The Role of The Company

NOTE: I’m hopping around, and will continue to do so through the month. All usual “first draft” disclaimers apply, too.

Let’s say you’ve joined a company that’s setting out to change the world. When Frobnicator 1.0 ships, it’ll revolutionize people communicate, keep track of their kids, and do their laundry. That’s fine and good, but Frobnicator 1.0 is not the underlying reason the company exists.

The role—the underlying raison d’ĂȘtre—of any company is to protect the investment and interests of its shareholders.

That may seem callous, but it’s true of even altruistic organizations. Take a Non-Profit Organization like One Laptop Per Child, whose mission is “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning” 1.

For shareholders in OLPC, they’ve put in money, time, and/or expertise. Protecting their investment means keeping OLPC afloat—no revenue stream, no laptops. Protecting their interests means keeping OLPC true to the cause—the kids need laptops for learning, that’s what OLPC shareholders signed up for, so the organization can’t switch to One Toaster Per Child. (Even if the toaster runs NetBSD.)

Now with a more-profit-the-better company the role can be simplified to: ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching! Your role may be to build a product, and sales of that product may be how the company makes money, but the end goal is making money.

Now we’re talking callous: is money your ultimate goal? It doesn’t have to be. It’s not mine—I’m in the game to build products, that’s what I love to do. However, I keep in the back of my head that my product needs to ultimately make money. That’s protecting my shareholder’s investment and interests. When I’m building the right product the right way, however, I get my satisfaction and the shareholders get their money, so we both win.