Come again, now?


It’s been said – and codified in various motivational soundbites – that, often, new ideas are met with resistance. The familiar message is that if people balk at what you’re doing, that may be a sign that you’re on the right path. “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success“, and all that.

I was prepared for such resistance…to a certain degree, anyway. Particularly in the world of financial services, where the almighty dollar reigns supreme, I’ve been anticipating that there will be those who take exception to the idea that I would willingly eschew the pursuit of maximal monetary gain. Now, though, wading into the phase of my project where I’m beginning to reach out to real-life potential business partners, an interesting thing is happening: prior to any hostility, I seem to be routinely met with abject…bewilderment.

Did I hear that correctly? Non-profit?

What exactly is it that you’ll be…doing?

This is a commission-based business… I don’t see how we could possibly work together. Am I missing something?

These are direct quotes from conversations I had just today.

The experience of fielding this sort of disorientation, aside from being utterly fascinating, can be somewhat jolting. For starters, no matter how ‘prepared’ I may have been to deal with hypothetical industry participants projecting their insecurities onto me, being face to face with living, breathing confusion is a bit of a different animal. Things are further complicated by the fact that there’s a thin line between confusion and apprehension…You get the distinct sense that “I don’t get it” is a either a proxy for, or precursor to “I hope you’re not saying what I think you’re saying”.

(For context: the people with whom I’m having these conversations represent an unavoidable party to my company’s business model. A purveyor of financial guidance is typically also a purveyor of financial products, insofar as the client has a genuine need for, say, the security offered by personal insurance, or for investment products as savings vehicles. These financial products are manufactured by big companies that function as suppliers to mine. Without these external business relationships, then, I have no business at all – in the same way that a car dealership has no business without a car manufacturer.)

My fight-or-flight instinct in these initial encounters has been to get a little defensive. I mean, in my mind, the concept could not be simpler: here you have a business wherein the basic experience of the supplier and the customer are identical to what they would be if that business had a conventional structure. The only difference is in what the company does with its revenue/profit.

The reality is, of course, that it is a simple concept…once you get it.

For some reason, though – as our friend Dan Pallotta points out – the term ‘non-profit’ carries a whole lot of connotation that extends way beyond its literal (and almost trivially simple) definition, which interferes with what should be a pretty simple idea to grasp… So I have to actively resist the temptation to get defensive, recognizing that once these people understand what we’re talking about, they’ll see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m not attempting to take money out of anyone’s pockets but my own.

On that point, it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider the prospect of a hostile competitor (which it’s too early to have encountered yet, but I’m sure it’ll happen someday). I imagine the most likely angle that such a person would take to cast aspersions would be the accusation that the ‘non-profit’, community-oriented focus of the business is somehow gimmicky or self-serving. To that I say… join us! One of the cool things about this model is that it actually invites copycats. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then imitation of the non-profit in a for-profit industry is the most desirable form of same. In fact, from a certain perspective, I have no higher aspiration than that: for others to say “pffff….I could do that too”…or, if you’d rather, “wow…I could do that too!”

For now, I will be patient in fielding the inevitable confusion – or apprehension, as the case may be – on the part of even the well-meaning industry participants that I meet. The flip side to the slight awkwardness of these encounters is that they can be genuinely funny at the same time, as in the case of the VP of Operations whose face shone with eagerness and a desire to be open-minded about the whole thing…only to have to concede in the next breath that she really had no idea what we were talking about.

It’s simple, Brenda. Really. But don’t sweat it – if you got it immediately, all those inspirational quotes taped to my wall would no longer apply, and I don’t want to have to take those down… That sounds like way too much work.


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