While it’s not measured by the census, I’m sure that one of the leading religions in America is materialism. Black Friday pushes into Thanksgiving a little bit more each year. Competition between businesses goes from intense to cutthroat as they fight for sales during the Christmas season. We ask for more and more expensive things that we don’t need each year. I almost put a pair of headphones on my Christmas list last year. To my shame, when I opened my desk drawer to grab a pen to write it down, I saw two pairs of wired and one pair of Bluetooth earbuds. (That doesn’t include the ones that were in my ears at the time).
However, don’t fret! For Christian entrepreneurs, American materialistic culture serves as an opportunity for immense impact. This was the theme for the presentation put on by Sean Ammirati ‘02 and Evan Addams ‘10 as part of the Richard G. Staley ’62 Visionary Entrepreneur Speaker Series. These two played pivotal roles in the inception and growth of the app NoWait, which allows users to electronically save their spot in line at restaurants, resulting in little or no wait time for a table. Yelp acquired the app for $40 million last year.
In their presentation, Sean and Evan shared their business expertise through the lens of the impact they were making, with their passion stemming from how they are shaping the world for the better. Their focus was on how, through business, they get to “create the world how it ought to be.” For example, the duo is so excited about NoWait because the app gives people their time back. Sean, a partner at Birchmire Labs and Ventures, said that “time is an incredibly valuable asset,” so when the opportunity came to invest in a business that helped people in that way, he jumped on it. When talking with Evan, who serves as the Nowait National Sales & Partnerships Lead at Yelp, he mentioned that a major drive for him through the ups and downs of the start-up environment was how he felt God led him and the rest of the business to improve society through the app.
While I learned a lot about effective business strategy, I learned much more about what it means to be an ethical business leader. Sean, being an investor, often faces the tough decision of deciding which businesses will earn the opportunity to grow and which will not. The key question Sean asks himself when deciding whether to invest goes something like “will this business make the world the way it ought to be?” Too often, we measure a business’s success by its bottom line, neglecting the impact that the business makes on the world. While profit is an indicator of the success of a business, the extent to which the world has changed for good should also be included in a measure of its overall success.
As hopeful entrepreneurs and business leaders, and men and women of moral uprightness, we need to look to use business as a tool to improve society. We must set our sights first on Christ for direction and ethics, and then look to fill the needs of our communities in ways that are morally justified. With that mindset, and a solid business idea, profit will naturally flow. Business not only gives us the capacity to make the world how we think it ought to be, but also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the way God wants it to be, too. As we grow in our faiths and professions, let us press on with that goal in mind first.