"So. Guide me through again how we pay for all this.”
Alex laid out his initial vision of the plan: getting people free airplane tickets. We’d do it by having a kind of Groupon system with businesses. We snatch up the deals at a deep discount, sell them to customers at a standard discount and pay for their airfare with the difference. No catch.
“All right, Alex, but…where do we make money in this?”
Alex blinked. “Well, I was thinking we could do ads.”
“I don’t see there being enough ads in the world to pay for all of this.” I walked up to the whiteboard. I drew some figures. The price of a plane ticket. The price of the deals. The amount of the subsidy. When I was done scribbling I pointed out the financial hole we’d be in. Raj nodded.
“At the very best, we’d break even. How do you expect us to profit?”
“Well, I guess profit wasn’t the idea.”
I cocked my head. “Okay, but this is a startup business…”
“Yeah, but I came in here because I wanted to get people to travel for free. That was the goal. I’m not here to make money.”
I almost said “I’m not here to make money either,” but I thought about in that instant. Even if this startup wasn’t going to be my new job, wasn’t the whole goal to network with people who could get me a job? Or who could build my new company?
I was here to make money. I was here for myself.
“I really like the idea of opening up new cultures to people,” Alex continued. “I just didn’t want the price of a plane ticket to get in the way. I figured we’d just get some angel investors who believed in the idea to fund the thing.”
A little part of my heart broke a little. I would’ve said similar things four years ago. Who cares about the profit margin? God, you square. Can’t you talk about anything other than profits? We have a vision here. Let’s do it for the common good.
Idealist Phil. Oxfam Phil.
“Alex…” I thought about an argument that would get us on a path to profitability. “What you’re talking about…you’re trying to change the world.” I set my marker down and shared a glance with Ralph. “Well. People without money don’t get to change the world. The only thing that gets things going…is money.” My stomach churned. Part of me knew it was the truth. A deep part of me recoiled.
“Let’s make this businesses turn a profit. Then we can focus on opening up travel to to the world.”
Alex nodded. Ralph was on board. So we started putting ideas to paper.